At the time of its public debut in October 2020 — at a North Korean military parade, as noted on Thursday by the senior administration official — the weapon made a splash among missile experts.
The Significance of North Korea’s Missile Tests
Vann H. Van Diepen, a former weapons analyst in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that October in an analysis that the weapon was a mobile missile that appeared to be up to 85 feet long. A photo showed the missile’s transporter bearing 11 enormous black tires on each side.
The two experts judged the missile’s engines to be liquid-fueled and said that if its first stage held four engines, the missile could, “in principle,” deliver up to nearly four tons of payload “to any point in the continental United States.” Its lifting power, they added, would thus be “much greater” than that of the Hwasong-15 — previously North Korea’s most capable ICBM, tested in November 2017.
In an interview, Mr. Van Diepen said he was surprised at Washington’s characterization of the missile as a new ICBM because it went to peak heights of just 385 and 350 miles, respectively, during its testing on the first and second day this year. In an article, he had characterized it as a medium-range missile.
In contrast, the Hwasong-15, on its one and only test flight, flew to a height of 2,780 miles, according to the North Koreans.
Mr. Van Diepen said that if Washington’s ICBM analysis was correct for the new missile, it had soared far short of its capabilities, perhaps as part of a cautious approach to engine testing. “Maybe it was not fully fueled or they cut off the engines,” he said.
Still, if more flight-testing proves it to be the same missile that made its public debut in 2020 during the military parade, Mr. Van Diepen said, it would represent a fearsome addition to North Korea’s expanding arsenal. For instance, its vast lifting power in theory would let it loft multiple nuclear warheads at once, greatly increasing its destructive power.