What is True and Not True About North Korea’s Hwasong-14 ICBM: A Technical Evaluation

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DWS Staff
DWS Staff
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Joined: Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:29 pm

Tue Jul 11, 2017 1:35 am


After the frenzy of technical speculation over the successful launch of North Korea’s Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the dust seems to be clearing and the emerging reality is that the North has an unreliable missile that can reach Alaska or Hawaii with a single nuclear warhead, and would be lucky to hit even a city-sized target. However, with a year or two of additional testing and development, it will likely become a missile that can reliably deliver a single nuclear warhead to targets along the US west coast, possibly with enough accuracy to destroy soft military targets like naval bases. In perhaps five years, North Korea may be able to incorporate a modest suite of decoys and penetration aids to challenge US missile defenses. Let’s hope US missile defenses are up to that challenge.

Contrary to the assertions of some analysts that the missile is currently capable of carrying several warheads, not just one, it may eventually be able to carry a modest suite of decoys or penetration aids, though probably not for several years. A multiple warhead capability, while theoretically possible, would require a very lightweight warhead, which will require a lot more nuclear testing and is probably a decade in the future at best.

That said, the Hwasong-14 that flew last week was surprising in several respects. On the surface, it appeared to be a completely different missile than the one North Korea rolled out under the name of “Hwasong-14” back in 2015. On close examination, however, this new Hwasong-14 appears to be closely based on elements of several previous North Korean missiles. In fact, very little of the Hwasong-14 is truly new: it uses the same engine as the Hwasong-12, a structural technology first developed for the original Hwasong-14 and demonstrated on the Hwasong-12; it also featured an upper stage very similar in size and performance to the Hwasong-13 (itself derived from the upper stage of the Unha space launch vehicle), and probably a reentry vehicle (RV) derived from the original Hwasong-14.

" man fears time, but time fears the pyramids "

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