North Korea said it tested a new type of solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver multiple nuclear warheads to the U.S. mainland, with leader Kim Jong Un on hand to see the launch of his latest weapon.
“A powerful new missile, the ‘Hwasong-18’ intercontinental ballistic missile, which serves as a crucial part of the nation’s strategic military power, was tested,” the state’s official Korean Central News Agency said Friday. The missile is designed to serve as a key element of the country’s strategic nuclear deterrent against “potential invasion of enemy forces,” it added.
Kim’s regime fired off a suspected ICBM on Thursday that landed off of Japan’s main island of Hokkaido. The latest test served a reminder of a bevy of weapons North Korea has unleashed in recent months to deliver a nuclear strike as it refuses to engage in disarmament-for-aid talks that have been stalled for years.
At a military parade in February, North Korea rolled five canisters for an apparent new solid-fuel ICBM through the streets of Pyongyang, showing off a future weapon that would be easier to deploy and quicker to fire off than its current arsenal of liquid-fuel ICBMs — giving the U.S. less time to ready its defenses.
A solid-fuel missile also increases the chance that it could be launched from a hardened underground silo, with little warning. Liquid-fuel missiles in general take more time to prepare, giving off signs to spy satellites that a launch could be imminent.
Kim also issued a fresh warning against the U.S. and its allies, pledging to continue to advance his country’s nuclear weapons program against “any aggression and provocations,” KCNA said.
The new “Hwasong-18” is said to be a significant advancement in North Korea’s missile capabilities and features advanced solid-fuel propulsion technology and a reliable separation system, KCNA said. “The Hwasong-18 missile system will serve as a vital core weapon system, defending our nation, deterring aggression, and safeguarding national security,” KCNA added.
Early images of the launch released on state media show what appears to be a larger-scale rocket blasting off from near a body of water.
North Korea in recent months has ramped up pressure with new tests of systems for nuclear strikes and cutting off a communications link with South Korea installed about five years ago to reduce tensions along the heavily border. It has demanded a halt to joint military drills between the US and its allies in the region, threatening to unleash unprecedented action to the exercises.
The U.S. push to isolate Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, coupled with increasing animosity toward China, has allowed Kim to strengthen his nuclear deterrent without fear of facing more sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. There’s almost no chance Russia or China, which have veto power at the council, would support any measures against North Korea, as they did in 2017 following a series of weapons tests that prompted former President Donald Trump to warn of “fire and fury.”
“Unless Washington puts priority to the North Korea nuclear issue, there is little chance to make any progress,” said Kak Soo Shin, a former career diplomat who had served as South Korea’s ambassador to Japan.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. has no such intent due to its full engagement in the rivalry with China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The only way to a breakthrough might be to make China put pressure or brakes on North Korea, which seems to be a remote possibility,” he said.
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