People watch a South Korean television broadcast of a news report on North Korea firing what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that landed close to Japan. Photo: Reuters / Kim Hong-Ji

North Korea says the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that it fired on Tuesday was “tipped with super-large heavy warhead which is capable of striking the whole mainland of the US.”

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in an English-language statement that the rocket, a newly developed Hwasong-15, was the most powerful yet and marked “the completion of the rocket weaponry system development” by the country.

KCNA also noted that the missile boasted greater “tactical and technological specifications and technical characteristics” than its predecessor, the Hwasong-14. It is also said to have accurately hit its target site in the East Sea after making a 53-minute flight.

Leader Kim Jong-un was said to have personally ordered the test. He was quoted as saying the launch “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”

South Korea’s unification minister had said on Tuesday that North Korea could announce the completion of its nuclear weapons programs next year to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the nation’s founding.

Korea JoongAng Daily quoted South Korean military officials as saying the missile could have flown over 10,000 km if it had been fired at a normal angle rather than a high arc. The reported range is enough to reach targets on the US mainland. The distance between the North Korean launch site at Pyongsong and Los Angeles is 9,550 km.

Measured act

IHS Markit, a London-based strategic analysis firm noted on Wednesday that Pyongyang’s decision to send its missile on a lofted, high-arc trajectory that avoided threatening US military bases in Japan indicated that the regime was “choosing tests and provocative actions that pose the least threat to North Korea.” At the same time, analyst Alison Evans said the launch demonstrated the North’s commitment to developing a nuclear-capable ICBM.