Kim has thrown down gauntlet to US with huge ICBM, say analysts

Updated 12 Oct 2020

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts as he attends a parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, in this image released by North Korea's Central News Agency on October 10. — Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts as he attends a parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, in this image released by North Korea's Central News Agency on October 10. — Reuters

SEOUL: The gargantuan new missile North Korea put on show at a military parade is an explicit threat to US defences and an implicit challenge to both the current and next American president, analysts say, warning Pyongyang could test the weapon next year.

Leader Kim Jong Un watched the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) roll through Kim Il Sung square — named after his grandfather — in Pyongyang at the climax of an unprecedented night-time parade on Saturday.

Analysts concurred that it was the largest road-mobile, liquid-fuelled missile anywhere in the world, and was highly likely to be designed to carry multiple warheads in independent re-entry vehicles (MIRVs).

Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said it was “clearly aimed at overwhelming the US missile defence system in Alaska”.

If the ICBM carried three or four warheads, he added on Twitter, the US would need to spend around $1 billion on 12-16 interceptors to defend against each missile.

“At that cost, I am pretty sure North Korea can add warheads faster than we can add interceptors.”

The missile was estimated at 24 metres long and 2.5 metres in diameter, which specialist Markus Schiller said was big enough to carry 100 tonnes of fuel, which would take hours to load.

It was so big and heavy that it was practically unusable, he added: “You can’t move this thing fuelled, and you can’t fill it at the launch site.

“This thing makes absolutely no sense at all, except for threat equation games, like sending the message of `we now have a mobile ICBM with MIRVs, be very afraid’.” North Korea watchers regularly caution that the devices Pyongyang puts on show at its parades may be mock-ups or models, and there is no proof they work until they are tested.

But the missile was carried on an enormous and previously unseen 11-axle transporter-erector-launcher, far larger than the eight-axle Chinese-made vehicles the North has employed so far.

“The truck may be a scarier story than the missile,” said Melissa Hanham of the Open Nuclear Network.

“If the DPRK is indigenously producing their own chassis, then there is less of a constraint on the number of ICBMs they can launch.”

Red lines

Shortly before being inaugurated in 2017, Donald Trump tweeted that North Korea developing a weapon capable of reaching parts of the US “won’t happen!”.

He spent the first year of his presidency — which saw the North launch an ICBM with the range to do exactly that —- in an escalating war of words with Kim before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance developed between them.

But nuclear negotiations have been deadlocked since the collapse of their Hanoi summit early last year over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return.

The ICBM was proof that the North had continued to develop its arsenal throughout the diplomatic process, analysts said, and gave Pyongyang greater heft to demand a return to the negotiating table.

“Like it or not North Korea is a nuclear power and is probably the third nuclear power which is capable of striking American cities, third after Russia and China,” Andrei Lankov of Korea Risk Group said.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2020