Analysts say North Korea’s new intercontinental ballistic missiles may make it easier for it to launch a nuclear attack

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) North Korea said the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) it tested Thursday was solid-fuel powered, a development that analysts say could allow it to launch long-range nuclear strikes more quickly and easily as it ramps up its missile programme.

The new missile, named Hwasong-18, launched just after 7 a.m. Thursday, prompting a short evacuation order. Hokkaido Island, northern Japan before falling into the waters east of the Korean Peninsula.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Friday that the missile launch, which was attended by leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter, “will be a powerful strategic attack and greater military efficiency.”

Kim was quoted by KCNA as saying that the Hwasong-18 missile will “radically enhance” his province’s ability to launch a nuclear counterattack to suppress invasions and protect the nation.

Analysts noted that North Korea already has this capability, though the new missile may enhance it.

“I think this is indicative of technological progress, but I wouldn’t describe it as a game changer,” said Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that Pyongyang still needs “more time and effort to successfully complete its solid-fuel ICBM technology.”

Kim Jong Un, center, and his daughter, left, watch Thursday’s missile launch in a photo released by state media.

Thursday’s missile test was North Korea’s 12th, according to a CNN tally, and comes after US and South Korean forces earlier this month concluded their biggest military exercises in years, including a major amphibious landing exercise.

It also came just days after a key meeting of North Korea’s Central Military Commission on Monday, when Kim stressed the need to rapidly expand Pyongyang’s nuclear deterrent in response to the “deteriorating security situation on the Korean Peninsula,” according to the KCNA news agency.

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Testing solid-fuel ICBMs is important because they are more stable than Those liquid-fueled ones that North Korea has previously tested in long-range missile launches.

Solid-fuel ICBMs will be fueled during manufacture and can be moved more easily to avoid detection before a launch that can be launched within minutes, according to Joseph Dempsey, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

A liquid-fueled ICBM needs to undergo a fueling process at the launch site that could take hours, Dempsey wrote in an analysis earlier this year, giving an adversary time to detect and neutralize it.

North Korea is up to world standards

Thursday’s launch did not come as a surprise to analysts, who noted that North Korea had made the news Solid fuel rocket engine test in December.

Kim wanted to bring his forces up to other countries’ standards using ICBMs after starting with liquid-fuel technology that was easier to master—and the apparent success of launching a solid-fuel ICBM indicates that his missile program is progressing.

North Korea said it launched a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-18, using solid fuel, on Thursday.

“Early in North Korea’s missile program, liquid-propellant ICBMs represented the quickest and easiest path to achieving the country’s historical goal of being able to threaten the continental United States,” wrote Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Adding solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles to the missile force will make it a more credible strategic deterrent by providing a more capable and less vulnerable pre-emptive and retaliatory capability,” Dempsey wrote.

The new Hwasong-18 has three stages, according to the Korean Central News Agency, just like the main intercontinental ballistic missile of the United States, the Minuteman III, which is powered by three solid-propellant rocket engines.

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said Jeffrey Lewis, an analyst at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies on Twitter That it was “no surprise” that a wasted solid-fuel ICBM was launched by North Korea, saying “it’s easier to use solid-fuel missiles.

He added, “North Korea would have always followed the same technical path as the United States, the Soviet Union, France, China, Israel and India.” “Given that North Korea has been testing large-diameter solid rocket engines… for several years, it was clear (to me at least) that since 2020 a test like this could have taken place at any time.”

Questions about re-entry technology

Even with Thursday’s test, there is still some skepticism about whether a North Korean ICBM can actually deliver a nuclear warhead over a long distance, say to the US mainland.

Thursday’s test launch, like North Korea’s previous tests of an ICBM, took place on a very high trajectory, with the missile plunging into the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. To cover the longer distance to the US mainland, an ICBM launched from North Korea would have to be launched on a flatter trajectory.

ICBMs are launched into space, speeding along outside Earth’s atmosphere before their payloads—nuclear warheads—succeed in a fiery re-entry process, like a space shuttle or space capsule, before crashing down on their targets.

If the atmospheric re-entry process is not carried out with extreme precision and using materials that can withstand the enormous heat generated, the warhead will burn up before reaching its target. Atmospheric re-entry at the shallower angle required in a long-range strike can make the operation more difficult.

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Panda, the Carnegie expert, said North Korea acknowledges that ICBM launches do not test re-entry technology. But he said Pyongyang likely has the ability to master it.

“Based on their proficiency in materials and engineering that we’ve seen in other areas, developing a vehicle robust enough for re-entry is not a major technical challenge,” he said.

For Thursday’s test, KCNA said the extremely high angle was used to prevent the debris from posing a danger to other countries.

On Thursday, the launch was sparked Temporary panic on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido After the government’s emergency alert system warned residents to take cover. The warning was soon lifted.

Soon after, fear turned to anger and confusion amid reports that the evacuation order had been sent in error, with local officials saying there was no possibility of the missile hitting the island, and Tokyo later confirming that it landed outside Japanese territory, in waters off the eastern coast of the peninsula. Korean island.

CNN’s Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.

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