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US Intelligence: North Korea’s ICBM Reentry Vehicles Are Likely Good Enough to Hit the Continental US

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The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has assessed that North Korea’s Hwasong-14/KN20 intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) test launch on July 28 failed to demonstrate successful atmospheric reentry, The Diplomat has learned. The same assessment, however, notes that North Korea’s ICBM reentry vehicles would likely perform adequately if flown on a normal trajectory to continental U.S. targets.

U.S. government sources with knowledge of the confidential CIA assessment released in early August note that the reentry vehicle of the Hwasong-14 ICBM launched out of Mupyong-ni on July 28 did not survive to splashdown in the Sea of Japan. The reentry vehicle likely disintegrated; the assessment cites the high lofted trajectory of the July 28 launch as the primary reason for the reentry vehicle’s failure.

The CIA assessment notes that based on the two observed flight tests of the Hwasong-14 to date, North Korea’s reentry vehicle technology is likely sufficiently advanced to pose no performance problem should the missile be fired at a minimum energy trajectory. The assessment of the reentry vehicle is supported by analysis of data “gathered from ground, sea, and air-based sensors” by the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), one source told The Diplomat.

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