Should we be afraid of North Korea's new missile?
North Korea has continued advancing its nuclear arsenal and recently tested a brand-new Inter-continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Experts believe that the missile, named Hwasong-15, is bigger and more powerful than anything the rogue regime has tested before. The rapid rate of advancement of North Korea's missile program is being termed as alarming. Should the world fear North Korea's new missile? Read on to know.
On November 29, North Korea test-fired an ICBM which reached an altitude of 4,500km and flew 960km. The missile, the North's highest-ever ICBM test, landed in Japanese waters. US President Donald Trump had responded by saying, "We will take care of it." This is the latest in a series of Pyongyang's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests, leading to simmering regional tensions.
The Hwasong series comprises of North Korea's most powerful and formidable ballistic missiles. An analysis of photographs from the recent test reveals that Hwasong-15 is an improvement over Hwasong-14, which Pyongyang had claimed could strike continental-USA. Experts believe that Hwasong-15 is indeed "new" and appears to be more "powerful and bigger" than the Hwasong-14.
Kim Dong-yub, a Seoul-based defense analyst, believes that Hwasong-15 has an improved second stage (where the missile is carried into outer-space) compared to Hwasong-14. Experts also speculate that North Korean engineers may have fitted second-stage with additional fuel or thrusters to ensure substantial range. Kim adds that the first stage in Hwasong-15 is boosted by two engines, enabling it to cover a longer range.
The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said Hwasong-15 may be capable of traveling over 13,000km on a standard-trajectory, allowing it to reach "any part of the continental US." However, the missile likely carried a very light mock warhead during its test and may be incapable of delivering a heavier nuclear warhead for the entire 13,000km distance. North Korea is working towards miniaturizing nuclear warheads.
Photos show that Hwasong-15 has a rounder nose-cone than Hwasong-14. In Russian and US designs, rounder nose cones mean that the missile can carry multiple warheads. It remains unclear whether North Korea has now acquired this capability.
Compared to Hwasong-14 which is carried on an 8-axle truck, the bigger Hwasong-15 requires a 9-axle truck to be transported. This has reportedly prompted North Korea to build new transport launch-vehicles. South Korean officials believe that these vehicles will help Pyongyang hide the missiles better, thereby evading tracking and surveillance from the US and others.
North Korea may have to test Hwasong-15 a few more times to ensure its reliability. Experts believe that Pyongyang hasn't mastered technology that allows a warhead to survive the effects of re-entry into the atmosphere after firing. In a recent phone conversation with President Trump, South Korean PM Moon Jae-in said Pyongyang hasn't acquired the capability to successfully guide the warhead to its target.