North Korea alarmed the international community on Tuesday when, after a two-month lull, it fired a Hwasong-15 ICBM into the waters west of Japan. State media touted the launch as its most powerful missile yet. Judging by the missile’s peak height reached during its flight, experts say the North now has the capacity to strike nearly any location in the Continental US. Now, the North's state media released dozens of photos and a video after Wednesday’s launch of the new Hwasong-15 missile, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force”. The photos show Kim Jong-un personally overseeing the launch of the missile, an obvious source of national pride.
Pyongyang claimed the Hwasong-15 reached an altitude of around 4,475 kilometers and flew 950 kilometers during its flight, which lasted 53 minutes.
Kim Jong-un was shown in delight as the newly developed intercontinental ballistic rocket Hwasong-15's test was successfully launched, in these photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang November 30, 2017.
Pyongyang announced in a statement read on North Korean state TV that the missile was a Hwasong-15. “Tipped with super-large heavy warhead,” the missile is “capable of striking the whole mainland of the US.”.
“After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power,” it added.
The aim of the missile is solely “to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country from the US imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat,” according to Pyongyang.
If the missile was indeed a Hwasong-15, it would mean a new development for North Korea. The other launches that took place in 2017 were either claimed to be the older Hwasong-14 ICBM, or the intermediate range (IRBM) Hwasong-12.
Russia condemned Wednesday’s launch of the Hwasong-15, calling it “a provocative act that triggers further escalation and moves us further away from crisis settlement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday. “We do condemn the launch and hope all the parties will exercise restraint which is so much needed to prevent the situation in the Korean peninsula from going the worst way.”
In a press conference organized to respond to the launch, President Donald Trump described it as “a situation that we will handle,” saying that it won’t change his approach to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. “I will only tell you that we will take care of it,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday.
Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia repeated his pleas for North Korea to stop the tests and called on the US and South Korea to cancel large-scale military maneuvers scheduled for December.
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According to Reuters, the images of the rockets showed stronger engines and a larger design that likely puts Kim Jong Un closer to his goal of being able to deliver a nuclear warhead to a target anywhere in the world, though the missiles still lack accuracy.
“North Korea is continuing to pursue its ICBM in a methodical and pragmatic manner, making progress in incremental steps,” said Joseph Bermudez from 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project. U.S. officials noted, however, that North Korea has not proved it has an accurate guidance system for an ICBM or a capable re-entry vehicle.
The missile’s large size was immediately apparent in the photos, which analysts said could provide for a more powerful propulsion system.
“This is a very big missile,” Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, said in an analysis posted to Twitter. “And I don’t mean ‘Big for North Korea.’ Only a few countries can produce missiles of this size, and North Korea just joined the club.”
One US intelligence official said the Hwasong-15 appears to have a more powerful North Korean solid-fuel propulsion system, especially in its second-stage rocket. A solid-fuel system for an ICBM would be a significant development and could allow the North Koreans to transport and launch a missile more quickly, compared to a liquid-fuel system that requires lengthy preparation. The photos appeared to show the missile with at least two large nozzles on its first stage, instead of the one large and several smaller nozzles on the Hwasong-14.