The US believes North Korea fired a missile shortly before midnight Japan time, or 11 am EST July 28, a defense official confirmed to Business Insider — and initial estimates indicate it could be the longest-range missile ever tested by the Hermit Kingdom.
"I can confirm that we detected a launch of a ballistic missile from North Korea," Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told Business Insider. "We assess that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, as had been expected" Capt. Jeff Davis later said in a Pentagon release.
Ankit Panda, a senior editor at the Asia-focused news website The Diplomat, cited a US source as saying that the missile flew for 47 minutes, reaching an altitude of 2,300 miles and traveling 620 miles. Such a long flight time and high crest suggest a tremendous range.
While North Korea had already demonstrated an intercontinental range with the July 4 test of its Hwasong-14 ICBM, the missile launched July 28 appeared capable of reaching New York or Washington, DC. Yet as with the previous launch, it is unclear whether North Korea has developed the technology to accurately deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
The missile on July 28 may have landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone, according to the Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
As launching an ICBM at full range could easily be interpreted as an act of war, North Korea lofts its missiles on a steep angle. Therefore a missile that flies only a few hundred miles toward Japan can still demonstrate a range of many thousands of miles.
For weeks, US intelligence monitoring North Korean military sites had predicted another missile test. July 27 marked the Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War, a North Korean holiday celebrating the end of the Korean War on July 27, 1953.
An unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch. USAF photo by Senior Airman Lael Huss.
North Korea has a pattern of launching missiles on historically significant dates, like its July 4 debut of an ICBM, but the weather July 27 was poor, possibly preventing a launch.
Typically, North Korea waits until the day after a launch to release photos or video from the event, which researchers analyze for insights into Pyongyang's shadowy missile program.