250 Miles West of DC: North Korea's Other ICBMs

Long before the July 4th “first” North Korean ICBM launch, North Korea successfully launched two ICBMs that placed dummy warheads into orbit, and they passed 250 miles west of Washington, DC just 73 minutes after launch. One launch succeeded in 2012, and the other in 2016.

But almost nobody has talked about these, instead sticking to the script that North Korea never tested an ICBM and wouldn’t for many years. That all changed on July 4th, however their existing ICBM is still ignored, and it is impossible to know whether they have no others of this missile, a few, or even a fleet.

The missile is the Unha-3 or Taepodong-3. It is no secret, and it even has its own Wikipedia page, and various news articles covered the launches.

The following Indian site has a good analysis of the missile–although they apparently bought the North Korean propaganda that it is a civilian satellite launcher. Download their Google Earth ‘KMZ’ file to see the missile’s first orbit over the U.S.:


The Unha-3 has weaknesses to be sure. It is entirely liquid-fueled, and in the past it took many weeks to prepare for launch at their main launch pad, so it probably can’t be launched from a mobile launcher or on little notice. Probably–we wouldn’t know until the next launch. Two earlier launches failed.

But they successfully launched two dummy warheads into earth orbit on those missiles.

The apologists for North Korea have always claimed that no action was ever necessary against their nuclear and missile programs because they don’t have an ICBM and can’t re-enter a warhead.  This year’s various tests disproved both arguments.

However, some believe that North Korea could launch an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike on the U.S., using either the Unha or one of their newer ICBMs, or simply using one of their tested medium range missiles fired from the mid-Pacific from a ship or one of their submarines.

An EMP warhead needs no reentry thermal protection as it would be detonated in orbit to destroy our electric grid. Dr. Peter Pry of the Congressional EMP Commission and Ambassador Hank Cooper of High Frontier have both studied the EMP threats from both North Korea and Iran, and believe the threat is real. It is time for Congress and the administration to take urgent action to harden our grid from both EMP and hacking attacks.

North Korea scored a giant propaganda coup with their claim that they were launching “satellites” on the Uhnas and to get them accepted as peaceful satellite launches, rather than what they were–military ICBM launches. News reports called them “rockets,” not “missiles.” A “satellite” or “payload,” not a “warhead” or “dummy warhead.”

Iran successfully uses the same propaganda technique in declaring their ICBM and other missile launches to be part of a fictitious “space program.”

North Korea did not launch the Unha-3 ICBMs eastward across the Pacific towards our west coast–which even today is the only trajectory ever discussed on the media. You’ve heard the reports: “can they reach Hawaii or California?” However the south-polar trajectory put their dummy warheads about 250 miles west of Washington DC just 73 minutes after launch, directly threatening the entire east coast and our capital–or via further orbits, any city in the world. A single EMP warhead, detonated from orbit over the east coast would destroy the electric grid for half the country.

The media entirely missed that these two ICBMs bypassed our Alaska-based missile defenses, as well as the Unha-3’s trajectory that put their dummy warheads directly over the U.S.  An Aegis near South Korea or stationed in the Gulf of Mexico might be able to shoot them down. DoD should realize that North Korea could use the trajectory in war that they have already used twice.

Regardless of other U.S. military options, all North Korean missile launches must be intercepted, rather to try to ascertain whether or not a particular launch is another test or the real thing. To assume the best intentions is to grant the North the continual ability to destroy the U.S. at any moment of their choosing.

Why are these points important? Because if policy makers are unaware or downplay these threats, their recommendations will be dangerously flawed, and if the public is led to believe the threat is not as serious as the evidence proves, they will not support necessary actions to neutralize the Kim regime.


Art Harman was the Legislative Director and foreign policy advisor for Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) in the 113th Congress, and is a veteran policy analyst and grass-roots political expert. His expertise includes foreign relations, border security/amnesty, national security, transportation and NASA/space policy. Mr. Harman developed the strategy to kill the 2013 Senate “gang of eight” amnesty bill as violating the Origination Clause, and provided policy advice to the Trump campaign and transition. He is a frequent guest on radio shows on key policy issues.

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