A team of defence scientists in Beijing says it has simulated an intercontinental ballistic missile attack against the United States mainland by North Korea . The North Korean missile could hit the central US in 1,997 seconds, or about 33 minutes, if the US missile defence network failed to intercept it, according to the simulation. Similar studies conducted by Chinese scientists in the past have not usually named specific countries or locations, especially when the findings were made available to the public. The research involves the hypothetical launch of North Korea’s Hwasong-15 , a missile first fired in 2017. It is a two-stage, nuclear-capable missile with an effective range of 13,000km (8,077 miles) “sufficient to hit the entire US homeland”, said the Chinese team led by Tang Yuyan, of the Beijing Institute of Electronic System Engineering, a top research institute in China’s aerospace defence industry. In the research published by Tang and her colleagues in the Chinese-language journal Modern Defence Technology on February 15, a Hwasong-15 missile blasts off from Sunchon, a city in South Pyongan province in central North Korea. Its target is Columbia in the central US state of Missouri. The US missile defence headquarters would receive an alert about 20 seconds later, according to the Chinese team. The first batch of intercepting missiles would take off within 11 minutes from Fort Greely in Alaska. If they failed, another wave of interceptors would be launched from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Whether the North Korean warhead hit its target – a small American city with a population of about 120,000 – remains an open question. But the simulation suggested the existing US missile defence network – although containing impressive strength – had gaps in its “kill chain” system to identify and defend against an attack that could be exploited by an opponent, according to Tang’s team. Growing interest The Chinese military has long followed a defensive strategy, staging its war games mostly in the western Pacific and other nearby areas. But in recent years there is a growing interest in China taking a war – should it happen – to US soil. Within China, this is viewed as merited because of increasing US military activity in areas such as the South China Sea, Taiwan Strait and Korean peninsula. A Chinese military intelligence study in January, for instance, marked potential US targets for hypersonic weapons strikes. The study, led by Yu Jintao from the intelligence department of the Air Force Early Warning Academy in Wuhan, said a first wave of attacks launched by China could take aim at Beale Air Force Base in California’s Yuba county and the Cape Cod peninsula, home to some of the largest ground-based radars in the US. Chinese intelligence officers said these facilities would be vulnerable to hypersonic weapons that could fly around the globe, manoeuvre unpredictably and strike at more than five times the speed of sound. Early destruction would “delay the opponent’s action, reduce their anti-missile interception capabilities, and gain [China] a strategic advantage”, said Yu and his colleagues in a paper published in Tactical Missile Technology, a domestic journal. Tang’s team said a main purpose of their study was to evaluate how well the US missile defence system could protect the US. It could work effectively against traditional ballistic missiles, such as the Hwasong-15, according to their simulation. They were most struck by the degree of redundancy, which allowed the US military more flexibility to respond to difficult threats. US says China may have hypersonic missile that can hit its Pacific bases “For example, the Northern Command and Fort Greely are equipped with land-based midcourse anti-missile fire control units that serve as backups for each other,” Tang and her team wrote in the paper. “Some important early-warning detection arcs have double, or even quadruple, coverage and multiple types of defensive weapons can be selected for a single interception.” But even against a relatively small and weak opponent such as North Korea, the system was not perfect, according to the study. The team’s modelling found the US’ existing surveillance platforms in space, the ocean and on the ground could sometimes lose track of the Korean missile, especially during ascent and descent in the midcourse flight. If North Korea launched a number of missiles carrying more than 40 warheads or decoys, the US missile defence system would be overwhelmed, their calculation suggested. Tang’s team also simulated a North Korean missile attack on Guam, the largest US military base in the western Pacific Ocean. Although the US could launch four waves of intercepting missiles from its overseas military bases, such as Japan, some of these intercepting missiles could fall short if the North Korean missile took an unusual trajectory with an extremely high altitude, according to the Chinese study. Given North Korea was also developing hypersonic glide warheads that could change course in the atmosphere, the US “currently does not yet have the ability to deal with [such targets] in near space”, Tang’s team said. ‘Act of war’ warning But US missile defence capabilities could be significantly improved over the next few years, according to Tang’s team. Beijing and Pyongyang have strongly opposed the deployment of new US missile defence infrastructure, including the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) system in South Korea. ‘A clever design’: China moves to make simulated ‘phantom’ space feint a reality Kim Yo-jong , the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, last week said while North Korea was focused on self-defence, the Pacific did not belong to the US. “The US [Indo-Pacific] Commander said if we launch an intercontinental ballistic missile to the Pacific, it would be downed immediately,” Kim said in her statement published by the Korean Central News Agency. She said such a military interception against North Korean strategic weapons in areas not controlled by the US and not threatening any other nation would be construed as “a declaration of war against the DPRK”.