Seoul, South Korea
North Korea is ready to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on a normal trajectory, leader Kim Jong Un’s sister told state media on Tuesday, a flight pattern that could show the weapons could threaten the US mainland.
In a statement by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Yo Jong, the top official in her brother’s regime, also dismissed experts’ skepticism about the progress of North Korea’s ICBM technology, specifically on the re-entry capacity of their weapons.
ICBMs are launched into space, where they are accelerated out of the atmosphere before their payloads (nuclear warheads) undergo a re-entry fire process, like a space shuttle or space capsule, before falling to their goals.
If the process is not executed with extreme precision and with materials that can withstand the immense heat generated, the warhead would burn up before reaching its target. The angle at which the warhead re-enters the atmosphere can make the process difficult.
So far, North Korea has fired ballistic missiles that travel hundreds of kilometers into space and then rent the atmosphere at steep angles, most of them falling in the waters between North Korea and Japan.
To successfully target the continental United States, a North Korean missile would have to take a much shallower flight path and a lower re-entry angle.
“For several years, so-called experts have been saying that the re-entry of our ICBMs into the atmosphere has not been recognized or verified,” Kim Yo Jong said.
“It seems obvious that they will try to disparage our strategic weapons capabilities with the logic that it can’t be tested by high angle firing alone, and can only be known by firing at a normal angle… easy answer to that. We can try it soon and once you see it, you’ll know it.”
In November, North Korea claimed to have launched a “new type” of ICBM, the Hwasong-17, a missile that could theoretically reach the continental United States.
This was one of a record 35 times this year that North Korea has tested missiles.
Western officials and experts also expect Pyongyang to test a nuclear warhead at any moment. If this test comes, it will be the first since 2017.
On Sunday, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles that the South Korean military analyzed as medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs).
The next day, KCNA said the country’s space agency carried out a “final gate process of a reconnaissance satellite launch”.
Photos published in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday appeared to show high-altitude black-and-white aerial photographs of South Korea’s capital Seoul and the nearby city of Incheon – home to the South’s main airport – but many experts questioned the images ‘authenticity, especially considering its poor resolution.
In Tuesday’s statement, Kim Yo Jong defended North Korea’s recent report of a test for its satellite development and rejected experts’ skepticism about the alleged aerial photos.
“The skepticism of South Korea’s so-called experts on the two photos taken by a test color camera and their assessment of the development and state of readiness of my country’s satellites is so inappropriate and frivolous,” he said.
He defended that the tests were done properly and that the results were known to the public.
“Through the test, important technical indicators such as the camera’s operating technology, the data processing and transmission capacity of the communication devices, and the tracking and control accuracy of the ground control system were confirmed under the conditions of the ‘space environment,’” he said, according to KCNA.
“Our people will stand firm in the reconnaissance satellite development project decided by our Party, whatever the cost.”
Meanwhile, front-line US F-22 stealth fighters are in South Korea this week for joint exercises with South Korean forces, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.
On Tuesday, the two allies combined their air power to conduct exercises in the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone near the southwestern part of Jeju Island, the ministry said, noting the deployment of an American B-52 bomber near the Korean peninsula.
From the South Korean side, F-35 and F-15K fighter jets participated, according to a statement from the ministry.
He said US F-22s, currently stationed in Japan, will remain in South Korea this week and conduct exercises with an emphasis on strengthening response capabilities against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.