The Hwasong-17 is the latest variant of North Korea’s two-stage ICBM family.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile research and development program has clearly demonstrated formidable progress under the embargo. The Hwasong-17 is the latest variant of North Korea’s two-stage ICBM family. The Hwasong-17 is the largest ICBM ever developed and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead anywhere on the US mainland. Some analysts have called it a “monster missile”. It had its maiden flight on 24 March 2022.
According to state news agency KCNA, The Hwasong-17 flew for 67.5 minutes to a range of 1,090 km, and a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 km and precisely hit a target in the sea. Those numbers are similar to data reported by Japan and South Korea and are further and longer than North Korea’s last ICBM test in 2017, when it launched a Hwasong-15 missile that flew for 53 minutes to an altitude of about 4,475 km and range of 950 km.
As an extended version of the Hwasong-15, the Hwasong-17 is assumed to be a two-stage, liquid fuelled road-mobile ICBM carried by a 22-wheeled transporter erector launcher vehicle. The missile itself is judged from images to be 26 m long with a diameter of 2.7 m. It also might have the capability of carrying multiple re-entry vehicles, which would be a less expensive way to launch multiple warheads than deploying many ICBMs with single warhead payloads.
It is unclear whether the Feb. 27 and March 5 test-fires used all or part of the two-stage missile. Some analysts say the tests may have involved only one stage. The Hwasong-17’s size has prompted analysts to speculate that it will be designed to carry multiple warheads and decoys to better penetrate missile defences.
Since the Hwasong-15 was already capable of striking most of the contiguous United States, the development of an even larger missile suggests North Korea is pursuing MRV, or even MIRV, payloads. As of 2020, the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system comprises 44 interceptors, requiring the launch of at least four to guarantee a hit, enabling it to protect against a maximum of 11 warheads. The Hwasong-17 may contain three or four warheads, or potentially a mix of decoys and real warheads, so the launch of just a few missiles would be enough to overwhelm U.S. defenses.
The Hwasong-17 may also contribute to ICBM testing by acting as a satellite launch vehicle. The Hwasong-17 has more capable rocket motors and more energetic liquid propellants than country’s previous Taepodong-2 booster, making it able to launch a satellite twice as heavy as was previously possible into low Earth orbit; the missile’s first launches were claimed to be related to testing elements for a reconnaissance satellite.
In its first test flight, general secretary Kim Jong-un stressed the development of the missile as a ‘a symbol of Juche power and fruition of self-reliance, completed as a core strike means and a reliable nuclear war deterrence means of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea strategic forces’.