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Why Kim Jong Un’s new ‘monster’ missile is meant to overwhelm US defenses

Size & likely engine configuration of missile unveiled by Kim Jong Un Saturday would allow it to carry several thousand pounds of payload anywhere in US, weapons experts say.

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The missile Kim Jong Un rolled out this weekend could allow him to pack multiple atomic weapons in a single rocket and increase his chances of striking a U.S. city with a thermonuclear device.

The size and likely engine configuration of the missile would allow it to carry several thousand pounds of payload anywhere in the U.S., according to weapons experts who saw the new intercontinental ballistic missile Kim unveiled in a military parade on Saturday. Kim appears to have learned from the former Soviet Union that it’s more efficient to add warheads to a single system rather than to build more missiles and launchers, according to Ankit Panda, author of “Kim Jong Un and the Bomb: Survival and Deterrence in North Korea.”

“They can saturate the defenses by having more reentry vehicles than the U.S. can ever hope to defend against,” Panda, who’s also a Stanton senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Monday at a web seminar hosted by NK News. The missile was widely seen as the “new strategic weapon” Kim promised in a new year’s speech to unveil.

Panda estimated that the new missile, dubbed by weapons experts as the Hwasong-16, could hold as many as four warheads. The Hwasong-15, which Kim launched in November 2017, proving for the first time that he could hit all of the U.S., was thought to be best configured with a single warhead.

North Korea would need to launch 11 single-warhead ICBMs to have at least a one-in-three chance of evading missile shields and detonating a thermonuclear weapon on a U.S. city, Panda said, citing public data about U.S. defense systems. The more warheads it can send, the greater the chance of overwhelming U.S. interceptors, he said.

“If the North Koreans have questions about the performance of their own reentry vehicles, putting multiple reentry vehicles on a ballistic missiles simply increases the chances that one of those will successfully detonate,” Panda said.

The new missile appears to be about 2 to 3 meters (6 to 9 feet) longer than the Hwasong-15, according to estimates by weapons experts. It’s also wider in diameter, making it the largest road-mobile ICBM of its type in the world.

“It’s huge,” said Melissa Hanham, a weapons expert and deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network. She called the new ICBM “a monster.”

In a speech at the parade Saturday, Kim said he would only use his arsenal if threatened. “But if any forces try to use their military power against us, I will preemptively mobilize our most powerful offensive force and punish them,” Kim said.

The engines for the liquid-fuel missile may have been tried out at a long-burn test North Korea conducted in December, but its actual performance cannot be assessed until North Korea actually launches it. Such a test is fraught with political risks for Kim because it would violate United Nations resolutions and undermine U.S. President Donald Trump’s boasts that his personal diplomacy led the North Korean leader to halt test launches of long-range rockets.

North Korea displayed four of the new missiles in the parade Saturday, each carried by a never-before-seen 11-axle truck. Moving such large vehicles around a country with a dearth of paved roads could prove a challenge.

Unlike the U.S., Russia and other countries that put ICBMs in reinforced silos, that option is less appealing to North Korea because those fixed positions could easily be hit before the country had a chance to fire off the missiles. North Korea also unveiled a new version of its intermediate-range Pukguksong ballistic missile that could pose a threat to Japan, South Korea and U.S. bases in Western Pacific.

If North Korea did test the new ICBM, it would likely send it on a lofted trajectory to reach an apogee in excess of 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles), Panda said. That’s 12 times higher than the International Space Station.-Bloomberg


Also read: Kim Jong Un shows off ballistic missile, built during talks with Trump, at military parade


 

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