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North Korea’s ICBM Technology: A Game Changer or Still a Puzzle?

North Korea Successfully Launches Solid-Fuel ICBM Three Times
Flight and Responsiveness Verified
Re-entry and Multiple Warhead Technology Still in Progress

North Korea’s new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-18, uses a solid fuel engine. ⓒKorean Central News Agency

North Korea has recently demonstrated its ability to potentially strike the U.S. mainland by launching a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), known as the Hwasong-18, featuring a solid fuel engine. The focus has now shifted to assessing the specific technological advancements achieved by the regime.

Although the basic performance of the Hwasong-18 has been validated through three successful launches, experts highlight some areas that require further verification.

During a National Assembly’s Defense Committee meeting on the 21st, Minister of Defense Shin Won Sik stated that the Hwasong-18 had exhibited successful flight and responsiveness thanks to its detachable solid fuel system.

However, Shin emphasized that “the ability to destroy a target through warhead re-entry accurately has not been verified.” According to experts, verifying re-entry technology necessitates actual range (normal angle) launches and mock tests at specialized facilities, procedures that North Korea has yet to complete.

Shin clarified, “High-angle launches do not confirm re-entry technology. We need to conduct actual range firings and recover the warhead to determine if re-entry was successful. Alternatively, we can observe whether the warhead lands correctly.”

Furthermore, he explained, “In cases where actual range firing is challenging, advanced nations often evaluate warhead functionality by generating an environment with temperatures exceeding 6,000 degrees through an ‘arc plasma wind tunnel.’ This necessitates a massive facility.”

Notably, operating a wind tunnel consumes a significant amount of electricity, equivalent to that of a small city, posing challenges for North Korea, which faces chronic power shortages, to possess such a facility.

Shin also emphasized the need to further verify North Korea’s multiple-warhead technology, stating that “the accurate validation of multiple-warhead technology has not been completed.” However, he acknowledged that North Korea appears to be gradually advancing in this direction.

Minister of Defense Shin Won-sik ⓒMinistry of National Defense/Newsis

Will Russia Transfer Advanced Technology?
Minister Shin: “Not Yet”
North Korea Likely to Adjust Levels for Technology Verification

Some speculate that just as North Korea advanced its solid engine technology with Russia’s help, Russia could fill in the ‘last puzzle’ of North Korea’s ICBM technology.

However, Shin said, “Re-entry technology is an advanced technology,” and “It is difficult to say that Russia has handed it over to North Korea so far.” He also revealed no evidence of Russia’s contribution to the wind tunnel facilities.

Experts predict that, considering the realistic constraints, North Korea might try to prove its ICBM technology.

In a report titled “Analysis of North Korea’s Solid Fuel ICBM Hwasong-18 Launch Training” recently released through the Korea Institute for National Unification, Senior Research Fellow Hong Min said, “To verify the technical capabilities of the ICBM, normal angle firing is necessary,” and “During normal angle flight, the stability of entering and re-entering the atmosphere, the ability to uniformly trim the warhead, and the ability to accurately explode and land can be confirmed.”

Senior Research Fellow Hong said, “Geographical conditions and military risks may make normal angle firing realistically difficult,” and “There is a possibility that they may choose to fire at a higher angle than the normal angle, but not as far as Hawaii, or indirectly verify the technology by launching a medium-range ballistic missile.”

The direction of North Korea’s lofted angle launch is expected to be one of four: falling near the U.S. west coast via the north of Hawaii, falling near the U.S. west coast via the south of Hawaii, towards South America, or falling in front of the Antarctic continent after passing over Australia. However, considering the possibility of friction with the U.S. and other countries, North Korea may find a ‘compromise.’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ⓒKorean Central News Agency

By. Hyun Tae Kang

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