Hwasong-15, North Korea’s latest missile: All you need to know

Experts believe that North Korea's description of a 'super-large heavy' warhead could possibly stir a debate on whether Pyongyang plans another nuclear test to demonstrate it has such a weapon.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 1, 2017 11:58 pm
A woman walks past a TV screen broadcasting news of North Korea’s missile launch, in Tokyo, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. After 2 ½ months of relative peace, North Korea launched its most powerful weapon yet early Wednesday, a presumed intercontinental ballistic missile that could put Washington and the entire eastern U.S. seaboard within range. The letters at bottom read ” Ballistic missile after 2 ½ months.” (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

North Korea on Wednesday launched its most powerful weapon yet after nearly two months of relative quiet. Called the Hwasong-15, experts believe that this new type of intercontinental ballistic missile could possibly reach Washington and the entire eastern US seaboard. In a special news broadcast by its state media hours after the launch, Pyongyang claimed it successfully fired a ‘significantly more’ powerful, nuclear-capable ICBM.

What is the Hwasong-15?

North Korea claims the intercontinental ballistic missile is ‘significantly more’ powerful than previous missiles even as analysts concurred that North may have made a jump in missile capability with the Hwasong-15. A government statement said the Hwasong-15 is the ‘greatest ICBM’ that could be armed with a ‘super-large heavy nuclear warhead’ capable of striking the ‘whole mainland’ of the United States of America. Pyongyang claimed the missile reached a height of 4,475 km (2,780 miles) and traveled 950 km (590 miles) before it accurately hitting a sea target.

Experts believe that North Korea’s description of a ‘super-large heavy’ warhead could possibly stir a debate on whether Pyongyang plans another nuclear test to demonstrate it has such a weapon. A case in point: Back in July this year, when Pyongyang tested Hwasong-14s, two of its previous ICBM models, it had announced that the missiles were capable of delivering ‘large-sized heavy’ warheads. Eventually, it did conduct its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on September 3.

What are the features of Hwasong-15? 

Hwasong-15 is a two-staged, liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with the length and diameter estimated to be 22.5 metres and 2.5 metres, respectively. The mass of the devastating weapon ranges between 40-50 tonnes and the thrust required at lift off is 72 tonnes.

The first stage of the missile consists of two Soviet-era RD 250 engines, where both fuel and oxidiser automatically ignite on contact. The second stage is powered by four small engines derived from Soviet R-27 missile which is said to contain 50 per cent more propellant that Hwasong-14.

The gimbaled thrust system, mostly found in modern rockets, helps the engine’s exhaust nozzle to move from side to side, by which the missile’s course can be easily adjusted. Experts believe that the missile has the abitily to deliver 1000 kg payload at any point on US mainland.

Where was it launched from?

The missile was launched from near Pyongyang. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told the Associated Press that it landed inside of Japan’s special economic zone in the Sea of Japan, about 250 km (155 miles) west of Aomori, which is on the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu.

What do experts say about North Korea’s missile launch?

Wednesday’s test suggests that progress has been made by North Korea in developing a weapon of mass destruction that could likely strike the US mainland. Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official, told the Associated Press that the missile is perhaps an “upgraded version of its old ICBM with an enhanced second-stage.” He told the news agency that Pyongyang will try to evaluate the weapon’s performance, including the warhead’s ability to survive atmospheric re-entry and strike the intended target, before it attempts a test that shows the full range of the missile.

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