Hwasong-14

The Hwasong-14 is a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), first tested on July 3, 2017. It is the longest range ballistic missile North Korea has tested to date, and the first ICBM North Korea has flown. It has an estimated range of around 7,000-8,000 km, making it capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii.

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: Unknown
Diameter: Unknown
Launch weight: Unknown
Payload: Presumed HE or nuclear
Propulsion: Two-stage, liquid-fueled
Range: 7,000-9,500 km
Status: In development
In service: First seen July 3, 2017

July 3, 2017 Flight Test

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Hwasong-14 launch, July 3, 2017.

North Korea successfully flight tested the Hwasong-14 for the first time on July 3, 2017. The missile flew on a lofted trajectory to a range of around 930 km, and an altitude of 2,803 kilometers. This indicates the Hwasong-14’s range could be as much as 7,000 km when flown on a range-maximizing ballistic trajectory.1 Taking the rotation of the Earth into account, the Hwasong-14 could potentially reach up to 8,000 kilometers if fired in an easterly direction.2 It has been reported that the U.S. government has assessed that the missile’s range to be between 7,000-9,500 km.3 The upper bounds of this estimate likely assumes a relatively light payload weight.

The missile was launched from Panghyon and traveled for around 40 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.”4 Although this statement is untrue, the Hwasong-14 is the first North Korean missile able to reach mainland North America.

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.

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 2017.5 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 3 launch shows what could be retrograde rockets on the first and second stages.6 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.7 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.

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Hwasong-14 launch preparation showing detachable platform. July 3, 2017. Photo: KCNA

Like the Hwasong-12, the Hwasong-14 appears to be transported on a transporter-erector vehicle, but launched from a detachable platform on a concrete pad. This could have several operational ramifications. It may increase the time required to launch the Hwasong-12, and limit the number of launch locations to pre-sited and pre-constructed launch pads.

It is presently uncertain whether the Hwasong-14 configuration tested on July 3, 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.

Sources

  1. “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.
  2. John Schilling, “North Korea Finally Tests an ICBM,” 38 North, July 5, 2017.
  3. 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/.
  4. “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/.
  5. 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/.
  6. Tal Inbar, Twitter Post, July 4, 2017, https://twitter.com/inbarspace/status/882174666860892163.
  7. 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.
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