North Korea’s state-run media gave the world a close look at the missile it launched Wednesday, and experts who examined the photos that were released said the Hwasong-15 missile is nothing to be taken lightly.
“It’s a monster,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor at MIT.
“We have to assume that this thing can park a warhead on the Eastern Seaboard,” Narang said.
The missile is larger than anything North Korea has produced before, and requires an even larger mobile carrier to transport it.
“They wanted to hit all of the U.S. and they wanted something big to hit it with,” saidDavid Schmerler, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “This seems on the surface level to be that missile.”
Schmerler said the Hwason-15 was “a lot bigger width wise, especially the second-stage, than the previous ICBM.”
The missile flew 2,800 miles on Wednesday. Experts have said that with a flatter trajectory, the missile could have gone 8,100 miles, which would mean it could hit most of the United States.
Some analysts have suggested that just because the rocket can go that far does not mean it would do so with a nuclear warhead attached.
However, Schmerler differed with that line of reasoning.
Although he said it was “hard to look at something and know there’s a heavy object” atop it, he said it makes sense that the latest test was conducted with something similar in weight to a nuclear warhead..
“They’re going to try to maximize the amount of (information) you can get out of each test,” he said. “They’re not going to launch something for the sake of it, it makes much more sense for them to try and field a realistic decoy payload.”
Shea Cotton, also a CNS research associate, said he could not “see why they wouldn’t test something with a heavy payload, when we’re pretty sure they already have a missile that can hit the US.”
And North Korean expert Michael Elleman agreed.
“The Hwasong-15 is considerably larger than the Hwasong-14, and initial calculations indicate the new missile could deliver a moderately-sized nuclear weapon to any city on the US mainland,” he wrote on the website 38 North, which tracks the North Korean nuclear missile program.
Elleman also said that the weapon could be considered combat ready within months.
“How many more tests North Korea will undertake depends on the regime’s perceived needs. At least one or two more tests on a standard trajectory are needed to validate its performance as a ballistic missile,” he wrote. “Additional flight tests should be performed to determine the missile’s reliability, establish its accuracy and verify the re-entry protection system.
“However, if low confidence in the missile’s reliability is acceptable,” he added, “two or three test firings over the next four to six months may be all that is required before Kim Jong Un declares the Hwasong-15 combat ready.”
And Michael Duitsman, a researcher at the CNS, agreed to the fact that North Korea even having a weapon of this size is a benchmark in its development.
“This isn’t just a big missile for North Korea this is a big missile in general,” Duitsman said. “There are not a lot of countries who could build a missile this big and have it work.”