EXPLAINER: What prompted North Korea to test the new ICBM?



People watch a television screen showing a news program about North Korea’s ICBM at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 25, 2022. North Korea said on Friday it had tested its largest intercontinental ballistic missile under orders from Kim Jong Un, who has vowed to expand the North’s “nuclear war deterrent” while preparing for a “longstanding confrontation” with the United States. (AP Photo/Lee ​​Jin-man)


By launching an almost cartoonishly massive intercontinental ballistic missile into space, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traveled back in time to the ‘fire and fury’ era of 2017 as he revived nuclear strategy aimed at pressuring the United States to accept his country as a nuclear power country and remove crippling sanctions.

Thursday’s launch of the Hwasong-17 was North Korea’s most provocative weapons test since US President Joe Biden took office and underscores Kim’s determination to continue to bolster his military as diplomacy remains jelly.

This experimental launch is worrying because the weapon is being developed to be armed with nuclear bombs and threaten Washington, DC, New York and much of the rest of the world. The North, however, may need more testing — including nuclear bombs — in the coming months as Kim tries to both perfect his technology and get a response from the distracted Biden administration. by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and growing rivalry with China.

Here’s a look at Kim’s new missile and what it could do next:



Measuring approximately 25 meters (82 feet) long, the Hwasong-17 is, by some estimates, the largest road-mobile ballistic missile system in the world. North Korea revealed the missile during a military parade in October 2020, and Thursday’s launch from an airport near the capital Pyongyang was its first full test.

Kim could be seen in footage released by his state media savoring the success of the test as he rode past the missile wearing sunglasses and a black leather motorcycle jacket. He leads military officials along the airport runway in a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood action movie, at one point taking off his glasses to look at the camera.

North Korea last piloted an ICBM in November 2017 when it tested the Hwasong-15. It was during a series of nuclear and missile tests that led to an exchange of insults and threats between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump, who said the North’s threats against the United States would be “greeted with fire and fury as the world has.” never seen.”

While Hwasong-15 demonstrated the potential to hit targets in the American homeland, the latest test showed a missile that could potentially travel even farther.

The Hwasong-17, which was fired at a high angle to avoid neighboring territorial waters, reached a maximum altitude of 6,248 kilometers (3,880 miles) and traveled 1,090 kilometers (680 miles) during a 67-minute flight before landing in waters between North Korea and Japan, according to North Korean state media.

Flight details were similar to South Korean and Japanese military assessments and suggested the missile could reach 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles) when fired on a normal trajectory. This would effectively place the entire American continent within striking distance.

Expanding its range of ICBMs is crucial for North Korea as it tries to build a more credible nuclear threat to target the United States, said Lee Choon Geun, honorary fellow at the Science Policy Institute. and technology from South Korea.

To strike the continental United States, North Korea’s previous ICBMs would have had to go through Alaska, where the United States is deploying a greater number of missile interceptor systems. Hwasong-17’s extra range could theoretically allow the North to avoid Alaska by moving west in order to reach the US mainland via the Atlantic Ocean, Lee said.



According to analyst Shin Jong-woo of the South Korean Defense and Security Forum, the North’s development of a larger ICBM probably has much less to do with range than with ambition to eventually equip the missile of several warheads. This would improve the weapon’s chances of defeating missile defenses whether or not it passes through Alaska.

While North Korea could put years and major technological advances away from building a multi-warhead ICBM, it becomes harder for Washington to ignore Pyongyang’s pursuit of an arsenal that poses a viable threat to the American continent, Shin said.

It remains unclear after Thursday’s launch whether the North has resolved the issue of ensuring its ICBM warheads can withstand the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry. While reporting other launch details extensively, Northern state media made no mention of any surviving warhead.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, said Japan may try to recover missile debris to analyze the North’s technology.

Shin and Lee both expect North Korea to conduct more Hwasong-17 tests, including launches over Japan to put additional pressure on Washington and allow North Korean scientists to see how the missile operates on a more normal trajectory.

The North conducted two launches over Japan in 2017 of an intermediate-range missile potentially capable of reaching Guam, a major US military hub in the Pacific.



North Korea is showing signs it may be restoring tunnels at its nuclear testing ground it blew up in 2018 as Kim tried to leverage its nuclear weapons for economic benefits including the United States. United badly needed.

Kim held her first summit with Trump weeks later. Diplomacy went off the rails after their second meeting in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North demands for major sanctions relief in return for a limited surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The Punggye-ri site in the northeast of the country was used for its sixth and final nuclear test in 2017. After declaring the site closed, Kim invited foreign journalists to observe the destruction of tunnels in May 2018. But North Korea did not invite outside experts to certify what had been destroyed.

Some South Korean analysts say the North may feel the need to resume nuclear testing in the coming months to get the attention of the Biden administration, which has offered indefinite talks but shown no willingness to. concede penalties.

Missiles the North tested this year included a purported hypersonic weapon and short-range solid-fuel missiles targeting South Korea. Analysts say the North could use another nuclear test to claim it has acquired the capability to produce a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on these missiles.


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