It was “ugly,” said a US lawmaker briefed on the launch. Defense officials “didn’t immediately feel good about his capabilities,” this person added.
The first telemetry readouts — which can be inaccurate and often discarded as more data becomes available — suggested the missile could pose a threat as far away as the Aleutian Islands off Alaska or the California coast, two known sources said. with the case to DailyExpertNews.
Within minutes, the US Northern Command and the Northern American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) rejected those initial measurements, ruling that the missile posed no direct threat to the mainland United States. The test weapon — which sources say was a less maneuverable version of a hypersonic glider designed to evade missile defenses — crashed harmlessly into the sea between China and Japan, thousands of miles from threatening America.
The grounding forced air traffic controllers to ground some planes while briefly diverting others in the air, according to air traffic control footage, but air traffic controllers were unable to explain to pilots what caused the grounding. Some air traffic controllers erroneously called it a national ground stop, something not seen since 9/11.
The question now is what sparked that initial burst of urgency — and perhaps why the FAA reacted the way it did.
“What we’re seeing here is just the normal process of coordination and communication from which some decisions were made in the beginning that probably didn’t need to be made,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday afternoon.
NORAD maintains that it was the FAA’s call for the ground shutdown and that it has issued no warning or alarm as a result of the North Korean missile launch.
“As a precautionary measure, the FAA has temporarily suspended departures at some airports along the West Coast,” the FAA said in a statement on Tuesday. “The FAA regularly takes precautions. We are reviewing the process around this ground freeze as we do after all such events.”
The FAA did not respond to multiple DailyExpertNews requests for comment Thursday.
A US official said the ground stop was not communicated through the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, located in Warrenton, Virginia, and instead went directly to regional centers on the West Coast.
The launch on Tuesday marked the second such launch by North Korea in a week. But the first, last Thursday, was much less sophisticated, South Korean officials said.
US officials are still conducting their assessment of the most recent test, but analysts who closely monitor North Korea’s weapons development programs have identified the missile used Tuesday as a “maneuverable reentry vehicle” — still a hypersonic hover vehicle that can steer off course. change after re-entering the atmosphere, but that has limited range and maneuverability compared to more advanced systems.
“It actually falls,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “It falls with style.”
Lewis said it’s not uncommon for detection systems such as radar or infrared satellites to struggle to determine a missile’s trajectory in the first few moments after a launch.
“If it’s a plain old ballistic missile, they can usually calculate that pretty well, but you have to wait for the engine to stop firing,” he said. “So that’s why sometimes you see errors, because you try to calculate it before the engine stops firing, and if you’re at an odd angle you might be able to see it going up, but not in which direction.”
In any case, there is no question that the launch violated UN Security Council resolutions banning North Korea from using ballistic missiles. And arms control experts continue to sound the alarm that Pyongyang’s weapons development program continues to pose a long-term threat to the United States and its allies.
US officials familiar with North Korea’s weapons development programs say Pyongyang’s efforts to develop hypersonic missiles come as no surprise — North Korea has publicly telegraphed its intentions — even if some of the specific capabilities demonstrated by the missile that was launched on Tuesday, were surprising. Those sources declined to specify which capabilities were unknown.
In January last year, North Korea publicly stated that it had “completed the investigation into developing warheads for various combat missions, including the new-type hypersonic glide-flight warheads for ballistic missiles, and was preparing for their test production.”
Yet, after years of high-profile diplomatic exchanges between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Biden administration has so far taken a relatively calm approach to North Korea, even as it has continued to condemn Pyongyang’s tests. .
DailyExpertNews’s Natasha Bertrand and Pete Muntean contributed to this report.