By Yoonjung Seo and Brad Lendon, CNN
North Korea is ready to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at a normal trajectory, leader Kim Jong Un’s sister said Tuesday in state media, a flight pattern that could prove the weapons can threaten the continental United States.
In a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Yo Jong — the top official in her brother’s regime — also dismissed experts’ skepticism surrounding North Korea’s ICBM technology progress, specifically about the reentry capability of its weapons.
ICBMs are fired into space, where they speed along outside the atmosphere before their payloads — nuclear warheads — undergo a fiery reentry process, much like a space shuttle or space capsule, before plunging down on their targets.
If the process isn’t executed with pinpoint accuracy 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 reenters the atmosphere can make the process more difficult.
To date, North Korea has fired ballistic missiles that go hundreds of miles into space then renter the atmosphere at steep angles, with most falling into waters between North Korea and Japan.
To successfully target the mainland US, a North Korean missile would have to take a much shallower flight path and a shallower reentry angle.
“For several years, so-called experts have been saying that our ICBMs reentry into the atmosphere has not been recognized or verified,” Kim Yo Jong said.
“It seems obvious that they will try to disparage our strategic weapon capabilities with such a logic that it cannot be proven by a lofted-angle launch alone, and that it can only be known by firing at a normal angle…I’ll give an easy answer to that. We can try it soon and once you see it, you’ll know.”
In November, North Korea claimed to have launched a “new type” of ICBM, the Hwasong-17 — a missile that could theoretically reach the mainland US.
That was one of a record 35 occasions this year on which North Korea has tested missiles.
Western officials and experts are also expecting Pyongyang to test a nuclear warhead at any time. If that test comes, it will be its first since 2017.
On Sunday, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles that the South Korean military analyzed to be mid-range ballistic missiles (MRBM).
The following day KCNA said the country’s space agency conducted a “final gateway process of a reconnaissance satellite launch.”
Photos published in state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Monday appeared to show high-altitude, black-and-white aerial photos of South Korea’s capital Seoul and the nearby city of Incheon — location of the South’s main airport — but many experts questioned the images’ authenticity, particularly given their poor resolution.
In Tuesday’s statement, Kim Yo Jong defended North Korea’s recent report about a test for its satellite development and dismissed skepticism from experts about the purported aerial photos.
“South Korea’s so-called experts’ skepticism over the two photos taken by a testing color camera and their evaluation on my country’s satellite development and preparation state is so inappropriate and frivolous,” she said.
She defended that the testing was done properly and the results were known to the public.
“Through the test, important technical indicators such as camera operation technology, data processing and transmission capability of communication devices, and tracking and control accuracy of the ground control system were confirmed in space environment conditions,” she said, according to KCNA.
“Our people will stand firm in the reconnaissance satellite development project decided by our Party, no matter what the cost.”
US F-22 stealth fighters in South Korea
Meanwhile, top-of-the-line US F-22 stealth fighters are in South Korea this week for combined exercises with South Korean forces, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.
On Tuesday, the two allies combined their airpower for exercises in the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone near the southwestern part of Jeju Island, the ministry said, noting the deployment of a US B-52 bomber near the Korean Peninsula.
From the South Korean side, F-35 and F-15K fighter jets participated, according to a ministry statement.
It said the US F-22s, currently stationed in Japan, will stay in South Korea this week and conduct training with an emphasis on strengthening response capabilities against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
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