North Korean Missile Flown Over Japan Might Have Landed Short of Expected Range

August 30, 2017 Updated: September 3, 2017

The ballistic missile North Korea fired on early Tuesday and flew over Japan might have fallen short of its intended range, based on an analysis of the propaganda photo released by the North Korea state media.

On Tuesday early morning (local time), North Korea launched its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) from near the capital of Pyongyang. The missile flew about 2,700 km (1,677 miles) and crossed the airspace over northern Japan’s Hokkaido island, before crashing into the northwestern Pacific Ocean, according to reports.

Japan, South Korea, the United States, and the UN Security Council all strongly condemned this provocative launch, with its trajectory clearly violating Japan’s airspace. U.S. President Trump also warned on Tuesday that “all options” are on the table in response to this latest aggression.

North Korea publicly hailed the launch as a success, with its state propaganda outlet, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) releasing a series of photos showing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un personally observing the launch from a command post set up near the launch site.

In this photo released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Aug. 29, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un can be seen sitting next to a table with a map on top that apparently visualizes the intended launch plan for the Hwasong-12 missile. (KCNA)
In this photo released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Aug. 29, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un can be seen sitting next to a table with a map on top that apparently visualizes the intended launch plan for the Hwasong-12 missile. (KCNA)

One of the photos shows Kim and other North Korean military generals celebrating the success of the launch, with Kim sitting at a desk with a map on top that appears to show the region of the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and northwestern Pacific areas relevant to the missile test.

At a glance, the map in the photo appears blurry and betrays little information due to it not being the intended focus of the photo. By digitally reversing the image and sharpening the detail however, the title of the map, “Hwasong-12 Missile Launch Plan” becomes clearly visible, showing it is the map of the intended launch plan for the Hwasong-12 missile.

Experts have already began working out the more important details from this photo. On Tuesday night, Dutch satellite expert Marco Langbroek published a modified version of the map on Twitter, using georeferencing techniques, he reversed and stretched the visible part of Kim’s map to match the actual world map.

In the original map on Kim’s table, pink color arc lines can be seen marked on the Eastern part of the map along with a few blurry text boxes. Assuming the pink line annotates the intended reach of the Hwasong-12 missile, a missile trajectory of 3,300 km (2,050 miles) can be established from the original launch site near Pyongyang.

South Korea and U.S. sources have already confirmed that the Hwasong-12 missile launched on Tuesday flew only 2,700 km (1,677 miles) before crashing into the Pacific Ocean, which is 600 km (372 miles) short of the distance the missile originally aimed to achieve according to the map that was shown to Kim.

“If the 2700 km given by western military sources is correct, it is clearly short of the ~3300 km trajectory drawn on the map,” wrote Marco Langbroek on Twitter.

It is unknown what caused the Tuesday launch to be shortened from its original launch plan. However, the relatively untested Hwasong-12 missile has a poor launch success rate on record, with three of the four previous launches ending in catastrophic failure.

Western analysts have yet to decide whether the missile launched on Tuesday was also a failure as the missile reportedly broke into three parts before crashing into the sea. A variety of failures could have conceivably caused the missile to crash short of its intended target area.

It has also been observed that Tuesday’s launch site is about 3,400 km (2,112 miles) from Guam, the strategic U.S. territory and Island that Kim had threatened to attack earlier this month. This would explain the 3,300 km trajectory planned on Tuesday as either a preparation for a future strike on Guam, or as a show of North Korea’s capability to hit the island.

The Epoch Times reported earlier this month that North Korea’s threats to attack Guam might have been motivated by the fact that the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the regime currently possesses can’t yet reach the continental United States with a nuclear warhead.

On paper, Guam is well within range of many of North Korea’s intercontinental and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The Hwasong-12 launch on Tuesday, however, casts doubt on the actual capability and reliability of North Korea’s missiles.