South Korea on Wednesday strongly condemned North Korea's missile launch and vowed to sternly respond to any provocation by the North based on its ironclad combined defense readiness with the U.S.
The South Korean military said the North launched what appears to be a long-range ballistic missile into the East Sea from Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province, at around 3:17 a.m. Wednesday.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile soared as high as 45-hundred kilometers and flew some 960 kilometers.
The missile is presumed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. The U.S. and Japan also assessed the latest missile as an ICBM.
North Korean media on Wednesday officially claimed the successful launch of what it called a Hwasong-15 ICBM.
The statement said the new rocket was successfully test fired and that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was at the launch site to oversee a "historic achievement." State media said that Kim declared the completion of the country's nuclear weapons capability has been finally achieved.
There are many ways to calculate a missile's maximum range but generally it is considered to be two to three times the flight altitude. By this method, the latest missile's range is estimated to be between 9,000 and 13-thousand kilometers.
The distance from North Korea's east coast to the U.S. west coast is about 82-hundred kilometers, which theoretically makes a North Korean strike of the U.S. western coast a possibility.
Along with range, another key component in determining the completion of an ICBM is its atmospheric reentry capability.
ICBMs reenter the atmosphere to approach their target, and the warhead must withstand extreme heat of 6,000 to 7,000 degrees Celsius during the reentry process.
To verify a missile’s ability to renter the atmosphere, it must be launched at a normal trajectory. Considering the latest missile was fired at a higher angle, experts believe North Korea has yet to master the reentry technology.
The missile launch comes 75 days after the North fired the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile on September 15th.
There had been two differing opinions regarding the long break in the regime's provocations.
Pyongyang was either seeking a shift toward dialogue or it was going through technical preparations to complete its nuclear capability. The latter has turned out to be true.
Before Wednesday’s test, Seoul and Washington are known to have picked up signs of an imminent missile launch.
The South Korean military conducted live-fire missile training six minutes after the North’s missile launch. President Moon Jae-in also talked on the phone with U.S. President Donald Trump and discussed bilateral coordination.
A very stringent response is expected from the U.S. as North Korea has flaunted its ability to strike the U.S. mainland.