December 01, 2017 09:51
Pictures of Wednesday's launch of a North Korean rocket published in the country's state media have convinced experts that it is an entirely new type of intercontinental ballistic missile.
A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff here told reporters, "There are clear differences in the appearance of the Hwasong-15's warhead, the joint of the first- and second-stage boosters, and the overall size."
The JCS initially speculated that the missile was an improved version of the Hwasong-14. Some experts said even the U.S. and Russia would have trouble launching an entirely new ICBM in such a short time and suspect the North had help from scientists from the former Soviet Union.
The Hwasong-15 is about 21 m long, 2 m longer than the Hwasong-14. That means it can hold more fuel, which translates into stronger engine thrust, longer flight time and extended range.
The Hwasong-15 was fired at a high angle and reached an altitude of 4,475 km, which means it could travel up to 13,000 km if launched on a normal trajectory, around 3,000 km more than the Hwasong-14.
It is also estimated to measure around 2 m in diameter, 30 cm bigger than the Hwasong-14. A larger diameter also enables a bigger and heavier warhead to be mounted on the ICBM. The warhead of the Hwasong-15 was wide and round where the Hwasong-14's was pointy and could weigh between 500 kg and 1 ton.
The Hwasong-14 was powered by one engine, but the new missile by two without a support engine, an unprecedented development for North Korea, according to David Schmerler at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Some experts even believe that the two-stage engine may be powered by a new type of solid fuel.
The North also unveiled a new 18-wheel mobile launch vehicle for the missile. Even Russia and China only use 16 wheels.
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