The latest missile tested by North Korea flew high enough and long enough that, had it been aimed at the U.S., it would have flown far enough to reach the U.S. mainland, including many major cities.
At least that's the consensus of most outside experts, who have reviewed available data for the July 28 launch, the second test of North Korea's Hawson-14 two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile.
But one noted expert and skeptic says "not so fast."
Physicist Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made a name for himself debunking the accuracy of the Patriot missile system used against Iraq SCUD missiles in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Now, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Postol and two of his fellow missile experts who analyzed the data from the two Hwasong-14 flight tests on July 4 and 28 have concluded that both tests were "carefully choreographed deception by North Korea to create a false impression that the Hwasong-14 is a near-ICBM that poses a nuclear threat to the continental U.S."
"The Hwasong-14 does not currently constitute a nuclear threat to the lower 48 states of the United States," the scientists write. In fact, they say it "may not even be able to deliver a North Korean atomic bomb to Alaska."
The scientists say it appears the missile's impressive altitude was the result of "a reduced payload" that was much lighter than a nuclear warhead and that the second test on July 28 had an even smaller payload.
They say the spectacular night re-entry of the rocket, which was captured on Japanese surveillance cameras, created an impressive meteoric display that many experts mistakenly thought was the breakup of a failed warhead re-entry vehicle but was almost certainly the heavy front-end of the nearly empty upper stage.
The much-ballyhooed ICBM is a sham, a highly orchestrated event that successfully fooled the world into thinking the communist regime's missile program was much further along than it is.
"Calculations we have made – based on detailed study of the type and size of the rocket motors used, the flight times of the stages of the rockets, the propellant likely used, and other technical factors – indicate that these rockets actually carried very small payloads that were nowhere near the weight of a nuclear warhead of the type North Korea could have, or could eventually have."
The bottom line: North Korea isn't there yet, and isn't as good at rocket science as it claims.
"Although it is clear that North Korea is not capable of manufacturing sophisticated rocket components, their skill and ingenuity in using Soviet rocket motor components has grown very substantially," the report concludes. "This is not good news for the long run."
The full report, with charts and calculations, can be found here.