North Korea’s most recent long-range ballistic missile test demonstrated to the world that Kim Jong-un’s regime now possesses a platform capable of reaching further than ever before, with some experts extrapolating a range capable of targeting cities as far as away as America’s Boston or New York City.

More recent analysis of the overall flight path of the ICBM, however, shows that there’s a high likelihood that North Korea’s re-entry vehicle may have failed to survive the extreme temperatures of passing back through the atmosphere en route to its target, meaning Kim Jong Un may indeed be able to lob a weapon at the other side of the globe, but there are still no guarantees that he can hit anything with it.

Using video footage captured by Japan’s Hokkaido Prefecture broadcast by Japan’s NHK television, Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, believes he’s been able to confirm that the re-entry vehicle began to come apart 2.5 to 3 miles above the Earth’s surface, before dimming from view and disappearing entirely.

“Had the RV survived the rigors of re-entry, it would have continued to glow … A reasonable conclusion based on the video evidence is that the … re-entry vehicle did not survive,” he said.

“If the bomb itself were exposed to these very severe conditions, it would be torn apart,” he explained. “In short, if the reentry vehicle breaks up, the bomb is not going to be useful — and it’s not going to detonate.”

Of course, this failure doesn’t mean Kim’s nuclear aspirations have resulted in an overall failure, rather that this particular test wasn’t an overall success.  There is little evidence to support the idea that the re-entry vehicle used on North Korea’s July 4th test failed, and to be frank, these types of failures are exactly why nations conduct such tests.  Like missing a tackle at football practice, a failure during a missile test ultimately amounts to nothing – as it’s your performance with the game, or the world, on the line that these efforts aim to improve.

This failure does, however, indicate that Kim’s claims that the entire United States is now within his targeting reach are, like so many other statements issued by the North Korean government, exaggerated at best, but that hasn’t stopped his regime from levying a new round of bombastic threats at the United States.

Every minute and every second, the new reality that U.S. mainland is on the knife’s edge of life and death is forcing U.S. administration to wave a white flag and fundamentally change her North Korea policy,” a column released on Thursday in the State-owned Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.

“It is not the denuclearization of N. Korea, but the security of U.S. mainland which should be the top priority of Trump administration,” it goes on. “If U.S. still refuses to accept such a realistic demand and doggedly pursue hostile policy against North Korea in order to save face, she will receive unexpected ‘gift packages’ which we will continue to send.”

With no elaboration on what the phrase “gift packages” might mean, it stands to reason that North Korea is suggesting further missile test-launches will take place in the near future.  A more dire interpretation could suggest North Korea may be working to attack or otherwise influence U.S. interests at home or abroad, but it seems unlikely that they would advertise such an endeavor in a newspaper column.

Despite the apparent failure of the re-entry vehicle of Kim’s most recent ICBM test, Elleman concurs with the Pentagon’s assessment that North Korea will likely have a fully functional ICBM platform soon – possibly even by the end of this year.  So, even if you can’t take Kim Jong-un’s word for it today, by this time next year, he may no longer have to rely on exaggeration.


Image courtesy of North Korea’s State Owned KCNA