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North may have multiple-ICBM technology

July 05,2017
Intelligence shared by Seoul and Washington indicates North Korea is developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying multiple warheads at once, according to a local source who spoke exclusively with the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source said that North Korea is working on its Hwasong-14 ICBM model, though a recent report jointly conducted by the Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the 40-page “2017 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat,” said it was “unknown” how many warheads the missile could actually carry.

Intelligence authorities in Seoul and Washington believe the Hwasong-14 is based on Russia’s R-29R submarine-launched ballistic missile, which has an intercontinental range of between 6,500 and 8,000 kilometers (between 4,039 and 4,971 miles) and can fire multiple missiles in a single salvo, the source said.

The R-29R is known to be a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV), or a ballistic missile that can carry multiple warheads, each of which can hit a different target. But the source said North Korea does not appear to have reached that capability yet. Countries with MIRV technology include the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China.

“Even if the North’s ICBMs haven’t acquired the sophistication of an MIRV,” said Shin Jong-woo, secretary general of the Korea Defense and Security Forum, “it still would be highly difficult for the U.S. to target these missiles if they fell onto a single spot all at once.”

Shin added, “For North Korea, it would still be 100 percent successful enough to have just one missile fall on U.S. mainland.”

North Korea is known to have 13 different types of missiles, according to the U.S. report, three of which are ICBMs. The road-mobile Hwasong-14 was displayed for the first time in a military parade in October 2015, but has never been flight-tested. Its range is known to be 5,500 kilometers or more.

Another ICBM is the road-mobile Hwasong-13, which has a range of at least 5,500 kilometers. In a military parade last April, the report noted, North Korea showcased a modified Hwasong-13 ICBM launcher with a launch canister, as well as a new mobile-erector-launcher with a launch canister. Road-mobile launch canisters are typically associated with solid-propellant missiles, though actual missiles for the canisters were not displayed.

North Korea’s Taepodong-2 ICBM can fly more than 12,000 kilometers, the report said, the longest of the country’s three ICBMs. The missile placed a satellite in orbit for the first time in December 2012 and placed a second satellite in orbit in February 2016.

“North Korea has an ambitious ballistic missile development program and has exported missiles and missile technology to other countries, including Iran and Pakistan,” the report read. The Taepodong-2 was launched as a space launch vehicle, but if configured as an ICBM, the report concluded, “it could reach the United States.”

BY LEE CHUL-JAE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]