Kim Dong-yub, a defense analyst at the Seoul-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea appeared to have built the Hwasong-15 by upgrading the second stage of the Hwasong-14, which carries the missile through space after the first-stage booster drops off.
Mr. Kim also reported an important discovery: He said the Hwasong-15 appeared to have two engines for its first booster stage, giving the new missile greater range than previous models.
Tal Inbar, head of space research at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, agreed in a message on Twitter.
Mr. Kim said, “This is indeed a new type of missile.”
He said that if the missile’s first stage was in fact powered by two engines instead of one, it would dispel earlier speculation among some analysts that North Korea might have loaded a very light mock warhead on the Hwasong-15 so it could fly farther.
Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University near Seoul, also said two Hwasong-14 booster engines were bundled together to propel the Hwasong-15, giving it the true range of an ICBM. North Korean engineers may also have helped the Hwasong-15 fly farther by fitting its thicker second stage with more fuel or more thrusters, which are secondary rocket engines commonly used for adjustments and velocity of a missile, he said.
The new missile’s size and heft have required North Korea to build a bigger transporter-launcher vehicle. The new vehicle featured nine axles, compared with the eight-axle truck used to carry the Hwasong-14.
South Korean defense officials say North Korea runs more than 160 mobile missile launching vehicles and is building more. Such vehicles make it easier to hide and transport missiles and harder for the United States and its allies to track signs of imminent missile attacks.
North Korea claims to be able to launch its missiles from anywhere, anytime. As if to drive its point home, each of the three ICBMs North Korea has launched so far was fired from a different location.
The photos also revealed that the Hwasong-15 has a rounder nose cone than the Hwasong-14. In Russian and American ICBM designs, such nose cones often mean that the missiles carry multiple warheads, analysts said. But they doubted that North Korea had the ability to hit an intercontinental target with a warhead yet, much less deliver multiple warheads on the same missile.
North Korea has yet to demonstrate that its ICBM warhead can survive the violent re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere after flying through space.
Other pictures showed North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, celebrating the launch with his key missile scientists, Jang Chang-ha and Jon Il-ho. Both Mr. Jang and Mr. Jon are important players in North Korea’s efforts to build a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.
Mr. Kim was also accompanied by Jo Yong-won and Yu Jin, top officials from the Munitions Industry Department of his Workers’ Party. The party agency oversees the country’s weapons development.
When the department submitted a plan for this week’s test of the Hwsong-15, Mr. Kim approved it with his characteristic handwriting: “For the party and for the fatherland, launch the missile bravely!”
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