Debris indicates North Korean rocket could reach US coast


This month’s rocket launch by reclusive North Korea shows it has likely developed the technology to fire a warhead more than 10,000km, South Korean officials said yesterday. This would put the US west coast in range.

North Korea said the launch on December 12th put a weather satellite in orbit but critics say it was aimed at nurturing the kind of technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

North Korea is banned from testing missile or nuclear technology under UN sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons tests and the UN Security Council condemned the launch.

First-stage rocket

South Korea retrieved and analysed parts of the first-stage rocket that dropped in the waters off its west coast.

“As a result of analysing the material . . . we judged North Korea had secured a range of more than 10,000km in case the warhead is 500-600kg,” a South Korean defence ministry official said.

North Korea’s previous missile tests ended in failure. North Korea, which denounces the United States as the mother of all warmongers almost daily, has spent decades and scarce resources trying to develop technology capable of striking targets as far away as the US.

Nuclear bomb

It is also working to build a nuclear arsenal. But experts say it is years away from mastering the technology needed to miniaturise a nuclear bomb to mount on a missile.

South Korean defence officials also said there was no confirmation whether the North had the re-entry technology needed for a payload to survive the heat and vibration without disintegrating.

Despite international condemnation, the launch was seen as a major boost domestically to the credibility of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who took over power from his father who died last year. Apparently encouraged by the euphoria, the fledgling supreme leader called for the development and launching of “a variety of more working satellites” and “carrier rockets of bigger capacity” at a banquet in Pyongyang last Friday, which he hosted for those who contributed to the lift-off, according to North Korean state media.

– (Reuters)