Hwasong-14 (KN-20)

The Hwasong-14 (U.S. designation KN-20) is a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), first tested on July 4, 2017. It is the first ICBM North Korea has flown. The missile has an estimated range in excess of 10,000 km, making it capable of reaching most of the continental United States.

Hwasong-14 at a Glance

Originated from: North Korea
Possessed by: North Korea
Alternative name(s): KN-20
Class: Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
Basing: Transporter-erector, platform-launched
Length: 19.8 m
Diameter: 1.85 m
Launch weight: Unknown
Payload: Presumed HE or nuclear
Propulsion: Two-stage, liquid-fueled
Range: 10,000+ km
Status: In development
In service: First seen July 4, 2017

July 2017 Flight Tests

Hwasong-14 launch, July 4, 2017.

North Korea successfully flight tested the Hwasong-14 for the first time on July 4, 2017. The missile was launched from Panghyon and traveled for around 39 minutes before landing in the Sea of Japan inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. North Korean press statements claimed the missile could “strike anywhere on earth.”1

Although this statement is untrue, the Hwasong-14 is the first North Korean missile able to reach mainland North America. The missile flew on a lofted trajectory to a range of around 930 km, and an altitude of 2,803 kilometers.2 Based on this performance, it was initially estimated that the Hwasong-14 could potentially reach up to 8,000 kilometers if fired in an easterly direction.3 It has been reported that the U.S. government has assessed that the missile’s range to be between 7,000-9,500 km.4

Hwasong-14’s performance during its July 28 test, however, well exceeded that, flying for around 47 minutes, to a range of 1,000 km and an altitude of 3,700 km. According to one report, the missile’s increased flight time, range, and altitude is due to differing burn times of the missile’s two stages and structural modifications. In the July 4 test, the Hwasong-14’s first stage burned for 145 seconds and second stage for 233 seconds. On July 28, by contrast, the missile’s first stage burned for 151 (+6) seconds and second stage for 224 (-9) seconds. The latter Hwasong-14 was also structurally different from that of the previous launch, with yaw maneuvering motors added on to the missile’s second stage.5

Based on its July 28 performance, the Hwasong-14 could have a range of over 10,000 km if flown on a range-maximizing ballistic trajectory. This is far enough to reach the majority of the continental United States. If factoring in the rotation of the Earth, which provides a range boost when travelling eastward, the Hwasong-14’s coverage area would include the West Coast, Chicago, and possibly even New York.

Hwasong-14 Design and Development

The Hwasong-14 is likely a two-staged version of the single-stage Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which North Korea first tested in May 2017 to a range of around 4,500 kilometers.

See all North Korean launches
Date Number Launched Notes
July 4, 2017 1 Flight time: 39 min; distance traveled: 930 km; apogee: 2,803 km.
July 28, 2017 1 Flight time: 47 min; distance traveled: 1,000 km; apogee: 3,700 km.

The missile’s first stage engine appears similar, if not identical, to the Hwasong-12. A single liquid-fueled engine, it is accompanied by four Vernier thrusters for stability and guidance. North Korea conducted at least two suspected ground tests of this engine in March and June of 2017.6 This newer engine design appears to be distinct from the KN-08 and KN-14 ICBMs, which North Korea displayed but never flight tested. The KN-08 and KN-14 are believed to use 4D10 engines reverse-engineered from imported Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launch ballistic missiles. As such, it is probable that the Hwasong-14 is largely unrelated to the KN-08 and KN-14 designs.

Less is known about the Hwasong-14’s second stage, but imagery from the July 4 launch shows what could be retrograde rockets on the first and second stages.7 Retrograde rockets are used to decelerate a missile stage during separation to ensure the multiple stages do not collide, and are considered an essential element of multistage rocket design. It is worth noting that in 2013, experts pointed to the KN-08’s lack of retrograde rockets as evidence that the KN-08 was a mock-up.8 The inclusion of retrograde rockets on the Hwasong-14, consequently, shows the significant progress North Korea has made in ICBM technology in a short period. Debate continues over the Hwasong-14’s reentry vehicle and whether it is capable of surviving the stresses associated with ICBM distance.

Hwasong-14 launch preparation showing detachable platform. July 4, 2017. Photo: KCNA

It is presently uncertain whether the Hwasong-14 configuration tested on July 4, 2017 is meant for production and deployment. It is perhaps more probable that this missile represents a technology demonstrator that will undergo additional testing and upgrades to further increase its range before the missile goes into serial production. Such upgrades may include the addition of a third stage.

    1. “DPRK Succeeds in Test-launch of Inter-continental Ballistic Rocket,” Korean Central News Agency, July 4, 2017, https://kcnawatch.co/newstream/1499256174-149984450/dprk-succeeds-in-test-launch-of-inter-continental-ballistic-rocket/.
    2. “Seoul confirms N. Korean ICBM test, sees ‘high’ possibility of nuke test,” Yonhap, July 5, 2017, http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2017/07/05/0301000000AEN20170705003554315.html.
    3. John Schilling, “North Korea Finally Tests an ICBM,” 38 North, July 5, 2017.
    4. Ankit Panda, “Why Is Russia Denying That North Korea Launched an ICBM?,” The Diplomat, July 11, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/07/why-is-russia-denying-that-north-korea-launched-an-icbm/.
    5. Ankit Panda, “New Details on North Korea’s Second ICBM Test Suggest Improvements, Further Testing Ahead,” The Diplomat, August 3, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/new-details-on-north-koreas-second-icbm-test-suggest-improvements-further-testing-ahead/.
    6. Aria Bendix, “North Korea Tests Another Rocket Engine,” The Atlantic, June 23, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2017/06/north-korea-tests-another-rocket-engine/531390/.
    7. Tal Inbar, Twitter Post, July 4, 2017, https://twitter.com/inbarspace/status/882174666860892163.
    8. Hunter Stuart, “North Korean Missiles Are Likely Fake,” Experts Say: Report,” Huffington Post, August 15, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/north-korea-missiles-fake-report_n_3761325.html.