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Pyongyang vs the analysts: What they are saying about North Korea’s new missile

Analysts remain unconvinced that North Korea has mastered the technology required to launch and direct a missile, and ensure it survives the difficult re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

world Updated: Nov 30, 2017 15:02 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse, Seoul
North Korea,Missiles,Ballistic Missile
This photo taken on November 29, 2017 and released on November 30, 2017 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows launching of the Hwasong-15 missile which is capable of reaching all parts of the US.(AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS)

North Korea Thursday released pictures of its latest missile launch, giving analysts a chance to test Pyongyang’s claim of a breakthrough that brings the whole of the US within range of a nuclear strike.

Leader Kim Jong-Un declared the test of a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) had completed his nation’s drive to become a full-fledged nuclear power.

But analysts remain unconvinced that the North has mastered the technology required to launch and direct a missile, and ensure it survives the difficult re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Though North Korea continues to progress, our assessments have not changed in that a viable ICBM capable of reaching the west coast of the US mainland still remains about a year away,” said the respected 38North website.

Here are some key issues raised by the launch, and what Pyongyang -- and the outside world -- say about them.

Specifications of North Korea's latest missile. ( AFP )


PYONGYANG: The Hwasong-15 reached an altitude of 4,475 kilometres (2,780 miles) before splashing into the sea 950 kilometres east of its launch site.

“The ICBM Hwasong-15 type weaponry capable of striking the whole mainland of the US.”

ANALYSTS: The numbers indicate that if this missile flew on a standard path instead of a lofted test trajectory, it would have a range of more than 13,000 kilometres, said David Wright, co-director and senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach... any part of the continental United States,” Wright said.


PYONGYANG: The Hwasong-15 can carry a “super-large heavy warhead” and deliver its load on target.

“After making a 53-minute flight along its preset orbit, the rocket accurately landed in the target waters set.

“The accuracy of hitting targets by posture control and speed correction in the mid-flight section, accuracy in operation of high-thrust engine... was confirmed.”

The rocket was launched from a new home-made, nine-axle vehicle that is bigger than any launch vehicle previously employed.

ANALYSTS: Scott Lafoy, an analyst at NKNews said the delivery vehicle appeared to be transporter erector (T/E), which is able to both move the missile into place and to lift it upright.

“This means that this vehicle pulls up to a specific piece of infrastructure, erects the missile, detaches from the firing table, and leaves,” he said.

This makes it a relatively lengthy process.

“Since the US and (South Korea) are focused on precision, snap responses, this makes a big difference during crises.”

In terms of payload -- North Korea is hinting at a nuclear device with the words “super-large heavy warhead” -- David Wright was sceptical.

“Given the increase in range it seems likely that it carried a very light mock warhead. If true, that means it would be incapable of carrying a nuclear warhead to this long distance, since such a warhead would be much heavier.”

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is seen as the newly developed intercontinental ballistic rocket Hwasong-15's test was successfully launched, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang November 30, 2017. ( Reuters )


PYONGYANG: The North has previously claimed to have mastered the tricky technology necessary to protect a warhead from the high temperatures encountered as the missile hurtles back to Earth from space.

Wednesday’s test proved that again.

“The test-fire also re-confirmed the control and stabilization technology, phase-separation and start-up technology and the safety of warhead in the atmospheric reentry environment that had already been confirmed.”

ANALYSTS: Observers note the new missile’s nose was rounded, unlike the sharp tips of the two Hwasong-14 ICBMs the North tested in July, indicating efforts to master re-entry technology.

But a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the Hwasong-15 went up and down very steeply, so would not have encountered the same atmospheric friction as that on a lower, more regular, arc.

Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies agreed: “Many more tests are needed to establish the missile’s performance and reliability, and it remains unclear if the North’s engineers have attempted to validate the efficacy of the missile’s re-entry vehicle.”

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 15:02 IST