U.S. defense chief Jim Mattis and his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera have condemned North Korea’s test of a new type of long-range missile, with the pair blasting Pyongyang for its “reckless, outlaw behavior.”
Mattis and Onodera spoke for 30 minutes by telephone Friday to discuss Wednesday’s launch of what experts say was an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of about 13,000 km (8,100 miles) — a distance that would put the whole of the continental United States within striking distance.
Mattis reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad commitment” to defending Japan, adding that Washington “remains vigilant in providing Japan extended deterrence” backed by “the full range of U.S. capabilities,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The pair also said that the North’s “ongoing aggressive actions make all the more clear the need for multilateral security cooperation” to address the growing threat posed by North Korea and to maintain stability throughout the Indo-Pacific region, the statement said.
Pyongyang hailed Wednesday’s launch as a “breakthrough,” with leader Kim Jong Un saying the country had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”
Based on video footage and photographs of the Hwasong-15 ICBM, U.S.-based experts have said that the North does appear to be capable of delivering a nuclear bomb anywhere in the U.S., with one noting that such a weapon could be combat ready by next year.
U.S. missile expert Michael Elleman, writing on the 38 North website, said the Hwasong-15 had marked a “significant improvement” in the North’s ability to target the U.S.
“How many more tests North Korea will undertake depends on the regime’s perceived needs. At least one or two more tests on a standard trajectory are needed to validate its performance as a ballistic missile,” Elleman wrote Thursday. “Additional flight tests should be performed to determine the missile’s reliability, establish its accuracy and verify the re-entry protection system. However, if low confidence in the missile’s reliability is acceptable, two or three test firings over the next four to six months may be all that is required before Kim Jong Un declares the Hwasong-15 combat ready.”