North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test demonstrates a number of things that are not good news for anyone hoping to prevent the country from becoming a global nuclear power. The missile, called the Hwasong-15, flew high enough (more than 4,400 kilometers, or 2,700 miles—more than 10 times the altitude of the International Space Station) and long enough (54 minutes) to demonstrate that it was capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to anywhere in the United States.
While it only flew about 960 kilometers (600 miles) over the ground, David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimated the Hwasong-15 would have a range of 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles) in normal flight.
“We do not know how heavy a payload this missile carried, but given the increase in range, it seems likely that it carried a very light mock warhead,” Wright said in a UCS blog post. “If true, that means it would be incapable of carrying a nuclear warhead to this long distance, since such a warhead would be much heavier.”
But even if the Hwasong-15 were to have a shorter range with a full warhead, the missile could still, in all likelihood, reach much of the US mainland. The distance from Pyongyang to Washington, DC, is roughly 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles).
Despite sanctions, North Korea—which had an economy a 10th of the size of the US government’s annual debt payments even before the latest round of sanctions—has successfully acquired the engineering and manufacturing technologies required to produce these missiles.