Officials say North Korea can hit most of US as military eyes 'highly unusual' submarine activity

WASHINGTON, July 31 (Reuters) - North Korea's latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has shown that Pyongyang now may be able to reach most of the continental United States, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Monday.

The assessment, which the officials discussed on condition of anonymity, underscored the growing threat posed by Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, and could add pressure on President Donald Trump's administration to respond.

North Korea said on Saturday it had conducted another successful test of an ICBM that proved its ability to strike America's mainland.

RELATED: A look at North Korea's July 2017 missile test

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A look at North Korea's July 2017 missile test
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A look at North Korea's July 2017 missile test
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the second test-fire of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. KCNA via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS.� TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14 is pictured during its second test-fire in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. KCNA via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS.� TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People watch news report showing North Korea's Hwasong-14 missile launch on electronic screen at Pyongyang station, North Korea in this photo taken by Kyodo on July 29, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea hold a banquet at the Mokran House in celebration of the second successful test-fire of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) Hwasong-14, in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 30, 2017. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS.
The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea hold a banquet at the Mokran House in celebration of the second successful test-fire of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) Hwasong-14, in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 30, 2017. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS.
Coverage of an ICBM missile test is displayed on a screen in a public square in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. Kim Jong-Un boasted of North Korea's ability to strike any target in the US after a second ICBM test that weapons experts said on July 29 could even bring New York into range - in a potent challenge to President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / Kim Won-Jin (Photo credit should read KIM WON-JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man and woman watch coverage of an ICBM missile test displayed on a screen in a public square in Pyongyang on July 29, 2017. Kim Jong-Un boasted of North Korea's ability to strike any target in the US after a second ICBM test that weapons experts said on July 29 could even bring New York into range - in a potent challenge to President Donald Trump. / AFP PHOTO / Kim Won-Jin (Photo credit should read KIM WON-JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on July 29, 2017, a woman holding a mock rifle stands at a bus stop in Pyongyang. North Korea said July 30 its latest ICBM test was a 'warning' targeting the US for its efforts to slap new sanctions on Pyongyang and threatened a counter-strike if provoked militarily by Washington. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
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The secretive North's leader, Kim Jong Un, supervised the midnight launch of the missile on Friday night and called it a "stern warning" to the United States that it would not be safe from destruction if it tried to attack, the official KCNA news agency said.

However, two U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Monday Kim wants to develop a nuclear-capable ICBM to deter any attack on his country and gain international legitimacy, not to launch an attack on the United States or its allies that he knows would be suicidal.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the U.S. assessment of the missile launch, even as it acknowledged that the latest test represented the longest test flight of any North Korean missile.

"The specifics of our assessment are classified for reasons I hope you understand," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told a news briefing, acknowledging only that the missile could fly at least 5,500 km (3,420 miles), the minimum range for what the Pentagon classifies as an ICBM.

Two separate U.S. officials who discussed the latest test, which lasted about 45 minutes, said it showed greater range than the July 4 ICBM launch, which North Korea said lasted 39 minutes.

SEE ALSO: North Korean ICBM appears to have failed on re-entry: US expert

One of the officials said it had greater height, range and power than the previous test because it used force stabilizing engines, which counter the effects of winds and other forces that can knock an ascending rocket off course.

'UNUSUAL SUBMARINE ACTIVITY'

CNN, citing a U.S. defense official, reported later that North Korea had been showing "highly unusual and unprecedented levels" of submarine activity, in addition to its third "ejection test" this month.

The ejection test was carried out on land at Sinpo Naval Shipyard on Sunday, the U.S. defense official told CNN. It gave no other details about the increased submarine activity.

Ejection tests from submarines usually gauge the ability to "cold launch" missiles, when high pressure steam is used to propel missiles out of launch canisters.

The shipyard is in Sinpo, a port city on the east coast where the North had previously conducted tests of submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

A South Korea defense ministry official told Reuters the military was watching the situation in the North closely but did not provide more information because it was classified.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with Trump on Monday and agreed on the need for more action on North Korea, hours after the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said Washington was "done talking about North Korea."

The Pentagon acknowledged military-to-military talks with U.S. allies Japan and South Korea after the test.

RELATED: Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un

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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un
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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un

1. While Kim Jong Un's birthday on January 8 is a national holiday, it is unknown exactly how old the North Korean leader is. It's widely believed he is in his early-mid thirties. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department listed his birth year as 1984 when they placed sanctions on North Korea.

 (KCNA via REUTERS)

2. Kim Jong Un is the world's youngest leader, according to the date listed by the Treasury. 

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Kim Jong Un is very passionate about basketball. He is reportedly a big fan of Michael Jordan and has a friendly relationship with Jordan's former Chicago Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman. Rodman has visited the secluded nation multiple times and even sang him "Happy Birthday" before an exhibition game in Jan. 2014. 

(REUTERS/KCNA)

4. Kim Jong Un reportedly has a love for smoking, whiskey and cheese

(KCNA/via Reuters)

5. Kim Jong Un's older half-brother Kim Jong Nam was killed in Feb. 2017 by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. The women were arrested following his death. Many believe the hit was directed by North Korea. 

(KCNA; REUTERS)

6. Kim Jong Un has two college degrees. One is in physics from Kim il Sung University and another as an Army officer obtained from the Kim Il Sung Military University.

(KCNA/REUTERS)

7. Kim Jong Un attended boarding school in Switzerland. It is widely disputed how much time he spent at the school. Most reports say he was abroad from 1998-2000. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

8. Kim Jong Un is the only general in the world that does not have any military experience. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

9. He married Ri Sol Ju in 2009. The couple has at least one daughter named Ju Ae. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

10. Kim Jong Un had his uncle Jang Song Thaek arrested and executed for treachery in 2013. 

(REUTERS/Kyodo)

11. Kim Jong Un hand selected North Korea's first all-female music group -- Moranbong Band. They made their debut in 2012. 

(ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

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Davis said that, while the test missile had a lofted trajectory rather than the more direct one required to reach the United States, the military takes the threat seriously.

"You could have the debate back and forth of whether the capability is proven or not, the fact of the matter is we take it seriously and we are prepared to defend against (it)," he said.

The Hwasong-14, named after the Korean word for Mars, reached an altitude of 3,724.9 km (2,314.6 miles) and flew 998 km (620 miles) before landing in the waters off the Korean peninsula's east coast, according to KCNA.

The flight demonstrated successful stage separation, and reliability of the vehicle's control and guidance to allow the warhead to make an atmospheric re-entry under conditions harsher than under a normal long-range trajectory, KCNA said.

Independent weapons experts also said they believed the launch demonstrated many parts of the United States were within range if the missile had been launched at a flattened trajectory. (Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart and Christine Kim in Seoul; Editing by James Dalgleish and Paul Tait)

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