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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Hwasong-17 / KN-27 ICBM

Is the Hwasong-17 a practical weapon? DPRK photographs do not show the traveling circus of fueling and servicing vehicles to launch the thing. Possibly plausible in a Roll-Out To Launch [ROTL] from tunnels, but not road-mobile roaming the countryside. China's first ICBM, the 7,000 km-range CSS-3, was operational at two elevate-to-launch silos. In addition, there were 11 horizontal roll-out-to-launch sites. A mobile systems concept, resulting in a relocatable targets problem, has been the foundation for creating uncertainty in the minds of potential Chinese and Russian adversaries. Solid propellant missiles are more difficult to develop, but require significantly less personnel and equipment than liquid-propellant systems, making deployments even more difficult to detect in the field and further enhancing their survivability.

The Hwasong-15 is estimated to be around 21 meters in length and 2 meters in diameter - slighly larger than the Soviet UR-100 SS-11 SEGO ICBM. The Hwasong-17 is slightly longer at around 24 meters and 2.4-2.5 meters in diameter- slighly larger than the Soviet UR-100N SS-19 STILETO ICBM. The Hwasong-17 is the largest liquid-propellant missile ever launched from a road-mobile carrier. The Hwasong 17 is estimated by 38 North to be able to deliver a payload of about 1,700 kilograms to anywhere in the US, versus the Hwasong 17 15's 1,000 kilograms. The primary value of the Hwasong 17 is its larger payload capacity, which could facilitate the deployment of multiple warheads, very-large-yield single warheads, or more and more capable missile defense penetration aids. The Hwasong-17's estimated range of 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles), when fired on a standard trajectory could put any part of the continental United States within range.

KCNA said that the new-type weapon system to be operated by the strategic forces of the DPRK "will creditably perform its mission and duty as a powerful nuclear war deterrent of putting under strict control the nuclear war threats and challenges against the DPRK, taking the initiative to cope with any military crisis and defending the security of the country."

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff announced 24 March 2022 that it detected an ICBM launched toward the East Sea. The military said the missile, fired at around 2:40 PM from the Sunan area in Pyeongyang traveled around 180 kilometers. Launched at a steep angle, the missile flew at an altitude of 6,200 kilometers. Japan's coast guard said it landed inside Japan's exclusive economic zone, 170 kilometers west of Aomori Prefecture, in the north of the country. Speaking to reporters, a military official said the missile flew for more than an hour. There had been speculation that the launch may have involved the North's new ICBM, "Hwasong-17", that the regime appears to have been testing recently. But, the official said there is a possibility that it could have been a different ICBM and that research is still being carried out in cooperation with the US.

According to the North's state media, Kim said immediately after the launch that success in developing a new ICBM will be a great demonstration of the North's independent defense industry, apparently a reference to the fact that this launch was successful just a week after a failed launch 16 March 2022. “The missile, launched at Pyongyang International Airport, traveled up to a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 km [about 3900 miles] and flew a distance of 1,090 km [about 680 miles] for 4,052 seconds [about 67 minutes] before accurately hitting the pre-set area in open waters of the East Sea of Korea,” the state-run Korea Central News Agency reported. The missile was in the air for a longer time and at a higher maximum altitude than any missile the North has tested so far.

A "Minimum Energy Trajectory" is a trajectory that produces maximum range for a given amount of energy. A "Depressed Trajectory" is a trajectory with an apogee below that of the minimum-energy trajectory. A "Lofted Trajectory" is a trajectory with an apogee greater than the minimum-energy trajectory to the same range. A lofted trajectory could increase the missile's reentry speed.

An ICBM can be tested on a “lofted” trajectory that reaches a very high altitude but covers a short ground-track range while still exercising their full capability. The lofted trajectory is attractive to the DPRK because the entire test flight is visible to sensors in the DPRK, eliminating the need for complicated down-range tracking ships needed to follow a full range test.

On May 14, 2017, North Korea launched a new missile, reported as a Hwasong-12, that reportedly flew a highly lofted trajectory reaching an altitude of over 2,000 kilometers and traveling more than 700 kilometers in distance before falling into the East Sea. On 4 July 2017, North Korea performed the inaugural flight test of the Hwasong-14 ICBM, making it North Korea’s first flight-tested ICBMclass system. The Hwasong-14 ICBM was flight tested again on 28 July 2017. Both of these launches flew on a highly lofted trajectory (high apogee but short range). On 28 November 2017, North Korea introduced another ICBM-class system, the Hwasong-15. The Hwasong-15 ICBM reached an altitude of roughly 4,475 km and a distance of roughly 950 km. Although it demonstrated a lofted trajectory like the Hwasong-14, the Hwasong-15’s range could reach the continental USA.

North Korea always makes good on its talk. It said it would reconsider its moratorium on ICBM and nuclear tests and it looks like it has. It would be the first full-capability launch of the nuclear-armed regime's largest missiles since 2017, and represent a major escalation in the North's development of weapons potentially able to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the United States. This about a week after a failed missile launch and days after rounds of artillery fires.

Following North Korea's provocation, the South Korean military fired missiles from ground, sea and air toward the East Sea at 4:25 PM, around two hours after the North launched its missile. It involved one surface-to-surface missile and one Army Tactical Missile System missile. The military also shot a Haesung-2 ship-to-ground missile and two "JDAM," Joint Direct Attack Munition, air-to-surface missiles.

Observers say the North's breaking of its self-imposed moratorium on ICBM testing was just a matter time, considering Pyeongyang has had strategic plans to do this since the 8th party congress in January 2021. The next escalation could come rather soon with upcoming 110th anniversary of the birth of the regime's founding leader Kim Il-sung on April 15th. The missile test was seen as a message to South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol himself as well as to the US. "North Korea has always taken actions aimed at getting the upper hand in times of government transitions. Yoon Suk-yeol "strongly warned" North Korea over its latest ICBM test saying "the regime will gain nothing through such provocation". Yoon once again using the term "provocation" to define the North's missile launch. Experts say that more provocations could be in store as Pyongyang seeks concessions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, whose administration prioritized North Korea engagement, also condemned the action, calling it “a breach of the moratorium on ICBM launches that Chairman Kim Jong Un himself promised to the international community.” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres through a spokesperson said the launch was “a significant escalation of tensions in the region. The secretary general urges the DPRK to desist from taking any further counterproductive actions,” the spokesperson said.

The North's return to major weapons tests also posed a new national security headache for U.S. President Joe Biden as he responds to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. What does this ICBM launch by North Korea mean for the Biden administration? The North clearly crossed a "Red Line" by all standards. President Moon was quick to point out that Pyeongyang's ICBM launch this time violates its self-imposed moratorium. It also presents a challenge to South Korea's incoming conservative administration which we already know will take a more hardline approach to North Korea than the current Moon Jae-in administration.

Seoul's chief nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk spoke on the phone with his U.S. counterpart Sung Kim and they "strongly condemned" North Korea's ICBM launch. They said it's a clear violation of North Korea's own moratorium and multiple UN Security Council resolutions, urging the North to immediately stop raising tensions. They called the launch a "serious threat" not just to the Korean Peninsula, but to the entire international community and agreed on the need for a "stern response." The nuclear chiefs agreed to bolster the allies' close coordination. Separately, Noh also spoke on the phone with his Japanese counterpart Takehiro Funakoshi and they too condemned the missile test. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that North Korea's latest missile launch is an "unacceptable act of violence."

The launch should not surprise anyone, Joseph DeTrani, former senior adviser to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told RFA. “Kim Jong Un has been saying this at the Workers' Party Congress going over a year ago. He made it very clear that North Korea will continue to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities, and he cited very clearly that he would be working on improving upgrading missile capabilities to include a hypersonic ballistic missile or submarine launched ballistic missile, solid fuel missiles, merging them with multiple warheads on the missiles,” he said.

“I think North Korea could feel that they've proven to the world and to the United States and others that they have an intercontinental ballistic missile capability that can reach the whole of the United States and it reinforces Kim Jong Un's sense of having a nuclear deterrent that touches all countries,” said DeTani, who once served as special envoy to the Six Party Talks.

David Maxwell, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told RFA : “It should be clear that this is part of the regime's hostile policy toward the U.S. This also likely supports Kim Jong Un's political warfare strategy and blackmail diplomacy (use of increased tensions, threats, and provocations) to gain political and economic concessions. While the regime continues to build advanced military capabilities it wants to first use those capabilities to extort concessions from the US and the international community,” he said.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, said North Korea is strengthening its asymmetric military capability to counter the pressure from the US and Japan. Its previous tests of different missiles, including hypersonic missiles, short-range guided missile and medium-range guided missile have different purposes. The launch tests of Hwasong-17 and Hwasong-12 displayed that North Korea has the capability to hit the US land and North Korea hopes to use them to pressure the US to return to the negotiation table, Song said.

North Korea is coping with shifting events by sticking to one method of developing its military capability despite how the political situations in South Korea and Japan have changed and whether the Biden administration is back to non-engagement strategy.

The UN Security Council held a meeting on 25 March 2022, at the request of the United States and five other members to discuss North Korea's latest provocation. The council discussed releasing a press statement to denounce North Korea for its test-fire of an intercontinental ballistic missile, but the plan was scrapped following the opposition from China and Russia.

In a joint statement read on behalf of several nations, including South Korea and Japan, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield condemned North Korea. "Instead of returning to dialogue after repeated offers from the United States and others, the DPRK has returned to long-range weapons testing, which seeks to undermine the global non-proliferation regime and international peace and security."

She added Pyeongyang was demonstrating its determination to continue advancing its weapons programs, an act that violates multiple Security Council resolutions and poses a threat to the entire global community. To deter the North's provocative behavior, the Ambassador called on the Security Council members to act decisively and take collective action.

"We call on all U.N. member states, especially, especially Council members, to join us in condemning this behavior and in urging the DPRK to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile program and engage in diplomacy toward denuclearization."

Colin Zwirko suggested that the Hwasong-17 launch shown may not have been on the 24 March. He posed the possibility that a more reliable ICBM (Hwasong-15) used on 24 March to fake a Hwasong-17 success following the 16 March failure. According to analysts, examination of the video of Thursday’s launch broadcast by North Korean TV showed shadows longer than they would be at that time of day. Satellite imagery has shown burn marks near the launch site that were absent from the video from the 24 March launch and there are inconsistencies in the visibility of cloud cover during the video.

From the data assembled, they claimed it appeared footage was used of the launch of the Hwasong-17 ICBM from March 16 before it blew up, and what was tracked on Thursday was an older, already proven Hwasong-15 missile that had its warhead lightened so it would have the flight pattern of a more powerful ICBM.

It would not be the first time that North Korea has embellished its achievements, using video footage to imply the use of more capable missiles. In January 2016, it was revealed that North Korea had faked a submarine-launched missile test with the aim of displaying capabilities that it did not have at that time.

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The new ICBM system, the Hwasong-17, was unveiled at a military parade in 2020 and reappeared at a defence exhibition in October 2021. The Hwasong-17 would be North Korea's largest ICBM yet. By the end of 2021, North Korea had not conducted any ICBM tests or nuclear tests since November 2017, when it launched the Hwasong-15.

On 01 January 2020 Kim Jong-ungave his annual New Year's address wherein he announced that North Korea was "developing the state-of-the-art weapons system possessed only by advanced countries". He specifically referred to a "strategic" - meaning nuclear - weapons system under development. Kim pointedly tied the weapon to the US, stating "in the future, the more the US stalls for time and hesitates in the settlement of DPRK-US relations, the more helpless it will find itself before the might of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which is growing stronger beyond prediction, and the deeper it will fall into an impasse".

North Korea already had two tested ICBMs. The Hwasong-14 was tested twice in 2017 and with a range of 10,000km could cover most of western Europe and about half of the US mainland carrying a single nuclear warhead. The Hwasong-15, also tested in 2017, has a range of up to 13,000km, so could deliver a single nuclear warhead to any target in the US mainland.

North Korea showcased previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles at an unprecedented predawn military parade on 10 October 2020 that showcased the country’s long-range missiles for the first time in two years. Analysts said the missile, which was shown on a transporter vehicle with 11 axles, would be one of the largest road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the world if it becomes operational. Ahead of the parade, which was held to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party, officials in South Korea and the United States said Kim Jong Un could use the event to unveil a new “strategic weapon” as promised earlier this year. The parade featured North Korea’s ballistic missiles for the first time since Kim began meeting with international leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, in 2018.

The regime was widely expected to roll out strategic weapons during the parade including newly developed ICBMs or SLBMs as the North tends to mark every fifth and tenth anniversary with larger-scale events. In events marking the 65th and 70th anniversaries of the ruling party’s foundation, Pyongyang showcased strategic weapons such as the Hwasong-10 and KN-14 ICBMs, respectively. South Korean Defense Minister Seo Wook said when attending the National Supervisory Inspection of the National Assembly on October 7 that North Korea might display strategic weapons as a demonstration by force. He also pointed out that North Korea’s chance of testing and launching such strategic weapons at this time is still slim.

In a speech made during a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers' Party in Kim Il-Sung Square, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stressed that the regime's push to strengthen its “war deterrence” capabilities is for self-defense, and not targeted at others. Wearing a light grey business suit [rather than a Mao-jacket style military tunic] he emphasized, however, that if the North's safety is damaged, it will use the utmost force available to even the score. The North Korean leader did not mention the U.S. during his speech.

The parade was held in the early hours. The regime has customarily held military parades during the day in the past. The regime has customarily held military parades at around 10 a.m. in the past. No state media outlets including the Korean Central Television had issued any reports about the parade as of Saturday afternoon. Footage was broadcast through state media Korean Central Television at 7 PM.

The country undertook a series of test launches in late 2020 and Kim promised a “new strategic weapon” in his New Year’s speech. The new ICBM is evidently longer and possibly wider than the North's latest Hwasong-15, implying some combination of a longer range and or great payload. If the Hwasong-15 lacks the 13,000 km range needed to cover the entire American territory, then the Hwasong-17 certainly has this range. While the Hwasong-15 is about 22 meters long, the the Hwasong-17 appears to be about 26 meters long, nearly 20% longer. And the 2.5 meter diameter of the Hwasong-15 appears to be slightly exceeded by the possible +2.6 meter diameter of the Hwasong-17. But the Hwasong-17 diameter estimate is uncertain, and Jeffrey Lewis notes that the upper stage of the new DPRK ICBM is very slightly conical, so efforts to measure the diameter face this complication. Tal Inbar noted that as with previous missiles - the HS-16 is equipped with retro rockets on the first stage to ease separation of stages 1 and 2.

The multiple warhead target reentry projectile is a method of simultaneously hitting different targets by loading multiple warheads on a single missile and separating them from outside the atmosphere. The warheads are separated by attaching the warheads to a Post Boost Vehicle (PBV). The North Korean authorities could possibly mount up to four nuclear warheads on this ICBM. The new ICBM is theoretically designed to have a maximum range of as much as 15,000 km.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted two ballistic missile tests on February 26 and March 4, 2022 EST. Based on analysis of these launches, the United States Government concluded that these launches involved a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system that the DPRK is developing, which was originally unveiled during the Korean Workers Party parade on October 10, 2020. The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch.

The March test reportedly carried out vertical and oblique photography of a specific area on earth. Based on the report, which included a photo of the Korean Peninsula, Pyeongyang appears to have installed a reconnaissance camera on the ballistic missile it fired. Reconnaissance satellites are typically launched using long-range ballistic missiles, with the technique almost identical to launching intercontinental ballistic missiles. "The North is talking about long-range ballistic missiles to launch satellites, meaning ICBMs. The move could be a hint that the North is considering lifting its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM testing."

North Korea carried out "another important test" towards the development of a reconnaissance satellite, state media said 06 March 2022, but analysts warned it was a thinly-veiled ballistic missile launch, just days before South Korea elects a new president. The development of a military reconnaissance satellite -- along with the hypersonic weapons tested in January -- is officially one of Pyongyang's key defence projects, as outlined by leader Kim Jong Un in 2021.

"The DPRK National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) and the Academy of Defence Science conducted another important test on Saturday under the plan of developing a reconnaissance satellite," KCNA news agency said, using the acronyms of the North's official name. "Through the test, the NADA confirmed the reliability of data transmission and reception system of the satellite, its control command system and various ground-based control systems," it added. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed to Yonhap News Agency that a suspected ballistic missile was fired from North Korea’s east coast near Sunan and traveled about 270 kilometers (10 miles) at a maximum altitude of 560 kilometers (350 miles).

The Feb. 27 and March 5 launches did not demonstrate the missile's full range, and analysts said the North might have used only one stage of the missile or adjusted its fuel volume to fly at lower altitudes.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on 10 March 2022 stated "While the DPRK chose not to publicize information on the systems involved in these launches, the United States is revealing this information publicly and sharing it with other allies and partners because we believe that the international community must speak in a united voice to oppose the further development and proliferation of such weapons by the DPRK. The United States strongly condemns these launches, which are a brazen violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, needlessly raise tensions and risk destabilizing the security situation in the region.

"While the United States remains committed to a diplomatic approach, we will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the United States and our allies. Earlier this week, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command ordered intensified surveillance activity in the Yellow Sea, as well as enhanced readiness among our ballistic missile defense forces in the region. Our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad. We have been and will continue to coordinate closely with our allies and partners to address the threats posed by the DPRK and to advance our shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

Disclosing detailed information such as this is very rare, as normally neither South Korea or the U.S. reveal specific details of North Korea's missile launches. U.S. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the decision was made because the international community must speak in a united voice to oppose the further development of such weapons by the North. North Korea has reportedly laid two concrete slabs at its Sunan International Airport in Pyeongyang in what appears to be part of efforts to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. Citing a commercial satellite image acquired on 12 March 2022, Voice of America News reports that the North has positioned flat concrete structures, in between the airfield's runway and taxiway. It said both are 50 meters wide. One is 220 meters long, the other one-hundred meters.

The North launched ballistic missiles from Sunan airport earlier this month and in late February in what it claimed were tests needed to develop a reconnaissance satellite. But this was seen as an attempt to disguise the actual purpose of testing a new ICBM called "Hwasong-17."

The concrete structures are seen as a preparation for a missile launch, as previous missiles tests used a "transporter-erector-launcher" on top of a concrete base to increase missile capability. This also helps the launcher from getting damaged, as it can get extremely heavy when fully fueled and puts tremendous pressure on the ground underneath.

Former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction Gary Samore, told VOA news that if the North launches an ICBM, he expects South Korea and the U.S. to respond by resuming large scale joint military exercises. With Seoul and Washington on alert for a possible ICBM test, the U.S. military flew a reconnaissance aircraft over the Korean Peninsula on 15 March 2022. According to flight-tracking service, Flight radar24, the RC-135S Cobra Ball spy aircraft based in Okinawa, Japan, flew over the East Sea for around 9 hours before returning to base.

US Forces Korea said it had "increased intensity" of the exercise in the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade stationed in South Korea, and released photos of the drills. It said this is to demonstrate its capabilities and commitment to defending the country, and added that North Korea's significant increase in its missile testing activity undermines peace and security in the Northeast Asia region.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff stated North Korea fired an "unknown projectile" on 16 March 2022 which appeared to fail immediately after launch, South Korea's military said after Japanese media reported a suspected missile launch by the nuclear-armed North. The military reportedly said the suspected missile exploded at some point below an altitude of 20 kilometers. It also reportedly said the launch was a test of the regime's new ICBM, called Hwasong-17, which was first unveiled at a military parade in October 2020. Although specific details are yet to be disclosed, it's likely that the launch was indeed a test of its ICBM. The launch came after the United States and South Korea warned that North Korea may be preparing to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at full range for the first time since 2017.

The projectile was fired from an airfield outside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement. "It is presumed that it failed immediately after launch," the statement said. A source at Japan's Ministry of Defence called the projectile a potential ballistic missile, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.

The airfield has been the site of several recent launches, including on Feb. 27 and March 5. North Korea said those tests were for developing components of a reconnaissance satellite and did not identify what rocket it used, but Seoul and Washington said they were tests of a new ICBM system.

Reclusive North Korea has fired missiles at an unprecedented frequency in 2022, conducting its ninth weapons test on March 5, drawing condemnation from the United States, South Korea and Japan.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2022 15:27:59 ZULU