The U.S. military reportedly detected preparations for North Korea’s most recent missile launch at least 72 hours prior, according to The Diplomat, citing U.S. intelligence sources.
North Korea tested its new Hwasong-15 (KN-22) intercontinental ballistic missile before dawn last Tuesday, but while the launch came as a surprise for many, the U.S. intelligence saw it coming. Early last month, U.S. officials told CNN that the North was developing a new, more advanced ICBM, one potentially superior to the Hwasong-14 ICBM tested twice successfully in July. Prior to last week’s ballistic missile launch, the U.S. spotted North Korea’s military making preparations.
U.S. military intelligence detected launch pad preparations three hours before the launch, and the military had an eye on the rocket standing erect on the pad two hours before the North fired the weapon into space. The U.S. military detected launch preparations prior to the previous ICBM launches as well.
Usual giveaways include the construction of viewing platforms and other testing equipment, which might not be present under normal combat launch situations.
The missile soared 2,800 miles into space without any apparent issue, but it is unclear how the weapon performed during atmospheric re-entry, as views within the intelligence community appear to vary. U.S. officials told CNN that the re-entry vehicle likely failed during North Korea’s most recent missile test, and the crew of a Cathay Pacific flight claims to have seen the missile explode during re-entry, although David Wright, a senior physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, suspects that the crew actually saw stage separation and second-stage ignition during the ascent.
The ICBM was fired on a lofted trajectory rather than a minimum energy trajectory, putting more structural stress on the missile’s re-entry vehicle but reducing the duration and intensity of temperature-based stresses.
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