N. Korea seen closer to ICBM, boosted by new missile engine

SEOUL-- The success of North Korea's latest missile test apparently represents another milestone in its missile program, especially in terms of the stated goal of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), experts here said Monday.

Pyongyang announced that it succeeded in test-firing what it calls the Hwasong-12, a newly developed mid-to-long-range rocket, on Sunday.

It "accurately hit" its targeted waters 787 kilometers away after flying to a maximum altitude of 2,111.5 km, according to the state news agency KCNA, an announcement verified by South Korea, the U.S. and Japan sharing relevant data.

But it kept sensitive information on the rocket's velocity a secret.

South Korean military authorities regard it as a single-stage intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) based on a new type of liquid-fuel engine.

If combustion chambers are clustered and multiple stages are used, it would be capable of flying for far longer.

David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, also cited the flight time of half an hour and the reported apogee of the tested projectile.

"If that same missile was flown on a standard trajectory, it would have a maximum range of about 4,500 km," he wrote on the group's blog.

It means the missile itself could have not only Guam but also Alaska within range if launched from the North's east coast.

The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) sought to reassure Americans in the mainland worried about the North's threat.

"The type of missile is being assessed and the flight was not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile," it said in a statement issued hours after launch.

Few doubt, however, that the secretive nuclear-armed North has again pulled off a significant technological advance in its missile ambitions.

"Compared with the past, it marks quite an improved level," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. "North Korea has demonstrated that it can strike the U.S. mainland with missiles."

In fact, the new IRBM is seen as a prologue to an ICBM with a range of over 5,000 km. It's a bridge between Musudan-class missiles with a range of around 4,000 km and ICBMs.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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