South Korean officials say they found evidence that the rocket launched by North Korea earlier this month has military, not peaceful, purposes and is putting Pyongyang in reach of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The New York Times reports intelligence officials from the South Korean Defense Ministry said Sunday that the rocket, which launched Dec. 12, can fly more than 6,000 miles carrying a warhead weighing about 1,100 to 1,300 pounds, putting the West Coast of the United States in range.
Before the announcement from Seoul, North Korean missile-watchers believed it had technology to only carry into space an object weighing up to 100 kilograms, reports VOA.
A North Korean rocket may be designed to reach as far as Los Angeles but analysts doubt that the country has a nuclear warhead small enough to be placed atop a missile and survive a re-entry into the atmosphere.
Pyongyang insists that its rocket was an earth-observation satellite and that North Korea is entitled to develop a peaceful space program.
South Korean officials analyzed a piece of debris from the rocket launch that landed deep in a sea bed off the country's southwestern Gunsan port city.
The debris appeared to be part of a fuel tank emblazoned with the word "Unha-3". The South Korean Navy also salvaged part of the rockets engine, which officials hoped would provide more clues.
Rocket inspectors in Seoul said the welding on parts of the rocket appeared to be "crude" and it contained parts that would rarely be used by countries with advanced space technology, reports the BBC.
South Korean officials said they would not be able to tell whether Pyongyang had the re-entry technology needed to deliver a missile until debris from the second and third stages of the rocket launch was analyzed, the defense ministry told the BBC.
"As the additional pieces are salvaged, we will be able to look deeper into the function and structure of North Korea's long-range rocket," an official was quoted as saying by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
According to reports from the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to start work on new and more sophisticated satellites and "carrier rockets of bigger capacity."