Hwasong-12

The Hwasong-12 is a liquid-fueled, possibly single-stage intermediate-range ballistic missile produced by North Korea. It was successfully test launched for the first time on May 14, 2017. It is the longest range transportable missile that North Korea has successfully tested to date.

Hwasong-12 at a Glance

Originated From: North Korea
Possessed By: North Korea
Class: Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM)
Basing: Transportable, platform launched
Length: Unknown
Diameter: Unknown
Launch Weight: Unknown
Payload: Single warhead
Warhead: HE or nuclear
Propulsion: Single-stage, liquid propellant
Range: 4,500 km
Status: In development
Status: First appeared April 15, 2017

hwasong-12The Hwasong-12 first appeared in North Korea’s “Day of the Sun” parade on April 15, 2017. It was speculated at the time that it could be a shortened version of North Korea’s untested KN-08 ICBM. The missile was carried on a vehicle previously associated with the BM-25 Musudan IRBM. 1 Evidence from the missile’s first test launch on May 15, however, indicates a single-stage design.

May 15, 2017 Launch

North Korea first test-fired the Hwasong-12 from a location near the the city of Kusong at 04:58 local time on May 14, 2017. 2 During the test, the missile was transported on a what appeared to be Musudan transporter-erector launcher (TEL). Rather than directly fired from the TEL, however, it was placed onto a platform for the launch.

On its 30-minute maiden test flight, the Hwasong-12 flew 787 kilometers, lofted to an apogee of just over 2,111 kilometers. This trajectory indicates that the missile could have flown around 4,500 km if fired on a range-maximizing ballistic trajectory. This range would put the U.S. territory of Guam and the far western tip of the Aleutian Islands chain within reach (see illustration).3 It should be noted, however, that without an indication of the weight of the payload, a precise range estimate remains speculative. According to one technical analysis of the launch, the full range of the Hwasong 12 could be closer to 3,700 km with a 650 kg payload. This estimate assumes that the Hwasong-12 launched on May 14 only carried a empty payload weighing only 150 kg. 4

hwasong-12
Image: Todd Harrison, CSIS Aerospace Security Project. The red line indicates the lofted flight path of the Hwasong-12 flight test on May 14, 2017. The blue and yellow lines indicate other possible flight paths at range-maximizing ballistic trajectories.

Design and Development

The Hwasong-12 appears to use a newer, possibly domestically designed and produced motor. This motor appears to be the same design which North Korea ground-tested in March 2017. 5 The motor also appears accompanied by Vernier thrusters that could provide stability without the need for external fins, like the grid fins previously seen on North Korea’s KN-11 and KN-15 medium-range missiles. This new engine design appears to be distinct from the KN-08 and KN-14, which are believed to use 4D10 engines reverse-engineered from imported Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launch ballistic missiles. 6

According to the Korean Central News Agency, the Hwasong-12 is “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead.” 7 The motor demonstrated in the Hwasong-12’s May 14 flight test could represent the first stage of a longer-range ICBM design.

The Hwasong-12 was first speculated to be a modification of the North Korea’s KN-08 ICBM. The characteristics of the Hwasong-12 gleaned from the May 14 test, such as engine type and launch apparatus, now suggest that it may be different line of design entirely.

Sources

  1. Ian Williams & Thomas Karako, “North Koreas New Missiles on Parade,” CSIS Commentary, April 18, 2017, https://www.csis.org/analysis/north-koreas-new-missiles-parade.
  2. Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Launches a Missile, Its First Test After an Election in the South,” The New York Times, May 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/world/asia/north-korea-missile-test-kim-jong-un-moon-jae-in.html?_r=0.
  3. Todd Harrison, Twitter Post, March 15, 2017, https://twitter.com/ToddHarrisonDC/status/864178196429905920.
  4. Ralph Savelsberg, “A Quick Technical Analysis of the Hwasong-12,” 38 North, May 19, 2017, http://38north.org/2017/05/hwasong051917/.
  5. Jeffrey Lewis & Scott Lafoy, “The Hwasong 12, finally,” Arms Control Wonk Podcast, May 15, 2017.
  6. CSIS Missile Defense Project, “KN-08/Hwasong 13,” Missile Threat, August 8, 2016, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/kn-08/.
  7. “Kim Jong Un Guides Test-Fire of New Rocket,” Korean Central News Agency, May 15, 2017.