SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - North Korea's long-range ballistic missile test-fired last week is thought to have a range capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii, but not the main US continent, missile experts said Wednesday (July 12) .
Jang Young Geun, a professor of aerospace and mechanic engineering at Korea Aerospace University, said that if fired at a range-maximising angle, the Hwasong-14 missile could fly 6,200km carrying a 900kg nuclear warhead and 8,100km with a 600kg warhead.
"If a standardised nuclear warhead (weighing 600kg) is mounted on the Hwasong-14, it can attack Alaska and Hawaii," Jang said, based on a computerised simulation. "Although the missile has a range equivalent to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), it is not enough to reach the US mainland."
Pyongyang is about 6,000km away from Alaska, 7,600km from Hawaii and 9,000km from San Francisco.
In the July 4 launch, the Hwasong-14 flew about 2,800km with an apogee of 933km, according to the North. Experts initially viewed that if it was fired at a range-maximizing angle, it could have flown at least 7,000km.
John Schilling, a US expert, said the Hwasong-14 could fly up to 9,700km with a 500kg nuclear warhead, putting the US naval base in San Diego under its attack range.
But North Korea appears to be still more than a decade away from developing an ICBM capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, both analysts noted, highlighting that the number of nuclear tests that the communist regime has conducted is still fewer than other nuclear states that have acquired ICBM capabilities.
"While the North Korean missile program has been conducting tests at an accelerated pace, it has conducted only two nuclear tests in the past four years. So perhaps in 2030 we will see a multiple-warhead Hwasong-14, but probably not before then," Schilling said.
Jang also said that if North Korea manages to miniaturise a nuclear warhead up to 450km and fit it atop an ICBM, it could fly up to 9,000km and reach the western parts of the US mainland, such as San Francisco.
But the expert dismissed the North's claim that the Hwasong-14 survived intense heat and pressure during the re-entry phase, echoing the assessment of South Korea's spy agency that the regime has yet to master re-entry technology.
"It's uncertain whether the Hwasong-14 succeeded in re-entering the atmosphere, because they didn't provide any specific data to support the claim," Jang said. "It's also hard to believe the missile has enough accuracy to hit strategic targets."