North Korea: "The Missile Program Is Now Complete"
Last night the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) launched another nuclear capable missile. It was a new type never shown before. Its name is Hwasong-15 and it is a beauty.
The new missile is huge. Note Kim Jong Il in his black coat on the left. He is 5'7 or 1.70 meters. The transporter-erector vehicle with the missile must be nearly 20' or 6 meters high and the missile must have a diameter of 2+ meters.
The vehicle is a modified copy of a Chinese WS51200. North Korea once bought 5 or 6 of these to "haul lumber from the mountains". All were of course used as missile transporters. A ninth axle has been added to the original design to carry the additional load of the huge missile and its firing table. The vehicle is not a TEL, a transporter, erector and launcher, but a TE. The missile is erected and set vertical on the firing table. The vehicle is removed for the launch.
The first guestimates for the total weight of the missile currently vary between 45 and 60 metric tons. I believe it is a bit more. My thumb-rule says that a heavy military truck can haul 10 metric tons of cargo per axle. Nine axles times 10 minus the weight of the firing table and the erector system could leave some 70 tons for the missile. They did not add the ninth axle for nothing.
The missile looks like a Titan II missile shrunken by 30%. The Titan II was U.S. intercontinental nuclear missile developed in the 1960s. It is not the most modern concept but solid.
The new missile has two engines of unknown type in the first stage. These are fed their fuel by one common turbo-pump. The missile steers by moving its nozzles. The reentry vehicle (RV) in the front which carries the payload is also huge. North Korea can surely fit one of its peanut shaped hydrogen bombs inside of it.
North Korea claims that the vehicle and missile were completely locally build. It is possible that this true. North Korea also claims a maximum reach for the missile of 13,000 kilometer. That is likely the absolute maximum with no payload. With a significant payload of about 600 kilogram for a hydrogen bomb the missile might be able to reach the mid-west of the U.S. but likely not the east coast. But these are guestimates. For risk evaluation one needs to look at the worst case. One has to anticipate that this type, with maybe slight modifications, will have enough reach to flatten Manhattan.
The launch happened on 3:00 am local time after the missile was transported from the factory hall seen above (March 16th Factory, Pyongsong 39°16'52.71"N 125°52'12.89"E) to its launch place. North Korea thus demonstrated the capability for surprise launches independent of the "weather". (In military doctrine nighttime darkness is a "weather" condition.) The U.S. has no means to preempt a launch of such a missile as place and time of the launch are not discernible.
Some pictures of the launch are below. A 14 minute video of the official TV announcement of the launch shows additional details of the preparations and flight.
One hopes that it will have finally sunk in with U.S. decision makers that North Korea is a nuclear power. The U.S. has claimed for some 75 years that it needs nukes for its security. It is constantly threatening North Korea. It does not stick to its deals (just ask Ghaddafi). There is no way the the DPRK will give up on its nukes or its intercontinental missile force.
In its government statement the DPRK said that its missile development is now "complete":
.. it is the most powerful ICBM which meets the goal of the completion of the rocket weaponry system development set by the DPRK.
Kim Jong Un 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 has achieved its aim of holding the whole continental U.S. at risk of a nuclear attack should it try to attack (or decapitate) North Korea. This likely also means that it will not build any new types of missile. It will continue to develop the existing ones.
A good agreement between the U.S. and North Korea would stop such further development of missiles and nukes in exchange for the stop of U.S. maneuvers near the country. North Korea has made such a "double suspension" offer. It is for the U.S. to accept it. But with Tillerson leaving as Secretary of State and Pompeo taking over his job the chances for negotiations and any deal are currently next to zero.