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. Depending on payload, the missile could travel up to 10,400 km, placing most of the continental United States within range.
Hwasong-14 at a Glance
- Originated from
- North Korea
- Alternative name(s)
- Possessed by
- North Korea
- Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
- Road-mobile, platform-launched
- 19.8 m
- 1.85 m
- Launch weight
- HE or nuclear
- Two-stage, liquid-fueled
- 10,000 km
- In service
Design and Development
The Hwasong-14 is a direct evolution 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. Analyst estimates place the missile’s range at 7,000 to 10,400 km depending on the missile’s payload. With a 500 kg payload, the Hwasong-14 would be capable of striking targets in the Western United States.1
The Hwasong-14’s first stage is powered by a large liquid-fueled engine and four vernier thrusters in a configuration similar to the Hwasong-12. North Korea conducted at least two suspected ground tests of the Hwasong-14’s “Korean-style high-thrust motor” in March and June of 2017.2 The motor, a single-chamber variant of the Soviet-designed RD-250 engine, uses high-energy hypergolic propellants to produce 48 tons of thrust.3
While little imagery exists of the Hwasong-14’s second stage, analysts have highlighted design commonalities with the Taepodong-2 and Hwasong-13’s third-stage boosters. 4 The Hwasong-14 also employs eight retrograde rockets to aid in separating the first and second stages.5 These small solid-propellant rockets, visible on the interstage, are used to decelerate a missile stage during separation to ensure the multiple stages do not collide, an critical element for a reliable multistage missile. Earlier mockups of the Hwasong-13 (KN-08/14) did not feature these elements.6
Hwasong-14 Flight tests
North Korea successfully flight tested the Hwasong-14 for the first time on July 4, 2017. The missile launched from Panghyon in the country’s northwestern region and traveled for 39 minutes before landing in the Sea of Japan. In a subsequent statement, North Korean state media claimed that the missile could “strike anywhere on earth.”7
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.
With a range of over 10,000 km, the Hwasong-14 is the first North Korean missile able to reach mainland North America. In its first test, the missile flew on a lofted trajectory to a range of around 930 km and an altitude of 2,803 kilometers.8 Based on this performance, analysts initially estimated that the Hwasong-14 could reach up to 8,000 kilometers if fired in an easterly direction.9 According to reports, the U.S. government first estimated the Hwasong-14’s range to be 7,000 – 9,500 km.10
The Hwasong-14’s performance in its second, July 28 test well exceeded of its first, traveling for 47 minutes to a range of 1,000 km and reaching an altitude of 3,700 km. Reports suggested that North Korea achieved these increases through changes to the missile’s structure and throttle control systems. In the July 4 test, the Hwasong-14’s first stage fired for 145 seconds and its second stage fired for 233 seconds. On July 28, the missile’s first stage fired for 151 (+6) seconds and its second stage for 224 (-9) seconds. In addition, the latter Hwasong-14 featured yaw maneuvering motors previously absent on the first Hwasong-14’s second stage.11
It is currently uncertain whether the Hwasong-14 has entered serial production. In a parade commemorating the Workers’ Party of Korea’s 75th anniversary on October 10, 2020, North Korea displayed the Hwasong-12, Hwasong-15, and a large unnamed ICBM—with the Hwasong-14 conspicuously absent from the proceedings. As a weapon, the Hwasong-14 would represent a niche capability straddling the Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-15; its absence could that Pyongyang does not aim to procure it in larger quantities.
- Michael Elleman, “North Korea’s Hwasong-14 ICBM: New Data Indicates Shorter Range Than Many Thought,” 38 North, November 29, 2018, https://www.38north.org/2018/11/melleman112918/.
- 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/.
- Ankit Panda, “North Korea’s New High-Performance Missile Engines Likely Weren’t Made in Russia or Ukraine,” The Diplomat, August 16, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/08/north-koreas-new-high-performance-missile-engines-likely-werent-made-in-russia-or-ukraine/.
- John Schilling, “What is True and Not True About North Korea’s Hwasong-14 ICBM: A Technical Evaluation,” 38 North, July 10, 2017, https://www.38north.org/2017/07/jschilling071017/.
- Tal Inbar, Twitter Post, July 4, 2017, https://twitter.com/inbarspace/status/882174666860892163.
- 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.
- “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/.
- “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.
- John Schilling, “North Korea Finally Tests an ICBM,” 38 North, July 5, 2017.
- 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/.
- 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/.