About the Author
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korea claimed that it successfully test-fired a surface-to-surface “medium long-range ballistic missile” capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on Sunday, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Monday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised the test launch of the ballistic missile named “Pukguksong-2” and described it as a “Korean-style new type strategic weapon system.”
KCNA said the goal of the test-firing was to verify the overall weapon systems including medium and long-range ballistic missiles using high thrust solid fuel-powered engines and projectiles which can be launched from a mobile launcher.
“The test-fire proved the reliability and security of the ‘cold launch system’ on the ground and starting feature of the ‘high thrust solid fuel-powered engine,’” KCNA said
“[The test-fire] reconfirmed the guidance and control features of the ballistic missile during its active flight and working feature of high thrust solid fuel-powered engines and those of separation at the stages.”
SOLID FUEL ADVANTAGE
The North also said that its “rocket industry” has “radically turned into high thrust solid fuel-powered engine from liquid fuel rocket engine.”
The North claimed in March that the country had conducted a test for solid fuel engine, something that if successful could pave the way towards shortened launch preparation times, making detection more difficult for the U.S. and South Korea.
A U.S. based expert told NK News on Monday that the North would obtain “many advantages to using solid over liquid.”
“The addition of a solid fuel system will decrease the time needed to prepare a launch and decrease the signatures of an impending launch,” Dave Schmerler, Research Associate at James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told NK News.
“This is important as it shows North Korea has no intentions of slowing down the development and diversification of its ballistic missile fleet.”
LONG RANGE WARHEAD CAPABILITY?
The test launch of the “medium to long range missile” also proved the capability of mounting a nuclear warhead that could evade detection, the report said.
“It also verified the position control and guidance in the middle section and section of re-entry after the separation of the improved warhead of the missile which can be tipped with a nuclear warhead, the feature of evading interception … ,” the North’s state-run KCNA said.
The test-firing of Pukguksong-2 also had a purpose to “round off the mobility and operation of the new type missile launching truck in the worst surface condition.”
KCNA said the test was conducted by “the high-angle launching method” considering the security of the neighboring countries, and the missile was fired from a transporter erector launcher (TEL).
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced on Sunday that the North launched a midrange ballistic missile towards the East Sea.
The missile, which was launched at Panghyon from North Phyongan Province at 0755 KST and traveled around 500km after a rapid vertical ascent of 550km, appears likely to have been a Musudan-variant missile.
A South Korean observer said the missile type could, despite the short-range of Sunday’s test, serve a long-range purpose.
“Although it is difficult to call [the missile launched yesterday] an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), it is important to note that the solid fuel engine can also appear in KN-08,14 and other types of missile such as ICBM,” Kim Dong-yub, Assistant Professor at Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Kyungnam University told NK News.
Kim said the Musudan-type missile was different in the sense that a Musudan with an estimated range of between 2,500-4,000 kilometers is based on the Soviet R-27 Zyb (SS-N-6 ‘Serb’) SLBM missile with liquid fuel engine.
“This is a new system and should be classified.”
Kim added that it’s “impossible to estimate the range of the missile” as the North said it lofted trajectory to reduce horizontal distance.
“The North launched a medium-range missile from what we see of yesterday’s launch, but we can consider it as the test-firing of a first stage of an ICBM,” Kim said. “We should see this that the development of the solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, which is easy to move and launch, has started.”
The North’s KCNA added Sunday’s ballistic missile test extended from “the success made in the SLBM underwater test-fire held in August last year.”
In August, the North claimed a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test was a success, describing it as having been carried out without “adverse impact” on neighboring countries.
Land-based testing of the Pukkuksong-1 SLBM began as early as 2013, when a test-stand at Sinpo was built, and the first confirmed submerged test launch was conducted in May 2015.
The Pukkuksong-1 SLBM is believed to be based on the visually-similar Soviet-designed R-27 Zyb (NATO reporting name SS-N-6) SLBM.
Main picture: Hwasong archive shot, Rodong Sinmun