How North Korea built a formidable missile arsenal

Read Time:3 Minute, 24 Second

Vijdan Mohammad Khawoosa and Josh Smith

(Reuters) – North Korea is capable of hitting almost any location on the planet with a ballistic weapon, analysts believe. It has been developing this capability alongside a range of shorter-range weapons, extensive testing and a record-setting number launch in 2022.

North Korea launched ballistic missiles that flew more than 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles), into space in March and November. These high-flying trajectories revealed a weapon that could hit another continent or deliver multiple warheads.

Pyongyang also test-fired at most three intermediate-range missiles (IRBMs), over Japan. An Oct. 4 flight, in which the missile – possibly a variant the intermediate-range Hwasong-12- landed approximately 3,200km beyond Japan in Pacific Ocean – was another example of this.

There are many questions about how reliable and powerful the North’s most powerful missiles. The North has yet to demonstrate key technologies that will allow a nuclear warhead to survive the fiery journey through the atmosphere. Some launches seem to have ended in failure.

Analysts believe that North Korea is constantly testing missiles that could be used to wage war and has no interest in selling them off.

North Korea claims that its ballistic missile program is an authorised exercise of its sovereign right to defend itself against external threats, including hostile U.S. policies

It has stated it rejects U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban missile and nuclear programme development as an infringement its sovereign rights. It also stated that it is sovereign and has the right of space exploration.

Analysts say that while long-range weapons are more prominent, North Korea is investing in shorter-range systems as well.

After the historic denuclearisation talks between Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea, and Donald Trump in 2019, Pyongyang produced new and more capable short-range ballistic weapons (SRBMs), which are capable of evading missile defenses.

According to analysts, short-range weapons allow it to prepare for potential confrontations with its neighboring countries, especially South Korea which is home to approximately 28,500 American troops. Short-range missiles appear to have been the most successful in North Korea’s test programme.

The North has also tested other advanced weapons, including “hypersonic” missiles, SRBMs for “tactical” nuclear attacks and new submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

The United States and South Korea have been warning since early 2022 that North Korea might resume nuclear testing, which they believe is the first since 2017. Analysts think that it could be able to make smaller nuclear warheads that fit on a wider range of missiles.

Hwang Ildo of Seoul’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security stated in a recent report that Kim had announced his plans to develop weapons systems, from tactical nuclear weapons to nuclear-powered submarines.

Tactical nuclear weapons’ warheads have less explosive power, but they are intended for battlefield use. They can be used to attack specific targets close to their launch point.

It makes sense to target U.S. bases south of Seoul with such weapons because the North Korean military doesn’t have enough conventional warfareheads to damage such facilities. This would prevent a conventional U.S. attack on North Korea.

“It would now be able to do so, while reserving its ICBMs and thermonuclear bombs to deter the United States from retaliatory annihilation of North Korea,” she said.

North Korea is also testing more mundane technologies, such as rocket fuel. The main focus is on solid fuel, which allows missiles (including ICBMs) to be launched without warning.

On Dec. 16, scientists in North Korea tested what they called a “high-thrust” solid-fuel motor that appeared aimed at perfecting a large engine for an ICBM.

“One of Kim Jong Un’s objectives… is to develop an ICBM propelled by solid-fuel engines, and if North Korea succeeds, it will become difficult for the U.S. to defend against Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, as signs of an ICBM launch using solid-fuel engines are hard to detect early,” Hwang wrote.

(Reporting and editing by Josh Smith; Editing done by Gerry Doyle & Raju Gopalakrishnan

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