While North Korea may have succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear warheads, it has failed to acquire multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle technology, or MIRV, a source in the country told Daily NK on condition of anonymity on Oct. 13.
MIRV allows a missile to deliver multiple warheads on different targets at the same time. If North Korea had acquired this technology, there are concerns that it could hit major American cities such as Washington, D.C., or New York City simultaneously.
North Korea’s current ballistic missile technology allows it to launch several nuclear warheads at the same time; however, the source told Daily NK that the country’s current technology level only allows the warheads to be launched along the same trajectory.
The source told Daily NK that North Korean authorities consider the major achievement of the new ICBM to be the successful miniaturization of existing warheads so that several of them can be loaded into the missile.
The country’s missile experts, however, have failed to develop technology that would allow the warheads to separate and hit different targets and, according to the source, developing such technology could take considerable time.
This failure explains why North Korea did not call the new ICBM the “Hwasong-16,” which would signify that it is an upgrade from the Hwasong-15 series. “The authorities ordered the new ICBM shown during the parade for the first time to be designated as part of the Hwasong-15 series,” he noted.
Some experts have argued that the new ICBM’s payload weight has increased compared to the Hwasong-15 – whose transporter, erector and launcher (TEL) has 9-axles and 18 wheels – because the new missile’s TEL has 11-axles and 22 wheels. This means, they argue, that the new ICBM could carry – at most – three warheads.
The source, however, argued that the new ICBM can only carry two warheads. North Korean authorities plan to have the ICBM carry four warheads by 2022 following further miniaturization efforts.
The new ICBM, meanwhile, has improved range compared to the Hwasong-15, the source added.
He claimed that the new ICBM was designed to have a theoretical maximum range of 15,000 kilometers. “The [new ICBM] has a larger diameter and is longer than the Hwasong-15, which means that it can carry more warheads and has additional auxiliary engines,” he said.
The source noted, however, that the new ICBM does not have a solid fuel rocket engine; rather, North Korean missile experts are currently at the stage of “making solid fuel rocket engines more robust.”
North Korean authorities, meanwhile, claim that the ICBM in its current form can “completely destroy” the US mainland at “anytime.”
One area to watch in terms of North Korean missile development is whether the country acquires technology that allows its missiles to reenter the atmosphere. It is not been confirmed whether North Korea has such technology given that the country has only conducted high-altitude missile tests so far. Daily NK’s source suggested that North Korea could very likely move to conduct an atmosphere reentry test with its new ICBM in the future.
“The authorities are preparing a test of the new ICBM for early next year,” the source said. “The timing for the test could, however, change at any time depending on decisions by the leadership.”
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