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The intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-15,  North Korea fired in the early hours of Wednesday is the country’s biggest and most powerful yet, the size of its nose cone suggesting it could hold multiple warheads.

A careful review of the 42 photos and video of the missile North Korean state-controlled media released on Thursday helped the Pentagon establish the new level of threat the rocket represents.

The ICBM, named Hwasong-15, flew at a higher altitude (2,800 miles) and for a longer time (53 minutes) than its predecessor Hwasong-14 fired in two tests in July, despite being launched in the same so-called “lofted” trajectory that shoots the missile nearly straight up into space to avoid it hitting other countries.

“I’m particularly troubled by the excess capability in this missile. It can go much further than it needs to. That suggests that it is designed to accommodate even heavier payloads than whatever it was tested with. The nosecone is huge,” Joshua Pollack, editor of the The Nonproliferation Review and a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation.

“These two observations suggest that they may already be thinking ahead to putting multiple warheads on a single missile,” he added.

South Korean missile experts shared a similar assessment: “North Korea seems to have designed the protection cover of the re-entry vehicle in consideration of a possible multiple warhead system,” Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University, told South Korean news agency Yonhap.

“The missile is big, and bad news,” Michael Elleman senior fellow for missile defence at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote on Twitter sharing his preliminary assessment of the missile’s characteristics published on 38North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project.

In his assessment, Ellaman describes the missile as a two-stage, liquid-fueled ICBM powered by a pair of engines. Basing the assessment on flight data in the immediate aftermath of the launch, Elleman was initially wary of North Korea’s claim that the ICBM could reach anywhere in the U.S. mainland because the country’s capacity to build a light-enough warhead remained unclear.

After inspecting images of the missile, he has fewer doubts. Elleman’s initial calculations suggest the missile could “deliver a moderately-sized nuclear weapon” anywhere on the U.S. mainland, and it is also large and powerful enough to carry “simple decoys or other countermeasures designed to challenge America’s existing national missile defense (NMD) system.”

“It now appears that the Hwasong-15 can deliver a 1,000kg payload to any point on the U.S. mainland. North Korea has almost certainly developed a nuclear warhead that weighs less than 700kg, if not one considerably lighter,” he added.

North Korean engineers also appear to have improved mechanisms to steer the missile and adjust its position and velocity in space, increasing the its precision.

The decoys could be as simple as Mylar balloons that could trick the system’s radars as the ICBM flies straight toward the U.S., Kingston Reif, from the Arms Control Association.

The United States has taken every step towards diplomacy and sanctions to force North Korea to stand down and end it’s ICBM and nuclear programs.  They have failed at every turn and North Korea has ignored every sanction placed upon them.

It is like a chess match and the Trump administration has been playing defensively, now it is time to go on the offensive and put North Korea in a “Check Mate”.


 Huny Badger is a Veteran who served our country as an Army Combat Medic.



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