After last Sunday’s successful North Korea missile launch that marked what experts call a “significant breakthrough” for the rogue country’s fast-moving nuclear weapons program, North Korea leader Kim Jong-un issued an explicit threat to the United States, saying that anyone who stands in the way of the country’s nuclear program “should not expect any mercy.”
The launch of a Hwasong-12 medium range missile, which North Korea says is capable of delivering a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead,” revealed new capabilities not previously on display in earlier North Korea missile tests, according to nuclear nonproliferation expert David Schmerler of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California.
UPDATE, MAY 21, 11 a.m. EDT: North Korea on Sunday successfully tested its second missile in a week, the South Korean and U.S. governments said. The type of missile had not et been identified Sunday morning U.S. Eastern Time, but the projectile flew about 300 miles, and reached an altitude of about 650 miles — significantly lower than last weekend’s test which was considered the most successful and potentially arming missile test yet carried out by North Korea.
A statement from the White House Sunday morning said only that the U.S. government was “aware” of the latest missile launch, and noted that the missile “has a shorter range” than the missiles fired in the North Korea’s three previous tests.
— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) May 21, 2017
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“This is the first successful test (of this type of missile) that we know of,” Schmerler told CNN. “One of the big takeaways is the missile’s performance, which might give credit to their own design capability. It outperformed previous, copied missile designs, which means that their ballistic missile program is moving at an accelerating rate.”
Defense analysts in both the U.S. and South Korea said that they have confirmed North Korea’s claim that the missile reached an altitude of more than 1,300 miles — roughly five times as high as the International Space Station — and then survived re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere that heated the missile to more than 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Previously, the ability to endure high-temperature re-entry had been a major stumbling block for North Korea in its program to develop missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons over long distances. But the country’s nuclear program now appears to have crossed that hurdle, according to U.S. defense experts who described the May 14 test launch as a success for the hermit nation.
“Those who challenge the dignity and social system of the DPRK, faulting its legitimate step for bolstering the nuclear force for self-defence, should not expect any mercy,” the North Korean government said in a statement issued last week, following the missile launch.
Watch the May 14 launch of the potentially nuclear-armed missile in the video below, originally broadcast on North Korea state television and released by the official government news outlet, KCNA.
North Korea is known to have carried out five test explosions of nuclear weapons, all at the Punggye-ri test site near the northeastern coast of the country. But defense experts in the U.S. believe that it could take another three years for North Korean scientists to build a nuclear warhead compact enough to be mounted on a missile such as the Hwasong-12.
— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) May 15, 2017
Nonetheless, they considered the successful test launch on May 14 to be a significant advance toward North Korea’s goal of building a missile that could strike the mainland United States with a nuclear attack. Last Sunday’s test did show, however, that the new missile is already capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam, which has a population of 170,000 and whose residents are U.S. citizens.
Additionally, Guam is the site of three U.S. military bases where about 6,000 American servicemen are now stationed, and is considered a major “hub” of the U.S. military presence in the Pacific. American presence there is scheduled to nearly double in 2022 when the U.S. transfers 5,000 Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam.
While most previous North Korean missiles have been adapted from existing missile designs created by the former Soviet Union, the missile launched last Sunday appears to be original to North Korea — another breakthrough for North Korea’s weapons developers, according to Schmerler, who said that the component parts of the missile depicted in the video seen above on this page “seem to be uniquely North Korean.”
[Featured Image By KRT/AP Images]