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Can North Korea’s Rockets Reach the US?

North Korea’s latest missile test has brought simmering tensions between the notoriously reclusive country and the United States to a head. But are fears of nuclear war premature? Are North Korean rockets capable of reaching American shores?

It’s possible, according to John Schilling, an American aerospace engineer and North Korea analyst.

Schilling, whose experience includes developing rockets for the U.S. Air Force, said the latest North Korean missile is the first with sufficient range and payload capacity to deliver a single nuclear warhead into United States territory. [North Korea: A Hermit Country from Above (Photos)]

The July 4 test launch was “definitely unprecedented,” Schilling told Live Science. “They’ve used bits of technology that they’ve been testing in smaller missiles, but this is the first time they’ve tested a missile of this scale.”

Schilling is a consultant for 38 North, a website devoted to expert analysis of North Korea, run by the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

The North Korean news agency KCNA broadcast a video of the launch and reported that the missile reached a maximum altitude of 1,741 miles (2,802 kilometers) and flew for 39 minutes before it impacted in the Sea of Japan “more than 930 km” (580 miles) from its launch site near Kusong, in the northwest of the country.

In a blog post, David Wright, director of the Global Security Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimated that the new missile has a theoretical maximum range of around 4,160 miles (6,700 km) from launch sites in North Korea.

“In its present form, it couldn’t reach much farther than Alaska or maybe Hawaii,” Schilling said, “but we think it can be fairly easily extended to cover the West Coast of the United States.”

Nuclear threat

There can be little doubt about North Korea’s intended targets for its missiles — the country’s state media regularly issues dire warnings to South Korea, Japan and the…

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