Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford immediately phoned his South Korean counterpart Friday to discuss military options following North Koreaâ€™s second test launch this month of a missile with ICBM range to reach the U.S.
Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, the Joint Chiefs spokesman, said Dunford and Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, joined in the call to Gen. Lee Sun-jin, chairman of the Republic of (South) Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dunford and Harris underlined their “ironclad commitment” to the U.S.-South Korea alliance against the North and “also discussed military response options” to the growing North Korean Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) threat, Hicks said.
The unusual and pointed response from Dunford and Harris followed on North Koreaâ€™s launch of a missile at about 11 a.m. Eastern time Friday that splashed down within Japanâ€™s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
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Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, initially said, “I can confirm that we detected a launch of a ballistic missile from North Korea. We are assessing and will have more information soon.”
Hicks, in his statement on the Dunford-Harris phone call, later said the missile was an ICBM.
The missile was launched from Mupâ€™yong-ni, north of the capital Pyongyang near the Chinese border, and reached an altitude of about 3,700 kilometers (about 2,300 miles), according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The missile flew for about 45 minutes and traveled about 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles) before landing in Japanese waters, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said. “It is estimated that it was a more advanced type of an ICBM compared to the previous one based on the range,” the South Korean statement said.
On July 4, North Korea launched a missile that U.S. officials for the first time classified as an ICBM with the range to hit Alaska.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined that the latest missile launch did not pose a threat to North America, but the test appeared to show that North Korea is making significant progress in developing an accurate missile with the range to hit the U.S. mainland.
The U.S. has yet to determine whether North Korea has developed the technology to fit a nuclear warhead atop an ICBM that could survive re-entry into the atmosphere, but the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reportedly has significantly shortened the timeframe for when North Korea would have such a weapon.
Previous estimates said that North Korea was at least three years away from having the capability, but The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the DIA recently concluded that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be able to produce a “reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM” sometime in 2018.
The latest launch put added pressure on U.S. President Donald Trump to sign a bill passed by veto-proof margins in the House and Senate that would tighten sanctions on North Korea, as well as Iran and Russia.
In a statement, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called on Trump to sign the bill immediately.
“These missile tests must be met with consequences,” Turner said. “Earlier this week, I voted to increase sanctions against North Korea. The Senate has since taken the same action. I urge the President to quickly sign these sanctions into law to thwart further escalation of North Koreaâ€™s missile systems.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said, “While I am hopeful that a diplomatic solution will ultimately prevail, the United States cannot and will not allow an irrational dictator to have a capability that threatens millions of American lives — period.”
“This latest test further reinforces the need for a more robust and integrated ballistic missile defense system to protect not only Alaska and the rest of the nation, but also our deployed service members and our allies,” Sullivan said in a statement.
The U.S. Coast Guard gave notice to mariners July 23 on the possibility of another test of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system from Kodiak island in Alaska as early as this weekend. The launch by the Missile Defense Agency would occur from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska.
Dunford has frequently warned that Russia poses the “greatest threat” to U.S. security, but he added a caveat on North Korea in remarks last week.
At the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on July 22, Dunford said Russia is the threat “that is the most militarily capable,” but “we donâ€™t have the luxury today of singling out one challenge.”
He said that “from a sense of urgency perspective, North Korea would be our No. 1 challenge.”