North Korea

North Korea tested its big­gest mis­sile yet this week. Julie Vitkovskaya looks at what we know and what it all means

Weekend Herald - - World -

What we know about Kim’s lat­est mis­sile test

On Wed­nes­day, North Korea launched an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile that may be ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the United States main­land. The regime is call­ing it the Hwa­song- 15, which trans­lates to “Mars” in Korean.

North Korea’s state me­dia marked the launch by show­ing video images of the mis­sile blast­ing off, as a news­caster pro­claimed that it could carry a “su­per large heavy war­head”.

The mis­sile flew 10 times higher than the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion and 800km higher than pre­vi­ous mis­sile tests of its kind. It was in the air for about 50 min­utes, fly­ing eight min­utes longer than pre­vi­ous tests, be­fore crash­ing into the Sea of Ja­pan.

An­a­lysts say that its range was more than enough to reach the US if the mis­sile trav­elled on a flat­ter tra­jec­tory. In gen­eral, ex­perts agreed that the launch was a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in North Korea’s mis­sile devel­op­ment.

Af­ter the launch, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump called China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and vowed to im­pose more sanc­tions on Py­ongyang. Yet North Korea has de­fied all pre­vi­ous rounds of sanc­tions, con­duct­ing 20 mis­sile tests this year alone.

Yes­ter­day, Trump crit­i­cised the Chi­nese en­voy to North Korea as hav­ing “no im­pact on Lit­tle Rocket Man” and vowed to “take care of it”.

Trump has pre­vi­ously threat­ened that North Korea will be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.

How­ever, North Korea ex­perts say that any mil­i­tary op­tion would re­sult in mas­sive ca­su­al­ties.

What do we know about the launch?

The test was con­ducted just be­fore 3am lo­cal time on a cold night just out­side the cap­i­tal, an un­usual time since night­time launches are rare. Pre­vi­ous tests have typ­i­cally oc­curred be­tween 9am and 11am. Shea Cot­ton, a re­search as­so­ciate at the James Martin Cen­tre for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies, said North Korea has favoured mid- morn­ings be­cause “they have a full day of sun to try and col­lect the pieces” if some­thing goes wrong. How­ever, no one knows for sure how North Korea makes its de­ci­sions. An­a­lysts say an­other pos­si­bil­ity could be that North Korea wanted to show how un­pre­dictable it can be to rat­tle its neigh­bours.

What’s new about the Hwa­song- 15?

North Korea re­leased pho­tos of the bal­lis­tic mis­sile a day af­ter its launch. Here are the ba­sics of what is known:

● North Korea claims the trans­porter erec­tor launcher — the ve­hi­cle used to move the mis­sile — has one more axle than the pre­vi­ous ver­sion. An­a­lysts be­lieve they are mod­i­fied Chi­nese trucks.

● The nose cone is much blunter than on pre­vi­ous ver­sions, in­di­cat­ing that the mis­sile was de­signed to slow as it flies and pro­tect the war­head as it comes back down.

● The mis­sile likely car­ried a small pay­load, al­low­ing it to fly fur­ther. If out­fit­ted with a more stan­dard pay­load, the mis­sile would “barely reach Seat­tle”.

● There were likely two ad­di­tional en­gines that gave the mis­sile a higher alti­tude.

● North Korean an­a­lysts were sur­prised to see more ad­vanced steer­ing of the mis­sile via gim­bal­ing. “This is a sort of ma­noeu­vring which is pretty fancy. You lose the least thrust that way,” said Scott LaFoy, an im­agery an­a­lyst for NK News.

What can the US do about this?

The boost phase for an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile is about three to five min­utes, al­low­ing it to climb quickly. Mis­sile de­fence sys­tems are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to its speed and the abil­ity to travel long dis­tances. An ICBM has a min­i­mum range of 5470km, but ex­perts es­ti­mate that the Hwa­song- 15 had a max­i­mum range of 13,035km. North Korea’s cap­i­tal and Wash­ing­ton are about 11,000km apart.

The United States has sev­eral op­tions, but the main de­ter­rent is the ground- based mid­course de­fence pro­gramme. Trump has pre­vi­ously claimed that the sys­tem can knock out an ICBM “97 per cent of the time” — but that’s not the case. In test­ing the sys­tem, the Pen­tagon con­cluded that it has only lim­ited de­fence ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Be­fore it shot down a mock ICBM over the Pa­cific, the sys­tem failed seven times in 17 tests. It uses a 1.2m- long “kill ve­hi­cle” to shoot down an in­com­ing war­head.

The head of the US Mis­sile De­fence Agency said the Pa­cific test proved that the sys­tem worked ef­fec­tively un­der a “real­is­tic” test. How­ever, some ex­perts have ques­tioned the state­ment and pointed out that they are per­formed in a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. Wash­ing­ton Post

Pic­tures / AP

The test was con­ducted just be­fore 3am lo­cal time, an un­usual time since night­time launches are rare.

North Korea re­leased images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ( right) in­spect­ing the mis­sile with of­fi­cials.

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