Technology & Science
A look at the North Korean missiles that could hit Guam
U.S. and Japanese officials believe Pyongyang has achieved miniaturization of nuclear weapons
Despite North Korea's threat to attack the U.S. territory of Guam, it appears extremely unlikely that its leadership would risk its own destruction with a pre-emptive attack on the American territory. Still, analysts believe North Korea does have several missiles in its arsenal capable of reaching the Pacific island, which Pyongyang has regularly threatened because of its U.S. military bases.
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Last month's ICBM tests highlighted the growing threat. Both missiles were fired at highly lofted angles and landed in the sea near Japan, but analysts said the weapons could reach Alaska, Los Angeles or Chicago if fired at a normal, flattened trajectory.
Both U.S. and Japanese officials believe North Korea has achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons and has developed nuclear warheads.
For North Korea, having a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America would be the ultimate guarantee against U.S. invasion.
Not all technical hurdles have been overcome, however. North Korea is still believed to lack expertise to ensure a missile could re-enter the Earth's atmosphere without the warhead burning up. And it's still working on striking targets with accuracy.
With those caveats, here's a look at some of the missiles possibly capable of reaching Guam:
The North Korean army's statement Wednesday that it plans to create an "enveloping fire" in areas around Guam are based on the Hwasong-12, a new intermediate range missile the country successfully flight-tested for the first time in May.
The liquid-fuel missile is designed to be fired from road mobile launchers and has been previously described by North Korea as built for attacking Alaska and Hawaii. The North followed the May launch with two flight tests of its Hwasong-14 ICBM last month. Analysts said that a wide swath of the continental United States, including Los Angeles and Chicago, could be within reach of those missiles, once perfected.
The flight data from the May launch suggested Hwasong-12's range was between 4,000 and 7,000 kilometres. Guam is located about 3,400 kilometres from the Korean Peninsula.
Analysts say the liquid-fuel Musudan missile's potential 3,500-kilometre range puts much of Asia and the Pacific within reach. North Korea experienced several failures before a successful flight test in June last year, after which the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, declared that his nation had the "sure capability to attack in an overall and practical way the Americans in the Pacific operation theatre."
Before last year's launches, North Korea had never flight-tested a Musudan missile, although one was displayed during a 2010 military parade in Pyongyang.
A land-based variant of a submarine-launched missile currently under development, North Korea first successfully flight-tested this solid-fuel midrange missile in February. Three months later, Kim declared the missiles ready for mass production after another successful test.
Analysts say the Pukguksong-2 advances North Korea's weapons capabilities because missiles using solid propellants can be fired faster and more secretly than those using liquid fuel, which must be fuelled before launch and transported to a launch site using trucks that could be spotted by satellites.
North Korea describes the Pukguksong-2 as a "medium- to long-range strategic missile," the same term it uses for the intermediate range Hwasong-12, and some South Korean experts see the missile as potentially capable of reaching Guam. But South Korean defence officials said after the May launch that they estimated Pukguksong-2's range to be around 2,000 kilometres, which would be enough to strike U.S. bases in Japan but come short of reaching Guam.
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