North Korea on Wednesday boasted its new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile can carry a “super heavy nuclear warhead” that can strike “the whole mainland” of the United States -- and an expert said this is a possibility.
The ICBM launched Wednesday flew nearly 2,800 miles and traveled 590 miles before it hit a sea target in Japanese waters, the Hermit Kingdom said. South Korea’s military announced it had similar data. The missile’s flight time was reportedly 53 minutes. If flown on a standard trajectory, instead of Wednesday's lofted angle, the missile would have a range of more than 8,100 miles, said U.S. scientist David Wright, a physicist who closely tracks North Korea's missile and nuclear programs.
The Hwasong-15, like the previously launched Hwasong-14, had payloads — items mimicking a nuclear warhead — strapped on to it to test if it could hold a nuclear weapon and the distance it was capable of reaching before it comes down.
Michael Elleman, a missile expert, told Fox News on Thursday North Korea built an entirely new ICBM that was larger and has more thrust power than initially thought. Elleman said in his initial assessment of the missile in an article on 38 North, a blog which specializes in North Korea news, was based on the thought that Wednesday’s ICBM was a modification of the Hwasong-14.
“This missile is far more capable than its predecessor,” Elleman told Fox News. “This missile, because it is so much larger and has twice the thrust capability, it is easy to conclude that it can carry a payload of 750 kg [1,653 pounds] to 1000 kg [2,200 pounds], or even more.”
“North Korea can certainly make a warhead small enough to fall under that. This missile has the capability to hit anywhere in the U.S. in principle,” Elleman said.
The mock warhead on Wednesday’s ICBM most likely weighed around 330 pounds based on the estimated 8,100-mile range it could reach. Kim would have to develop a nuclear warhead that weighs less than 1,100 pounds to reach the U.S.’ West Coast.
"Kim Jong Un's nuclear bomb must weigh less than 350 kilograms [800 pounds] if he expects to strike the western edges of the U.S. mainland," Elleman said in an earlier assessment on 38 North. "A 600-kilogram [1,300-pound] payload barely reaches Seattle."
North Korea’s state newspaper released on Thursday dozens of photos of the missile test, including Kim in mid-laugh while staring out the window. The despot was also pictured giving a fist pump while looking at flight data. He then declared hours after ordering the ICBM launch that North Korea had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”