WASHINGTON — The Pentagon believes North Korea's missile test launch on July 4 featured an intercontinental ballistic missile shot from a mobile launcher, a marked advance in capability for the regime of Kim Jong Un.
The missile test, the thirteenth to occur this year, showed a capability that was "not one we've seen before," according to Capt. Jeff Davis, Pentagon spokesman. Davis said that was both because of the range of the weapon and the fact that it was launched via a mobile platform. The launch occurred at an aircraft plant area known as Panghyon.
However, Davis stressed the capability is still limited, noting in particular that North Korea has yet to demonstrate a successful re-entry vehicle or the ability to mate a nuclear warhead to the weapon, which was part of the calculus for why the U.S. did not attempt to shoot the missile down.
While the Pentagon did not directly confirm, expert analysts say the missile launched on Tuesday was a Hwasong-14 design, which could have a range of up to 10,000 kilometers — capable of hitting Alaska. However, Tuesday’s test did not go nearly as far, instead splashing down in the Sea of Japan after a 37 minute flight, and others have put the range of the Hwasong-14 at closer to 8,000 kilometers.
ICBMs are missiles that can travel thousands of miles from one continent to another. Many analysts define an ICBM as having a range in excess of 5,500 kilometers, or 3,420 miles.
In response to the launch by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the U.S. and South Korea issued a show of force by launching weapons from a pair of Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, batteries, controlled by the U.S. Eighth Army.
The decision to respond with ATACMS was made at a high level of the U.S. government, though Davis would not say exactly who gave final authority to launch. He also indicated there were not any U.S. movements under way in response to the launch, but noted that the "full range of capabilities are at our disposal" to respond if needed.
The U.S., Japan and South Korea have called for a special session of the United Nations Security Council for Wednesday afternoon to address the launch.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.