Latest North Korea missile test represents significant advance

THE PENTAGON -- A missile launch over the weekend shows that North Korea's technology seems to be getting more sophisticated.

It's not the "perfect weapon" the North Koreans claim, but the latest test represents a significant advance for Kim Jung Un and his nuclear weapons program.

After three failures, it was the first successful test of an intermediate-range missile capable of reaching the island of Guam, where the U.S. has a major bomber base. It flew for 30 minutes -- longer than any previous North Korean test.

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Most importantly, U.S. officials say it appears to have been a test of a reentry vehicle, a key technology North Korea must master before it can develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the United States mainland with a nuclear weapon.

The test missile flew 1,200 miles into space, so as the reentry vehicle came back to Earth it encountered extreme heat and buffeting when it hit the atmosphere. The technological challenge is to withstand the heat and buffeting without being knocked off course.

It landed 60 miles south of the Russian port of Vladivostok.

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North Korea claimed the missile was capable of carrying a "large size heavy nuclear warhead" -- in which case it wouldn't have to be very accurate.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.