North Korea making significant progress in its missile’s design and development

Here’s a brief analysis by analysts of the North Korea’s latest missile launch.

Analyses of images by analysts, of North Korea’s latest missile test points to the usage of a newer rocket engines and a larger design of a missile that places North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, closer to his goal of being able to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead, although without too much accuracy.

After Wednesday’s launch of its new Hwasong-15 missile, North Korea released dozens of photos and a video with Kim Jong Un declaring that he had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force”.

“North Korea is continuing to pursue its ICBM in a methodical and pragmatic manner, making progress in incremental steps,” said Joseph Bermudez from 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project.

U.S. officials have however noted that North Korea has not demonstrated its capacity for a re-entry vehicle for its missile nor has it proven that it has acquired an accurate guidance system for an ICBM.

While cautioning that more analysis is required to determine Hwasong-15’s full performance, the spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Roh Jae-cheon said, North Korea has clearly made significant progress since the Hwasong-14.

“Our initial analysis of the photos showed that there were clear differences between the Hwasong-15 and Hwasong-14 in terms of the looks of the warhead, the joint of the first and second stages of the missile, and overall size,” said Roh during a briefing on Thursday.

According to North Korea, the new missile touched an altitude of around 2,780 miles (4,475 km), more than 10 times the height of the International Space Station, and flew 950 km during its 53-minute flight. Both achievements are higher and longer than any North Korean missile ever before.

“This is a very big missile,” said Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies. “And I don’t mean ‘Big for North Korea.’ Only a few countries can produce missiles of this size, and North Korea just joined the club.”

As per a U.S. intelligence official, the Hwasong-15 test appears to demonstrate a more powerful solid-fuel propulsion system, especially its second-stage rocket.

A solid-fuel system for an ICBM would mark a significant step and could allow the North Korea to transport and launch its missiles more quickly than a liquid-fuel system that requires lengthy preparations.

“The first stage seems to use essentially the same case (as the Hwasong-14) but has two engines,” said David Wright, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based nonprofit science advocacy group.

“The second stage looks like it can carry more than twice as much propellant. The combination of those two things means it really is a new, more capable missile.”

The missile’s size and design point to the possibility for it to carry a larger warhead and a more robust re-entry vehicle, said analysts.

Significantly, the nose section of the missile appeared to be blunter than its previous versions, which suggests a work in progress for a re-entry vehicle, said Bermudez.

“I would need to see a bit more differences to fully believe they made this themselves,” Dave Schmerler, a research associate at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, said of the launch transport vehicle.

“They can reverse engineer it, so there is always that option, but from what I saw, I am not inclined to believe they made this yet.”

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