South Korean Defense Ministry indicated Sunday that “North Korea’s recent rocket launch amounted to the test of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a half-ton payload as far as the US west coast.”
North Korea had launched its three-stage Unha-3 rocket on December 12, assuring it was a purely scientific mission aimed at putting a polar-orbiting satellite in space.
South Korea’s estimate was based on analysis of an oxidizer container – recovered from the rocket’s first-stage splashdown site – which stored red fuming nitric acid to fuel the first-stage propellant.
“Based on our analysis and simulation, the missile is capable of flying more than 10,000 kilometers with a warhead of 500-600 kilograms,” AFP quoted a defense ministry official as saying.
Speaking before reporters, the official further said it could not be determined if the rocket had re-entry capability – a key element of inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology.