‘Credible Threat’: North Korean Photos Hint at Next-Gen Ballistic Missiles

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
By Paul Martin


North Korea’s state media has released photos that hint at their development of the Pukguksong-3 missile, an improved version of North Korea’s first solid fuel ballistic missile, and the next Hwasong missile, an improvement on Pyongyang’s first successful long-range missile.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un traveled to the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defense Science, a visit that was photographed by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). As Kim toured the facility where rocket engines and warhead tips are researched, concept diagrams of new missiles were visible behind him in one photo.

One of the designs was labelled “Pukguksong-3.” Another diagram, less visible, was labelled “Hwasong.” Both missile series have been the subject of high-profile missile tests in recent months.

The intermediate-range Pukguksong-2 was tested in February and again in May. These tests shocked the international community, as North Korea was not expected to develop solid-fuel missiles until the 2020s at the earliest. Solid fuel rockets are a major leap forward: unlike liquid fuel rockets, they can be powered off-site and then fired within minutes of arriving at the launch platform. They are also faster and more reliable than liquid fuel rockets, making them far harder to intercept.

For the moment, North Korea’s solid-fuel rockets are experimental — but perhaps not for much longer. “If and when this happens, it will give North Korea a robust second-strike capability against targets in South Korea and Japan,” wrote aerospace engineer John Schilling with North Korean analysis think tank 38 North in May. “[This will] give them the ability to retaliate if they are the victims of someone else’s first strike, and to credibly threaten retaliation in order to deter an attack in the first place.”

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