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North KoreaNorth Korean missiles can reach major U.S. cities beyond West Coast

Published 31 July 2017

Based on current information, the recent missile test by North Korea could easily reach the U.S. West Coast and a number of major U.S. cities beyond the West Coast. News reports say that North Korea again launched its missile on a very highly lofted trajectory, which allowed the missile to fall in the Sea of Japan rather than overflying Japan. The reports also say the maximum altitude of the launch was 3,700 km (2,300 miles) with a flight time of about 47 minutes. If those numbers are correct, the missile flown on a standard trajectory would have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation.

Based on current information, the recent missile test by North Korea could easily reach the U.S. West Coast and a number of major U.S. cities.

UCS notes that news reports say that North Korea again launched its missile on a very highly lofted trajectory, which allowed the missile to fall in the Sea of Japan rather than overflying Japan. It appears the ground range of the test was around 1,000 km (600 miles), which put it in or close to Japanese territorial waters. Reports also say the maximum altitude of the launch was 3,700 km (2,300 miles) with a flight time of about 47 minutes.

If those numbers are correct, the missile flown on a standard trajectory would have a range 10,400 km (6,500 miles), not taking into account the Earth’s rotation.

However, the rotation of the Earth increases the range of missiles fired eastward, depending on their direction. Calculating the range of the missile in the direction of some major U.S. cities gives the approximate results, shown in this table:

 

City

Distance from NK

Range of missile
toward city

Los Angeles

9,500 km
(5,900 mi)

11,700 km
(7,250 mi)

Denver

9,800 km
(6,100 mi)

11,400 km
(7.100 mi)

Chicago

10,400 km
(6,500 mi)

11.100 km
(6,900 mi)

Boston

10,750 km
(6,700 mi)

10,750 km
(6,700 mi)

New York

10,850 km
(6,750 mi)

10,850 km
(6,750 mi)

Washington, D.C.

11,000 km
(6,850 mi)

10,900 km
(6,800 mi)

 

The table shows that Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and that Boston and New York may be just within range. Washington, D.C., may be just out of range.

USC notes that it is important to keep in mind that we do not know the mass of the payload the missile carried on this test. If it was lighter than the actual warhead the missile would carry, the ranges would be shorter than those estimated above.