North Korea test-launched what the Pentagon said was an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday, which experts assessed is capable of reaching the entire United States.
It’s a sign that Kim Jong Un’s program to develop a nuclear weapon capable of striking targets in the U.S. has accelerated. Initial assessments indicate the missile could be the farthest-flying that Pyongyang has ever tested. The test also occurred at night in North Korea, a not insignificant development for a country striving to achieve a round-the-clock nuclear deterrent.
The Pentagon detected the launch at around 1:17 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and said the missile traveled 600 miles before splashing down in the Sea of Japan no more than 200 miles from the Japanese coast.
“We are working with our interagency partners on a more detailed assessment of the launch,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.
The Tuesday rocket test apparently involved a Hwasong-14 rocket with two stages. The rocket was reportedly aloft for 54 minutes, a new record for Pyongyang. Missiles previously the North Koreans tested on July 4 and July 28 flew for just 37 minutes and 47 minutes, respectively.
David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Massachusetts, crunched the observable data from the launch and concluded that the rocket reached a maximum altitude of 2,800 miles.
Flattening the trajectory extends the range. If flown on a lower trajectory, the missile rocket would be able to travel 8,100 miles from the launch site, Wright estimated.
“Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States,” Wright wrote.
“Mar a Lago, here we come,” tweeted Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
Tuesday’s launch marked Pyongyang’s 20th test of the year of a long-range, nuclear-capable rocket. The North Korean regime conducted 24 rocket tests in all of 2016 and just 14 in 2015. The regime is reportedly making progress on miniaturizing a nuclear warhead so it will fit on a land- or sea-launched missile.
Pyongyang tested its first nuclear weapon at at an underground test site in 2006 and has apparently completed another five underground tests since then, the latest in September.
Tuesday’s missile test posed no immediate risk to the United States, the Pentagon stressed. President Donald Trump “was briefed, while missile was still in the air, on the situation in North Korea,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
In September Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued its nuclear-weapons program. And in October the president said “only one thing will work” to resolve the crisis—an apparent reference to U.S. military action.
Speaking to reporters in the White House from the Roosevelt Room, Trump was more subdued.
“We will take care of it,” he said. “It is a situation that we will handle.”