North Korean ICBM Appears Able to Reach Major US Cities

, former co-director | July 28, 2017, 2:19 pm EDT
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Based on current information, today’s missile test by North Korea could easily reach the US West Coast, and a number of major US cities.

Reports say that North Korea again 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. Reports also say the maximum altitude of the launch was 3,700 km (2,300 miles) with a flight time of about 47 minutes.

If those numbers are correct, the missile flown on a standard trajectory the missile would have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation.

However, 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.

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.

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.


Posted in: Missiles and Missile Defense Tags: , ,

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  • disqus_DyKswkJSY3

    Thank you for your excellent clear analyzes.

  • John Smith

    The longer we dawdle, the higher the loss of life will be as the North Koreans rapidly utilize Chinese technology and launchers to do their duty bidding. What is the U.S. gaining by delaying the inevitable – a few more months of a false sense of security from THADD for the millions of innocent lives who will perish. I’d like to see a chart showing the exponential increase over the last decade comparing the same ranges for the same cities above resulting from doing NOTHING when we could and should have.

    • Mitchell

      I agree wholeheartedly. The best move for the United States is to invade immediately, as unfortunate as it is to admit. The coming war will cost millions of lives.

      • robert88871

        Are you out of your f****** mind?

      • Ethan Marlon

        They haven’t invaded any country for the last 50 years, the history has dozens of wars involving the US as the aggressor. Nuclear weapon are deterrence against your government aggression. i think every country needs the bomb to stop Washington’s hypocrisy and double standards. Soon Iran will have ICBM and the balance of power will be achieved. the sooner the better. Keep up the sanctions. Who needs you??
        Love/hate is for morons, the truth is what is important to people who can think for themselves.’today’s world is so interconnected that we cannot have winners and losers; we either win together or lose together’ Javad Zarif

    • brent

      North Korea has not invaded anyone. We have no right to start a war with them.

  • RedNeoCon

    – Call China and if they won’t get NK in line, then fuck them. Automatic 40% tariff on anything coming into the USA from China.

    – If China doesn’t comply, then tell NK directly to knock of the shit or else.

    – Bomb NK into dust, but don’t use any nuclear weapons. Just straight up MOABs all day. Fuck ’em at this point.

    • ed123123

      -Then our economy and their economy crashes. They pretty much own us with all their goods they’ve flooded into our market.

      -Or else what? NK will take that as a threat and prepare for war.

      First off, we only have a limited amount of super expensive MOAB’s in stock. That’s not nearly enough to destroy 1.5 million soldiers. We’ll need to call in the Air Force, Navy, Marines for such an operation. NK will see this from miles away.

      Afterwards? We annihilate NK, but at the cost of thousands of South Korean and Japanese civilian lives plus plenty of American military lives. Do you not remember we have thousands of troops in Japan and Korea? The Korean Peninsula is a smoking crater, we have a lot of dead military personnel which nobody in America wants to see (especially after Iraq and Afghanistan), the Chinese have millions of unwanted refugees, the global economy goes into freefall, and we immediately become an international pariah. Plus, we can’t bomb them without them seeing us, nor can we attack them without the South Koreans approving and being involved.

      • RedNeoCon

        No economy will crash because China will not want to pay that tariff. China will end up doing that dirty work or risk losing it’s biggest cash cow…the USA. Who gives a shit if we owe them trillions…..good luck collecting it.

  • J.M. McGuinness

    What about the more likely targets not mentioned here?

    One would expect North Korea to hit higher value targets in Seattle (and the Naval Base at Kitsap), only 5,021 miles away and San Francisco, 5,511, miles (as the nuclear crow flies). Only a 30 to 35 minute flight duration for each.

    Other Military targets:
    789 Miles to NAF Atsugi, Japan
    461 Miles to U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo,Japan
    808 Miles to U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan
    892 Miles to Okinawa, Japan
    312 Miles to COMFLEACTS Chinhae, South Korea
    2,000 miles to Andersen Air Force Base Apra Harbor, Guam.
    4,740 miles to Diego Garcia NSF, Indian Ocean
    6,051 Miles to the Naval Base at San Diego, CA

    Certainly, North Korea would cease to exist with a retaliatory strike.
    But, think about the day after.

    • Richard Davis

      Why would one expect NK to attempt to hit any targets ever? How do you think they’d fare in the ensuing exchange? NK leadership may appear to be crazy, but they’re not stupid.

      • Ryo Saeba

        Either they are using it as a deterrent for other nations to “back off” or they are on a suicide mission. What if they fire 20 of these at the same time? No way we can stop them all. And would the US REALLY nude NK when they know it’s not the people’s fault at all but only Kim and his army?

        There are millions of NKians that wants to defect but they are simply afraid to. Do we punish a whole nation because of one crazy man’s actions?

  • ™- Iggy

    The article seems to gently imply that San Francisco and Seattle are not on the target list. Probably, because of the overall ideological solidarity with the People’s Republic.

  • Reno’s not there – I’m OK. :/

  • Hopefully, our military is considering the full range of possible actions. Here are what seem to the be obvious ones (in ascending order): 1. a cyber attack that could delay or stop the accelerated development; 2. Interruption of oil delivery to NK by a variety of means, which would likely make the country unstable before they actually are nuclear capable; 3. facilitate the removal of the current leader by any means possible; 4. deniably or otherwise cause the destruction of NK’s rocket and nuclear development capability. The 4th potential action would likely result in NK shelling SK resulting in deaths ranging from a minimum o 200 k to 2 million people, but no nuclear contamination. Waiting for NK to actually have operative Nuclear weaponry multiplies the death tolls, not only in SK, but in the U.S. The fact that the current NK leadership has demonstrated a mental instability suggests that waiting to see what happens is likely to result in disaster for the world at large. And anything that the United States might do would result in universal official condemnation by the rest of the world (even as the privately heaved a sigh of relief that “someone” did what was needed.).

    • Sharin Jay

      Good morning. If regular, non-military citizens like us are talking about NK, I guess we should assume that the major military players are also working on this as we sit and worry. Why are they waiting? It is, no doubt, naive to assume that the govt. is not formulating a plan. So frustrating every time NK seems to make another advance.

      • Indeed it is. I know it is essentially a waste to post on the subject, but by mentally considering some of the options, my brain relaxes a bit as I add the cautionary, “not my job and WAY above my pay grade” (except that even that is foolish as I am retired). Have a good day as well as a great weekend.

  • robert88871

    Total bullshite

  • Richard Davis

    What would be the motivation for NK to launch a nuclear attack against a US city or two?

    • De-Polarized

      Exactly! There’s always got to be a “boogeyman” to convince the masses that the bullies in the West need to “intervene”. Don’t believe ANYTHING you hear from mainstream media, period. It’s all lies to get the public to back their dirty deeds.

  • FrNelomar

    Any launch of a NK missile at a U.S. city would result in the erasure of NK from the map 30 minutes later. What is their incentive to attack?

  • Josh

    What kind of G-forces would a reentering warhead have to endure?

  • Palloy

    You are all taking US Centcom’s figures as accurate, but since they will always remain secret, there is no need for the published figures to be accurate. The corresponding figures from Russia are WAY DIFFERENT, (510 km v 2,500 km for the July 4th test and 681km v 3,000 km for the July 28th test) and only puts the missile in the intermediate range category. I can’t think of a reason why Russia would deliberately pitch its figures on the low side. But I can think of a reason why the US would pitch them on the high side – this makes the situation much more urgent and threatening for the defenders of the US, and puts pressure on Congress to fund more defense preparations.

    For an anti-missile missile to succeed in hitting its target, you have to know the trajectory of the target very accurately. The US has THAAD radars on South Korea, and AEGIS radars on the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group. At least 2 other AEGIS radars are on Japanese naval ships. Additonally there are unknown numbers of radars on aircraft and satellites. AEGIS is really a networking protocol that analyses all radar inputs, calculates the trajectory, and selects the best anti-missile missile to launch. This analysis is done in real-time and networked to all ships, so everyone knows what is going on all the time. I cannot believe it takes three days for the Pentagon to re-analyse the data before confirming an ICBM. That’s why I suspect there is a fraud going on here.

    Any objective opinions welcome.

    • J_kies

      Well, as a fan of deception in all things regarding DPRK releases, the DPRK performance claims are independently verifiable by adjacent nations with suitable sensors. ROK, Japan and US all align at some level with the DPRK claims.

      I suspect the Neo-Soviets have some political objectives however if you look at the technical characteristics of the LPAR radar its not really very effective at surveilling objects smaller than a wavelength without corner reflectors. I think its entirely possible they failed to see the second stage and other materials in real time and they are using that technical limitation to talk to only the major element – the expended first stage.

      • Palloy

        We know NK used a highly arched trajectory (high apogee, short distance traveled). This would be so that their radars could track the whole trajectory from NK bases. 3 would be needed to pinpoint the missile in 3-D, preferably 3 widely separated locations. Russia would need the same, and has plenty of room to handle it. I think it is a stretch to suggest that the Russians simply lost track of the second stage, why would they publish figures that could expose their inability to “see” the critically important warhead part?

        If RoK, Japan and US all agree on the figures, why did they start off by saying it was an IRBM, only to change their minds after the Pentagon did “further detailed analysis”? As US clients they could hardly disagree with the Pentagon, could they? But it would need a few days to get their stories sorted out.

        • J_kies

          Oh I am reasonably comfortable that the Russian’s are slinging BS knowing that they are lying, its a political game to posture. The fact that the other explanation would point out their poor technical capabilities was the reason why their claims are political.
          I suggest that you can google around and see the basis disagreements on what was flown, David here is on the high side and apparently assuming a standard vehicle design on a standard trajectory with a militarily relevant payload. Personally, I am on the extreme lower end of the characteristics of what was shown but I shave daily with Okham’s maxim.

  • Hmph

    You should be more concerned about your country than N. Korea.
    Your country has an established record of killing millions.
    N. Korea doesn’t.
    It is building these missiles because you are bullying and threatening her. WTF is she supposed to do???

  • Attila Mikolics

    How can the altitude be 3000km?

  • brent

    North Korea is an independent nation and has a right to defend itself.

  • brent

    The war industries supporting the Republicans a desperate for a new war so they can reap hundreds of billions off the taxpayer as they did in Iraq. They will push Trump and force him to start this war.

  • J_kies

    David – do please publish your payload expectation and the model parameters that generate the table.

  • Mike Grudić

    Hi David,

    I’ve worked through the problem and arrived at a rather different conclusion from the same data. If the apogee was 3700km and it made it 1000km downrange, the burnout speed was about 6.8km/s. Let’s be generous and say 7km/s.

    I find the range at optimum angle to be:

    range(v) = 2 acos(2 sqrt(1 – v^2) / (2-v^2)),

    where the range is in units of earth radii and the burnout speed v is in units of the circular orbital velocity, 7.9km/s. Substituting v=7km/s gives a range of 9000km, not quite enough to reach LA.

    What burnout speed did you obtain and how did you compute the range? Thanks!