Skip to main content

South Korean officials: North Korean rocket could hit U.S. mainland

By Paula Hancocks and Greg Botelho, CNN
December 24, 2012 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)
This photo from South Korea's Defence Ministry Sunday shows debris from North Korea's December 12 rocket launch.
This photo from South Korea's Defence Ministry Sunday shows debris from North Korea's December 12 rocket launch.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Korea launched a long-range rocket earlier this month
  • It says it was to launch a satellite; critics say it was to test missile technology
  • South Korea finds and analyzes an oxidizer tank used in the launch
  • Its officials say their analysis shows the rocket could go over 6,000 miles, carry 275 pounds

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- The rocket launched earlier this month by North Korea had the capability to travel more than 6,000 miles, meaning this type of rocket could strike the United States, South Korean defense officials said.

In remarks to reporters Friday, which were embargoed until Sunday, three officials with South Korea's defense ministry offered their observations about the December 12 launch based on a recovered oxidizer tank that had been part of one of the rocket's boosters. According to NASA, an oxidizer tank contains oxygen compounds that allow rocket fuel to burn in the atmosphere and outside of it, in space.

North Korean officials cheered what they hailed as a successful launch of a long-range rocket, which they said put a satellite in orbit. But the mission drew international condemnation, with many viewing it as cover for testing of ballistic missile technology, which the United Nations has forbidden Pyongyang from using.

Timeline: North Korea's rocket-fueled obsession

Person of the Year: Kim Jong Un?
North Korea hopes to launch more rockets

The South Korean military officials said the evidence they found helps show their nuclear-equipped rival's intent and progress in developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Based on a simulation, the officials estimated the rocket can travel more than 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles), meaning it could reach the U.S. mainland from North Korea. It can carry a payload of about 500 to 600 kilograms (about 1,100 to 1,320 pounds).

The oxidizer tank used red fuming nitric acid, based on technology the officials said originated in the former Soviet Union and can now be found in Iran. They said an Internet analysis suggests a technological connection between North Korea and Iran, though there is no firm evidence that any of the parts discovered thus far were imported from another country.

Read more: North Korea silences doubters, raises fears with rocket launch

The South Korean officials said the oxidizer tank appeared to be produced using rudimentary technology, suggesting it may have been made by hand.

This picture from North Korea\'s Korean Central News Agency on December 12 shows the rocket Unha-3 being monitored at a satellite control center in North Korea.
This picture from North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on December 12 shows the rocket Unha-3 being monitored at a satellite control center in North Korea.

The rocket launch's success, after years of failed attempts, triggered worries among world leaders about nuclear weapons, Iran and the balance of power in the Pacific. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called it a "clear provocation."

Experts do not believe North Korea has a nuclear warhead small enough to fly on the kind of missile that Pyongyang has now proved it can send long distance. But the launch did allow the regime to flex its military and technological muscle on the world stage.

Read more: North Korea holds little sway in South Korea's election

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has "stressed the need to continue to launch satellites in the future," the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a report this month, raising the prospect of more controversial moves to come.

Panetta told CNN earlier this month that he is "very confident" that, if North Korea were to launch a missile at the United States, the U.S. military could guard against it.

CNN's Paula Hancocks reported from Seoul, and CNN's Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
As diplomats discuss a string of unsolved kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea, the families of those abducted anxiously wait and hope.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
North Korea says it plans to prosecute two American tourists that it detained earlier this year, accusing them of "perpetrating hostile acts."
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 2338 GMT (0738 HKT)
North Korea proposed that "all hostile military activities" with South Korea be halted, but it attached conditions that Seoul is likely to reject.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
North Korean state news is reporting the country test-launched "cutting-edge ultra precision tactical guided missiles."
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
James Franco won't be following Dennis Rodman into North Korea anytime soon.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Don't you hate it when the weatherman gets it wrong? Apparently, so does Kim Jong Un.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 2344 GMT (0744 HKT)
New signs show Russia and North Korea are developing a closer relationship.
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
Photographer Eric Lafforgue visited North Korea and shares his inside look at the most isolated country in the world.
May 13, 2014 -- Updated 0125 GMT (0925 HKT)
Many North Koreans listen to illegal broadcasts on homemade radios, some are convinced to defect.
May 8, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Jang Jin-Sung, a North Korean defector and former regime insider, speaks with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
May 13, 2014 -- Updated 1406 GMT (2206 HKT)
iReporter Kenny Zhu visited North Korea in April and was able to take video footage and photos with his Google Glass during the trip.
April 29, 2014 -- Updated 1842 GMT (0242 HKT)
North Korea loves saber-rattling. Here's a look at all the firepower they have stockpiled.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 0003 GMT (0803 HKT)
CNN's Elise Labott reports on the new baby pictures of Kim Jong Un released by North Korean state media.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Experts warn that under Kim Jong Un's rule, Pyongyang has shown an even greater willingness to raise the stakes than before.
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
China and North Korea criticize a U.N. report that found crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
March 17, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in the 1970s. What happened after that?
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Report: North Korea uses multiple techniques to defy sanctions, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear missile programs.
ADVERTISEMENT