North Korea isn’t telling the whole truth about the latest ICBM test, a South Korean official says

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the South Korean and US analysis of the March 24 launch was new to what North Korea claimed Hwasong-17 ICBM, was actually older and a bit smaller Hwasong-15 – an ICBM last tested by Pyongyang in 2017.

Several missile experts have since come to a similar conclusion, but warn that the importance of last week’s successful ICBM launch – North Korea’s first in more than four years – should not be discounted, noting that the test has still demonstrated a weapon with the theoretical capability to hit all of the continental United States.

Launched by North Korea last Thursday, the ICBM flew to an altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) and a distance of 1,080 kilometers (671 miles) in 71 minutes before landing in waters off the west coast of Japan last Thursday to the Japanese Ministry of Defense.

Japan’s Deputy Defense Minister Makoto Oniki told reporters shortly afterwards that the missile’s altitude indicated it was a “new breed of ICBM.”

Japanese officials stood by that assessment this week, with Chief Cabinet Officer Hirokazu Matsuno saying Monday that Tokyo assessed the missile as a new type based on altitude and other information.

And CNN previously reported that the Pentagon is still evaluating to what extent the missile is an improved version of previous launches.

But the South Korean official and missile experts said further close analysis of images in North Korean state media from last week’s launch provided two possible leads related to Pyongyang’s alleged ruse.

The South Korean official said assessments from Seoul and Washington showed the ICBM launched last week had just two engine nozzles, like Hwasong-15, while Hwasong-17 has four.

This picture from North Korean state media, allegedly taken on March 24, shows leader Kim Jong Un walking with North Korean military personnel during the test launch of a new type of ICBM.

And a video released by state-run Korea Central Television (KCTV) last Friday, allegedly showing Kim Jong Un leading the launch, shows the North Korean leader’s shadow appearing west, meaning it was filmed in the morning , but the launch took place in the afternoon. said the official.

Also, it was cloudy in the starting area last Thursday, but the weather in the KCTV video appears to be sunny, the official said.

Analysts say the US must remain cautious

Several missile experts have also begun to question North Korea’s claim that it launched a Hwasong-17.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the KCTV video appears to have been made during the war a failed launch on March 16in which a North Korean missile exploded shortly after launch at an altitude of about 20 kilometers.

“North Korea released a video after the March 24 test. However, we measured the shadows in it, and based on the height and angle of the sun, it’s clear that the video is from the test on the morning of March 16,” Lewis said.

“The video shows the (previous) test that failed. That strongly suggests the other test was something else, which they don’t want us to see.”

Ankit Panda, nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Pyongyang may have modified the Hwasong-15 – which was first tested almost five years ago – to make it look like a more powerful missile.

This image, released March 25 by North Korean state media, is said to show the launch of a new ICBM. South Korea and missile experts dispute its authenticity.
“They claimed it was the Hwasong-17, the new, very large ICBM they inaugurated at a parade in October 2020, but it looks like they actually have a very light payload, if any, on a Hwasong -15 laid , that’s the ICBM they First tested in November 2017. And they used that to stage a demonstration,” Panda said.

Panda said Pyongyang’s apparently inflated claim is aimed at a domestic audience rather than an international audience.

“The only thing that is going well in North Korea right now is the missile program, so maybe Kim Jong Un is planning to use this demonstration to show his own people that they are suffering, the food shortages, the economic difficulties, the lockdown is over covidthat it was all worth it because their national defense capabilities are still progressing,” he said.

On Tuesday, South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung told reporters that debris rained down on North Korea’s capital Pyongyang after the March 16 test failed.

This March 25 picture from North Korea's official Korean Central News reportedly shows leader Kim Jong Un walking near a new-type ICBM reported by state media. Experts doubt the claims.

Ha’s office confirmed the lawmaker’s comments to CNN on Thursday, adding North Korea may have been urged to announce the March 24 launch of the Hwasong-15 as Hwasong-17 to allay negative opinions in Pyongyang, where citizens witnessed the failure on March 16th. North Korea has not confirmed reports of a March 16 failed test.

Lewis, the nuclear weapons expert, said no matter which missile was launched last Thursday, the test showed strong offensive capability that US defense officials need to be wary of.

“The missile launched on March 24 would have had a range of approximately 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles), which is certainly within the capabilities of a Hwasong-15 capable of delivering a nuclear weapon anywhere in the United States,” Lewis said.

And Matsuno, the Japanese official, said Monday that North Korea’s missile program remains a serious threat to Japan’s, the region’s and the world’s security.

CNN’s Yoonjung Seo and Junko Ogura contributed to this report. North Korea isn’t telling the whole truth about the latest ICBM test, a South Korean official says

Charles Jones

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