North Korea released some pictures they say come from their recent missile test. The missile they tested—the intermediate-range Hwasong-12—can reach the U.S. territory of Guam. According to most North Korea observers, the country hopes the tests will bring the U.S. back to the negotiating table.
The images are from Sunday’s test launch, the latest one in a recent flurry of North Korean missile launches. According to North Korea’s state media, the launch “… was aimed at selectively checking the ground-to-ground mid- and long-distance ballistic missile ‘Hwasong-12’ under production for equipment and verifying the accuracy of the overall weapon system.”
“It was conducted by the highest-angle launch system from the northwestern part of the country toward the waters of the East Sea of Korea in consideration of the security of neighbouring countries,” the report said.
This launch was the seventh launch in the last month. Observers of North Korea say the regime is seeking international recognition as a nuclear power, and they’re also seeking relief from crippling economic sanctions.
North Korea tells its people that the U.S. is seeking to overthrow its government. They assure their people that a nuclear deterrent is the only way to prevent the overthrow.
In his 2018 New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said, “Our country’s nuclear forces are capable of thwarting and countering any nuclear threats from the United States, and they constitute a powerful deterrent that prevents it from starting an adventurous war. In no way would the United States dare to ignite a war against me and our country. The whole of its mainland is within the range of our nuclear strike, and the nuclear button is on my office desk all the time.” Kim Jong Un’s address adheres to the same theme that North Korean statements always adhere to.
So does North Korea’s missile technology pose a real threat to the U.S.? Or is it just sabre-rattling?
According to Ralph Savelsberg, a noted expert in missile technology, the answer is yes. Writing at Breaking Defense in October 2020, Savelsberg said, “… if it were to become operational and be rigorously tested, a relatively small number of Hwasong-15s with suitable warheads would represent a credible threat.” Experts like Savelsberg say that the missile could reach the Eastern U.S. Coast.
The U.S. has condemned the launch. A statement from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said, “The United States condemns these actions and calls on the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing acts. While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation.”
North Korea first tested the Hwasong-12 in May 2017. Missile expert Ralph Savelsberg created computer simulations of the missile’s capabilities for 38 North. He found that Hwasong-13 has a maximum range of 3,700 kilometres (2,300 mi) with a 650 kg (1,430 lb) payload and 4,500 km (2,800 mi) with a 500 kg (1,100 lb) payload, to as much as 6,000 km (3728 mi). However, he based the simulations on assumptions about the missiles, propellant, oxidizer, and other characteristics.
There’s no question that North Korea’s missiles pose a threat. But if they were to strike first, the outcome for the isolated country doesn’t look good. Even a single warhead detonated anywhere in the world is bad news, so hopefully, these tests are just more of the ongoing gunboat diplomacy the regime employs. It’s the only arrow in their quiver. North Korea doesn’t have any economic or political clout.
On and on it goes. Missiles will be launched, counter-measures will be developed, statements will be made, sabres will be rattled, and postures will be held.
At least this time, we get some new pictures of Earth.