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(News Focus) North Korea on track to get advanced ICBM capabilities: experts

SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test this week underscores apparent progress in its efforts to secure advanced and more reliable nuclear delivery systems targeting the United States, it said. experts on Friday.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that at the request of leader Kim Jong-un, the country successfully tested the Hwasong-17 ICBM on Thursday. He highlighted his policy to strengthen the “potent deterrence of nuclear war qualitatively and quantitatively”.

The missile traveled 1,090 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 6,249 km for 67 minutes, according to the KCNA. The South Korean military said the ICBM – fired at a high angle – traveled around 1,080 km at an apogee of over 6,200 km.

Considering the specifics, the launch of the Hwasong-17 missile appears to represent progress in the North’s ICBM program. Its previous ICBM test in November 2017 involved the Hwasong-15 missile, which Seoul officials said traveled about 960 km at a maximum altitude of about 4,500 km.

Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, speculated that if launched at a normal angle, the Hwasong-17 could have traveled more than 15,000 km, a range that can reach the entire of the American continent.

The so-called monster missile was first unveiled during a military parade in October 2020. It was placed on a 22-wheeled transporter erector launcher (TEL) compared to the 21-meter Hwasong-15 of long, using the 18-wheel TEL. For its size, experts called the latest missile a “monster”.

The Hwasong-17 is believed to be longer than the American ICBM Minuteman III at 18.2 meters long, the Chinese ICBM Dongfeng-41 at 21 meters long and the Russian ICBM Topol-M at 22.7 meters long.

Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University, noted that the long flight range means the missile can carry a more powerful warhead or multiple warheads if its range is adjusted to fly a distance. shorter.

“When a missile has a range of 10,000 km, it can hit the American continent. But the Hwasong-17 would have a range of 15,000 km,” he said. “If the range is shortened, it may be able to carry a heavier warhead or more warheads for various operational functions.”

It is presumed to be a Multiple Independent Targeting Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) carrying two or three warheads. But the North’s MIRV technology remains unverified.

Despite the North’s assertion of the “successful” launch of the missile, questions remain as to whether the North has mastered its atmospheric re-entry technology. It is necessary to ensure that the missile warhead can withstand extremely high temperatures during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The three-stage Hwasong-17 also appears to have greater thrust than the North’s existing long-range missiles. Its first-stage rocket carries four liquid-fueled engines, analysts said.

“As expected, the (first stage rocket) appears to be carrying twin Paekdusan engines – or four engines,” said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University. “This is the same body of the super-large missile shown in the previous military parade.”

However, South Korean military officials are said to be leaving open the possibility that the North’s latest launch did not involve the Hwasong-17 missile.

“Regarding the North’s report on the latest launch, intelligence authorities from South Korea and the United States are conducting a detailed analysis with various possibilities in mind,” a state official said. Seoul Joint Chiefs to reporters on condition of anonymity.

Ahead of Thursday’s launch, Seoul and Washington accused Pyongyang of testing a new ICBM system on Feb. 27 and March 5 before a full launch. Last week, the North also unsuccessfully fired a long-range rocket.

Observers said the three recent launches appear to be part of the North’s plan to improve its ICBM capabilities.

This week’s ICBM test recalled that Pyongyang doubled down on its major defense development projects unveiled at the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in January last year.

Projects included increasing the “hit rates” of missiles with a range of 15,000 km, producing a “super large” nuclear warhead, and developing a hypersonic missile and an intercontinental ballistic missile ( ICBM) using an “underground or land-based solid fuel engine.”

“The North has already said that it will improve the accuracy of the missile with a range of 15,000 km, which was a prelude to launching the Hwasong-17,” said Park of Ewha Womans University.

With the latest launch ending its years-long self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM testing, Pyongyang is expected to continue its defiant mode. Some expect him to perform another ICBM launch on a normal trajectory.

Concerns persist that the North could mount a big show of force in time for the 110th birth anniversary of the late grandfather and national founder of the Kim leader, Kim Il-sung, on April 15.