New York Daily News

North Korea says it’s testing ‘fatal’ nuclear capacity


SEOUL — North Korea said Sunday its latest interconti­nental ballistic missile test was meant to further bolster its “fatal” nuclear attack capacity and threatened additional powerful steps over upcoming military drills between the United States and South Korea.

The United States responded by flying long-range supersonic bombers in a show of force later Sunday for separate joint exercises with South Korean and Japanese warplanes.

Saturday’s ICBM test, the North’s first missile test since Jan. 1, signals its leader Kim Jong Un is using his rivals’ drills as a chance to expand his country’s nuclear arsenal to get the upper hand in future dealings with the United States. An expert says North Korea may seek to hold regular operationa­l exercises involving its ICBMs.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said its launch of the Hwasong-15 ICBM was organized “suddenly” without prior notice at Kim’s direct order.

The Korean Central News Agency said the launch was designed to verify the weapon’s reliabilit­y and the combat readiness of the country’s nuclear force. It said the missile was fired at a high angle and reached a maximum altitude of about 3,585 miles, flying a distance of about 615 miles for 67 minutes before accurately hitting a preset area in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The steep-angle launch was apparently to avoid neighborin­g countries. The flight details reported by North Korea, which roughly matched the launch informatio­n previously assessed by its neighbors, show the weapon is theoretica­lly capable of reaching the mainland U.S. if fired at a standard trajectory.

The Hwasong-15 launch demonstrat­ed the North’s “powerful physical nuclear deterrent” and its efforts to “turn its capacity of fatal nuclear counteratt­ack on the hostile forces” into an extremely strong one that cannot be countered, the Korean Central News Agency said.

Whether North Korea has a functionin­g nuclear-tipped ICBM is still a source of debate, as experts say the North hasn’t mastered a way to protect warheads from the severe conditions of atmospheri­c reentry.

The Hwasong-15 is one of North Korea’s three existing ICBMs, all of which use liquid propellant­s that require prelaunch injections and cannot remain fueled for extended periods. The North is pushing to build a solid-fueled ICBM, which would be more mobile and harder to detect before its launch.

“Kim Jong Un has likely determined that the technical reliabilit­y of the country’s liquid propellant ICBM force has been sufficient­ly tested and evaluated to allow for regular exercises of this kind,” said Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for Internatio­nal Peace.

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