North Korean Ballistic Missiles Can Now Hit Anywhere in the U.S., New Military Report Confirms

The U.S. military has acknowledged that North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles can now hit targets anywhere in the continental U.S., confirming fears raised by weapons tests conducted in 2017.

U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) released its 2019 Strategic Digest on Thursday, detailing the current state of play for American troops on the Korean peninsula. As part of its summary, the digest listed North Korea's current ICBM arsenal, confirming that the largest weapon—the Hwasong-15—can hit anywhere in the continental U.S.

The Hwasong-15 had its first and only launch in November 2017. The USFK said the missile has a range of up to 8,000 miles, making it "capable of striking any part of the continental United States," the digest warned.

According to The Chosun Ilbo newspaper, an unnamed military source said the USFK conclusion is based on "comprehensive analysis of intelligence data collected from satellite, aircraft and radar surveillance of missile launches."

Following the Hwasong-15's launch, North Korea claimed the missile could carry a "super-large warhead which is capable of striking the whole mainland of the U.S." The weapon flew for 53 minutes, peaking at an altitude of around 2,796 miles before descending and landing within Japan's exclusive economic zone. It traveled around 596 miles.

The Hwasong-15 is designed to carry a nuclear warhead, but it is not yet confirmed that North Korea has been able to successfully mount a nuclear payload on the missile. Though the weapon's range is daunting, the distance it can travel will be reduced by any payload it carries.

It was also unclear whether the weapon's re-entry into the atmosphere was successful. Both Washington and Seoul said this requires further clarification, though Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the missile broke apart before landing in the sea.

Though the USFK did not address this issue directly, the assertion that the missile can reach anywhere in the continental U.S. suggests officials believe it can successfully re-enter the atmosphere and strike a target.

The Hwasong-15 is one of three ICBMs in the North Korea arsenal. The Hwasong-13 has a range of 3,418 miles while the Hwasong-14 has a range of 6,250 miles, making the latter capable of reaching much of the U.S. mainland.

When the Hwasong-15 was first launched, some observers believed the missile was simply a modified version of the Hwasong-14. However, closer inspection of video footage and photographs released by North Korea plus analysis of the missile's flight path indicated it was an entirely new and more powerful weapon.

North Korea, ICBM, US
People watch a television broadcast, reporting North Korea's test-launch of its Hwasong-15 ICBM, at the Seoul Railway Station on November 29, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty