Seoul, South Korea (CNN) North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday that it says is solid fuel, which analysts say will allow its missile program to launch long-range nuclear strikes more quickly and easily.
The new missile, known as the Hwasong-18, was launched just after 7 a.m. Thursday, prompting a brief evacuation order. The northern Japanese island of Hokkaido before falling into the ocean east of the Korean peninsula.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced on Friday that the missile launch, which was attended by leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter, “will serve as a powerful strategic offensive mechanism with high military potential”.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying that the Hwasong-18 would “severely promote” his district’s ability to launch a nuclear counterattack to quell invasions and defend the nation.
Analysts noted that North Korea already has that capability, although the new missile could improve upon that.
“I think it demonstrates 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 Friday that Pyongyang “needs more time and effort to successfully complete its solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile technology.”
Thursday’s missile test was North Korea’s 12th of the year, according to CNN, and came after US and South Korean forces completed their largest military exercises earlier this month.
It came days after a key meeting of North Korea’s Central Military Commission on Monday, in which Kim stressed the need to rapidly expand Pyongyang’s nuclear deterrent in response to “ever-deteriorating security on the Korean Peninsula,” according to KCNA.
Testing of solid-fueled ICBMs is important because they are more stable North Korea has previously tested liquid fuel in long-range ballistic missiles.
A solid-fuel ICBM is fueled during production and can be easily maneuvered to avoid detection before launch in minutes, according to Joseph Dempsey, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
A liquid-fueled ICBM must undergo a fueling process at its launch site that can take hours, giving an adversary time to detect and neutralize it, Dempsey wrote in an analysis earlier this year.
North Korea has reached global standards
Thursday’s release did not surprise analysts, who noted that North Korea had promoted it Testing of solid fuel rocket engine In December.
Kim wants to bring his forces up to par with other nations with ICBMs — starting with Easy Master liquid-fuel technology — and the apparent success of solid-fueled ICBM launches suggests his missile program is moving forward.
“During the earlier stages of North Korea’s missile program, liquid-fuel ICBMs represented a quick and easy path to the country’s historic goal of threatening the continental United States,” IISS’ Dempsey wrote.
“The addition of solid-fuel ICBMs to the missile force would make it a more reliable strategic deterrent by providing a more efficient, less vulnerable preemptive and retaliatory capability,” Dempsey wrote.
The new Hwasong-18 has three stages, according to KCNA, the United States’ main ICBM, the Minuteman III, which is powered by three solid-fuel rocket motors.
Jeffrey Lewis, researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies on Twitter A solid-fuel ICBM tested by North Korea was “not surprising,” he said, adding that “solid-fuel missiles are very easy to use.
“North Korea is always going to follow the same technological path as the United States, the Soviet Union, France, China, Israel and India,” he added. “Since North Korea has been testing large-diameter solid rocket motors for years, it seems clear (at least to me) that a test like this could come anytime from 2020.”
Questions about re-entry technology
Even with Thursday’s test, there is some doubt that a North Korean ICBM could actually deliver a nuclear warhead over long distances, such as to the mainland United States.
Thursday’s test, like previous North Korean ICBM tests, was launched on a very high trajectory, with the missile landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. An ICBM launched from North Korea would need to be launched on a very flat trajectory to cover the long distance to the US mainland.
ICBMs are fired into space, leaving Earth’s atmosphere before their payloads — nuclear warheads — undergo a fiery reentry process like a spacecraft or space capsule, falling on their targets.
If the atmospheric re-entry process is not executed with pinpoint accuracy, the warship will burn up before reaching its destination due to the immense heat-resistant materials. Atmospheric re-entry at the shallow angle required on a long-range strike would make the process more difficult.
Panda, the Carnegie expert, said North Korea admits it has not tested re-entry technology for its ICBM missiles. But he said Pyongyang has the ability to master it.
“Based on their prowess in materials and engineering that we’ve seen in other areas, building a strong enough re-entry vehicle is not a significant technical challenge,” he said.
In Thursday’s test, KCNA said a high altitude angle was used to prevent it from posing a danger to other countries.
On Thursday, launch spark Temporary panic in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido After the government’s emergency alert system alerted residents to safety. The alert was soon removed.
Soon, fear turned to anger and confusion, an evacuation order was mistakenly sent, local officials said it was unlikely the missile would hit the island, and Tokyo later confirmed it fell in the sea, outside Japanese territory. East Coast of the Korean Peninsula.
CNN’s Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.