North Korea Preparing a Hwasong-13 (KN-08) ICBM Test?

The New York Times reports that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong un, in a new year’s address announced that North Korea is putting the final touches to preparations for a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The New York Times article states.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said on Sunday that his country was making final preparations to conduct its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile — a bold statement less than a month before the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

I’ll put my neck out by speculating that, if the North really is getting ready to test an ICBM, that it will be the Hwasong-13 (KN-08 US designation).

So far as we know the Hwasong-13 is based on the Hwasong-10 (Musudan) intermediate range ballistic missile, which the North was testing at quite a tempo in 2016, with a successful lofted trajectory test in June 2016 followed by October failures.

I have a hunch that North Korea’s recent nuclear testing has been concerned with developing second generation nuclear weapons, more compact than 1 tonne first generation behemoths, for delivery by the Hwasong missile series especially the Hwasong-13.

Of course, one may well ask why would the North go, hot on the heels, from a couple of Hwasong-10 failures to a Hwasong-13 launch? Developing intermediate range ballistic missiles gives one the basis for developing ICBMs especially when multistaging has been mastered.

The Hwasong-10 or Musudan missile is liquid fuelled, and we don’t know much about the propellant for the Hwasong-13.

Consider for example the solid fuelled Soviet SS-20 (the one that sparked the double-track furore of the 1980s). The SS-20 formed the basis of the Topol series of ICBMs, a key mainstay of the Russian nuclear deterrent.

Here’s a pic of the SS-20 (on the left)

And here’s the road mobile Topol (SS-25) Soviet ICBM

The North would have learnt a lot from its Musudan failures, and that would help them to kick start a testing programme for the Hwasong-13. Test failures are par for the course in any developmental missile programme.

So, to speculate, perhaps the North thinks they have picked up enough knowledge from Hwasong-10 IRBM testing, and multistaging during space launch vehicle launches, to give the Hwasong-13 a crack.

The New York Times article goes on to state

The North has also claimed a series of successes in testing various ICBM technologies, although its claims cannot be verified and are often disputed by officials and analysts in the region.

It has said it could now make nuclear warheads small enough to fit onto a ballistic missile. It also claimed success in testing the re-entry technology that allows a long-range missile to return to the Earth’s atmosphere without breaking up

Most western analysts would be of the view that North Korea has not yet successfully developed an RV or re-entry vehicle, and the Hwasong-10 IRBM is no done deal.

I think the main game for North Korea is developing compact nuclear warheads for the Hwasong series, including the Hwasong-13, of missiles to boost them and an RV that can survive the rigours of re-entry for an ICBM.