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Asia-Pacific , Missile and Space

Hwasong-15; North Korea's New and Most Potent ICBM Successfully Tested

November 30th - 2017

Image Credit : KCNA

On November 29th 2017 North Korea test fired its newest and most potent intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, for the first time. The missile was, like the Hwasong-14 before it, fired on a lofty trajectory so as to ascertain its potential range without sending it too far from the Korean Peninsula. The test showed the rapid pace of the country's advances in developing ICBM technology, with its predecessor the Hwasong-14 seeing its first test in July 2017 just months prior. Indeed, the successful testing of the Hwasong-15 so soon after the first tests of the Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 indicate that North Korea's missile program may well be the fastest progressing of any missile program in history. It is unheard of for any state to commission three new advanced long range missiles consecutively in such a short period - while resources were also devoted to developing other missile platforms successfully tested in 2017 such as the KN-06 surface to air missile system and the KN-19 anti ship cruise missile. This could well be a testament to the effectiveness of North Korea's weapons development programs - the result of a combination of a highly educated and capable workforce and a sense of imminent threat to national survival which spurs the country to develop a deterrent force. Alternatively the test could reflect some form of external assistance - a distinct possibility considering the interests of neighboring superpowers in seeing North Korea complete its development of a capable deterrent to both rule out the possibility of hostile aggression and to put an end to missile tests as quickly as possible.

The Hwasong-15 test was inevitably met with uproar across the Western world and Western aligned states, which have consistently claimed North Korea gaining any form of parity with the United States would have a destabilizing effect. On the other hand according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov North Korea was being forced to conduct missile tests by the actions of the US on the Korean Peninsula, which included provocative military drills staging attacks on North Korean targets as well as increasing economic sanctions unilaterally - both of which were condemned by Russia.

The success of the Hwasong-15 may well represent the beginning of a winding down of North Korea's missile testing, as should the country have the ability to strike the entire U.S. mainland it will only be a matter of building more missiles rather than testing new ones - at least until the country perceives a need to develop a new generation of more advanced missiles in the distant future with greater payloads and faster entry speeds. The only thing it seems North Korea has left to develop before it can be satisfied with having achieved its decades long goal of gaining a limited nuclear parity with the United States is a submarine based nuclear deterrent - reportedly currently under development. A significant sign that the Hwasong-15 could well be the beginning of a new chapter for North Korea was the statement by its leader Kim Jong Un that following the test that "we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power." Such a triumphalist statement was not given since the days of the country's first successful nuclear weapons tests, and indicated the unique importance of the Hwasong-15 test as a milestone in the country's missile program. While a second Hwasong-15 test is likely in the near future, it could well herald the beginning of a reduction in ICBM testing.


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