While North Korea has test fired numerous ballistic missiles (mostly intermediate-range, including one intercontinental) in the past, and as such today's launch was largely seen as merely the latest political provocation to Trump by a seemingly oblivious Kim John-Un, there was one notable difference in the launch post-mortem: according to press and Pentagon reports, the maximum altitude attained by the ICBM was 3,700 km (2,300 miles) with a flight time of about 47 minutes. This is material because according to All Things Nuclear, based on the latest information, today’s missile test by North Korea could easily reach not only the US West Coast, but also a number of major US cities.
As reported earlier, North Korea launched its missile on a very highly lofted trajectory, which allowed the missile to fall in the Sea of Japan rather than overflying Japan. It appears the ground range of the test was around 1,000 km (600 miles), which put it in or close to Japanese territorial waters.
According to physicist and co-director of the UCS Global Security Program, David Wright, if those numbers are correct, then the missile flown on a standard trajectory would have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation. Adding the rotation of the Earth increases the range of missiles fired eastward, depending on their direction. Calculating the range of the missile in the direction of some major US cities gives the approximate results in Table 1.
Table 1 shows that Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and that Boston and New York may be just within range. Washington, D.C. may be just out of range.
Wright caveats his calculations saying that "it is important to keep in mind that we do not know the mass of the payload the missile carried on this test. If it was lighter than the actual warhead the missile would carry, the ranges would be shorter than those estimated above."
While the above calculation has yet to be confirmed by third parties, the US is not taking any chances. According to Reuters, top U.S. and South Korean military officials "discussed military options after North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday."
Marine General Joseph Dunford was joined by the Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, when they called General Lee Sun-jin, chairman of the South Korean Joint Chief of Staff. "During the call Dunford and Harris expressed the ironclad commitment to the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance. The three leaders also discussed military response options," said Captain Greg Hicks, a spokesman for Dunford.
In light of North Korea's reportedly expanded offensive capabilities, now that the US has an justification to launch a preemptive "defensive" attack on Pyongyang, a US military operation in North Korea now appears to be only a matter of time