North Korea’s new intercontinental ballistic missile: what do we know about the missile and Kim Jong-un’s plans

North Korean state media said on Friday that leader Kim Jong-un directly oversaw the launch of the rocket, known as the Hwaseong-17, which is the most advanced to date. The report describes the launch as a “powerful deterrent to nuclear war” and cites Kim as saying that the country’s forces are “fully prepared” for a potential military confrontation with the United States.

A giant weapon could, at least in theory, put the entire US mainland within range of a North Korean nuclear warhead, but there are many unknowns about the missile’s ability to deliver a nuclear weapon to a target.

Here’s a look at the rocket launched on Thursday.

North Korean state media on Friday released photos showing a massive liquid-fuel rocket being launched from a mobile launcher at Pyongyang International Airport.

A report from the Korea Central News Agency said the missile reached a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 kilometers (3,905 miles), flew a distance of 1,090 kilometers (681 miles), and had a flight time of 68 minutes before “landing accurately in the planned waters.” “between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. This was in complete agreement with the assessment of Japanese observers, who stated that the missile had landed in the Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of the Ōshima Peninsula on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island.

This is the longest and longest test of a North Korean missile on record.

Analysts said it was released on an inflated trajectory, allowing it to avoid flying over any other country. But they noted that if it had been launched along the normal, flatter trajectory of an ICBM, the entire continental United States would have been within range.

“This is the longest-range missile that North Korea has ever tested,” said Geoffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Can this missile carry a nuclear warhead?

The Hwasong-17 is certainly large enough to carry one or possibly multiple nuclear warheads, experts say.

“In fact, this represents North Korea’s steady progress towards the ability to place multiple nuclear warheads on targets in the United States in the event of war,” Lewis said.

But it is critical that progress does not mean a real opportunity to do so.

While testing Thursday showed the missile’s possible range, experts don’t know what payload it carried. Since the weight of the payload ultimately affects the range of the missile, observers cannot know with certainty the actual range of the missile without this information.

Will North Korea be able to hit the target with nuclear warheads?

Experts point out that Pyongyang has not demonstrated whether it is capable of building a system that would allow a nuclear warhead to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Kim Jong Un watches a rocket launch in a photo released by state media.

Since ICBMs are launched into space like space shuttles or space capsules, the warhead must be able to sustain the fiery journey through the Earth’s outer atmosphere without burning up.

“I am the one who thinks they will probably survive (survive re-entry). There are some people who are somewhat skeptical of this,” Lewis said.

But that’s what North Korea can learn from tests like Thursday’s, he said.

What’s next for North Korea’s missile program?

Leader Kim Jong Un has laid out an ambitious plan to give North Korea a credible nuclear deterrent, that is, an arsenal powerful enough to prevent an attack by any adversary, primarily the US.

According to a report released by the KCNA on Friday, Kim said Thursday’s tests confirmed that North Korea’s strategic forces are “fully prepared to fully curb and contain any dangerous military action by the US imperialists.”

Lewis said the North Korean leader is “going through” a long list of weapon upgrades laid out over a year ago.

An image of Thursday's Hwasong-17 launch released by North Korean state media.

“(Kim) said that’s all North Korea is going to do, including a multiple-warhead ICBM, a solid-fueled ICBM, a military satellite launch, and even a nuclear submarine out to sea,” Lewis said. said.

“I don’t think he’ll stop until that list is complete,” Lewis said.

Earlier, North Korea announced plans to improve the accuracy of its missiles and increase its range to 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles).

“I think we are firmly in a period of missile testing, nuclear testing and tension that is likely to last a year or so,” Lewis said.

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