Kim Jong Un warns test means enemies will now 'suffer in endless fear'

Kim Jong Un warns his enemies will now ‘suffer in endless fear’ as he is pictured with his wife, sister and daughter watching test launch of ‘most powerful’ rocket with solid fuel that sparked panic in Japan

  • Pyongyang has claimed the rocket launched Thursday was a ‘solid fuel’ missile
  • Development is a significant step towards North Korea’s goal towards building a nuclear arsenal that could post a direct threat to the United States 

North Korea said they flight-tested a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time on Thursday, as dictator Kim Jong Un watched on with his wife, daughter and sister.

It could signal a possible breakthrough in its efforts to acquire a more powerful, harder-to-detect weapon, targeting the continental United States.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) issued the report a day after the country’s neighbours detected a launch of a long-range missile from near Pyongyang, which extended a run of weapons displays involving more than 100 missiles fired into the sea since the start of 2022.

Thursday’s test did not appear to demonstrate the weapon’s full capacity, and it remains unclear how far North Korea has come in mastering technologies to ensure the warhead would withstand atmospheric re-entry and accurately strike targets.

Still, analysts said the test was likely a meaningful advance in North Korea’s goal to build a nuclear arsenal that could directly threaten the United States.

North Korea said they flight-tested a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time on Thursday, as dictator Kim Jong Un watched on. Pictured: The test-fire of the new Hwasongpho-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, inspects what it says is the test-launch of Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile Thursday, April 13, along-side his daughter (right)

KCNA said the launch was supervised on site by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who described the missile – named Hwasong-18 – as the most powerful weapon of his nuclear forces that would enhance counterattack abilities in the face of external threats created by the military activities of the United States and their regional allies.

North Korean state media outlet KCNA released photos of Kim watching the launch, accompanied by his wife, sister and daughter, and the missile covered in camouflage nets on a mobile launcher. 

Kim pledged to further expand his nuclear arsenal to ‘constantly strike extreme uneasiness and horror’ in his rivals and make them feel regret for their choices.

Pyongyang has justified its weapons demonstrations as a response to the expanding military exercises between the US and South Korea, which the North condemns as invasion rehearsals while using them as a pretext to advance its own development.

Kim added that the Hwasong-18 would rapidly advance North Korea’s nuclear response posture and further support an aggressive military strategy that vows to maintain ‘frontal confrontation’ against its rivals.

North Korea has tested various intercontinental missiles since 2017 that demonstrated the potential range to reach the US mainland.

However, the others use liquid fuel that must be added relatively close to the launch and they cannot remain fuelled for prolonged periods.

An ICBM with built-in solid propellants would be easier to move and hide and fired quickly, reducing the opportunities for opponents to detect and counter the launch.

It is not immediately clear how close the North is to having a functional solid-fuel ICBM capable of striking the US mainland.

Kim Jong Un (centre) monitoring the test-fire of the new Hwasongpho-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in North Korea

Kim Jong Un, right, and his daughter, as they inspect what it says is the test-launch of Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile Thursday, April 13

Kim Jong Un (second right), his sister Kim Yo Jong (right) and his daughter (left) monitoring the test-fire of the new Hwasongpho-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in North Korea

South Korea’s Defence Ministry maintains North Korea’s technological advancements have not reached the point where it can protect its ICBM warheads from the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry.

Last month, South Korean defence minister Lee Jong-Sup also told politicians that North Korea likely has not yet mastered the technology to place nuclear warheads on its most advanced short-range missiles targeting South Korea, though he acknowledged the country was making considerable progress on it.

Vann Van Diepen, a former US government weapons expert who now works with the 38 North project, said solid-fuel missiles are easier and safer to operate, and require less logistical support – making them harder to detect.

North Korea first displayed what could be a new solid-fuel ICBM during a military parade in February after testing a high-thrust solid-fuel engine in December.

Analysts said the U.S. could determine between a solid- or liquid-fuelled launch with early warning satellites that can detect differences in the infrared data produced by various missile types.

The latest launch came days after Kim called for strengthening war deterrence in a ‘more practical and offensive’ manner to counter what North Korea called moves of aggression by the United States.

The missile, fired from near Pyongyang, flew about 620 miles before landing in waters east of North Korea, officials said. North Korea said the test posed no threats to its neighbouring countries.

This picture taken on April 13, 2023 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 14 shows the test-fire of the new Hwasongpho-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in North Korea

This picture taken on April 13, 2023 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 14 shows the new Hwasongpho-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in North Korea

The launch prompted an evacuation warning to millions of people on Japan’s northern island Hokkaido, which was later called off. Fragments from the missile fragments fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.

A South Korean military official said the missile’s maximum altitude was lower than 6,000 km, the apogee of some of last year’s record-breaking tests.

‘North Korea could have opted to focus on collecting data necessary to check its features at different stages than going full speed at the first launch,’ said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. 

‘As it was a test that did not demonstrate its normal flight pattern, North Korea will likely conduct some more tests.’

North Korea’s solid-fuel ICBM: five things to know about Kim Jong Un’s ‘most powerful’ missile

North Korea said Friday that it had successfully tested a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, marking a major breakthrough in Kim Jong Un’s banned weapons programs.

But what exactly is a solid-fuel missile and why does it matter that Pyongyang now has one? This is what we know:

What is a solid-fuel missile?

With this type of missile, the propellant – the fuel that powers it – is made of a solid chemical mixture, which is combusted to create exhaust.

‘This propellant is cast into the missile’s airframe when the missile is built: imagine a firecracker rocket, ready to go,’ Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AFP news agency.

In contrast, liquid-fueled missiles typically require that fuel and an oxidizer be inserted into the missile before they can be fired – a slower and more cumbersome process.

Why is it better?

Preparing a liquid-fuel missile for launch ‘takes time just like pumping gasoline to your car’, said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.

A solid-fuel missile can be thought of more like a ‘portable battery’ which gives the user much greater flexibility, he said.

Moreover, once a liquid-fuel missile is prepared, ‘it has to be fired within a short period of time – which is not something you have to worry about with solid-fuel missiles’, he added.

Solid-fuel missiles need to be stored, maintained and handled carefully, and if this isn’t done, the quality of the missile can degrade over time which could cause it to fail, Panda said.

But they are generally quicker to deploy and launch during a war compared to liquid-fueled missiles. This ‘makes solid fuel missiles very attractive for a number of military applications’, Panda added.

So North Korea’s definitely got one now?

In state media images, it is possible to see the missile’s exhaust plume, which is ‘consistent with a dirty, smoky solid propellant at work’, said Panda.

‘Everything looks consistent with a successful solid-fuel ICBM test,’ he added.

But even if the North Koreans have pulled off one successful test of the new weapons system, it will still ‘be likely some way from credible deployment in any meaningful numbers’, said Joseph Dempsey, a defence researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

With North Korea’s main liquid-fueled ICBMs, which have been tested repeatedly – but only on a lofted trajectory, which is not how they would be used in a real-life situation – key questions remain over whether they are effectively operational.

But as North Korea’s ‘threshold for what is effectively fielded is likely different from others’, the new weapon may be considered operational even if other militaries would require more testing.

South Korea’s defence ministry said they believed the Thursday launch was simply an early test and that developing the Hwasong-18 properly ‘would need additional time and effort’.

‘Pyongyang still faces many technical hurdles and resource constraints to actually deploy the missile forces it advertises in state media,’ Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University, told AFP.

Who else has solid-fuel missiles?

Most militaries ‘first start off with liquid fuel missile technology but soon strive to acquire solid fuel missiles, which require more advanced technology’, said the Sejong Institute’s Cheong.

However, not all advanced militaries exclusively deploy solid-fuel missiles.

‘The United States does deploy all solid-fuel ICBMs and SLBMs, but Russia and China both still operate large liquid-fueled missiles,’ said Panda.

South Korea, for its part, has the technical capacity for solid-fuel missiles, and even has some in its arsenal ‘but their range is limited to cover the Korean peninsula’, Kim Jong-dae of the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies told AFP.

Is this a game changer?

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un claims the Hwasong-18 solid fuel ICBM will ‘radically promote’ the country’s nuclear counter attack capabilities, and experts say it could indeed change the security situation on the peninsula.

South Korea’s self-defence plan relies in part on a so-called Kill Chain preemptive strike system, which allows Seoul to launch a preemptive attack if there are signs of imminent North Korean attack.

The Hwasong-18 solid-fuel ICBM would be far harder to detect, which could upend this preemptive strike formula – although Seoul’s defence ministry on Friday dismissed this fear as ‘excessive worry’.

But if North Korea were to deploy solid-fuel ICBMs, it would ‘signal a game changer in possible warfare with them’, the Yonsei Institute’s Kim told AFP.

‘The South’s existing plan in case of war with the North is to preemptively strike and destroy the North’s missile system after confirming signs of launch preparations,’ he said.

‘But there will be no such signs if the North Koreans prepare solid fuel missiles aiming at the South.’

Reporting by AFP

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