MELBOURNE, Australia — North Korea has showed footage and images of a new mobile, medium-range ballistic missile that it test-fired over the weekend, suggesting that the country is making advances toward making its ballistic missiles less vulnerable to tracking and preemptive strikes.
Named the Pukguksong-2, the missile’s naming convention appears to suggest it is a derivative of the Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile tested by North Korea in April 2016. According to footage released by North Korea’s state-owned Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, the missile was carried inside a canister mounted on a previously unknown tracked transporter erector launcher, or TEL.
The missile was ejected out of the canister via cold launch before rocket ignition after the missile was clear of the TEL. Analysts who have studied the footage and imagery of the latest test say that the Pukguksong-2 is solid fueled like its sub-launched predecessor and noted changes to the shape of the warhead/reentry vehicle, with KCNA claiming it is capable of evading interception, without providing specifics.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile was launched around 7:55 a.m. local time on Feb. 12 from North Korea’s Banghyon air base in the western North Pyongan Province, adding that it reached a apogee of 344 miles and out to about 313 miles before splashing into the Sea of Japan.
KCNA has hailed the test, which was observed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as a success, claiming it “proved the reliability and security of the surface launch system."
This photo, according to and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency, was taken Feb. 12, 2017, and shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, surrounded by soldiers of the Korean People's Army as he inspects the test-launch of a surface-to-surface medium long-range ballistic missile at an undisclosed location.
Photo Credit: STR/AFP via Getty Images
Speaking to Defense News, Melissa Hanham, senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the latest North Korean test is significant because the country is testing a solid-fuel land-based missile of this range, and the use of “solid fuel means North Korea will be able to launch these missiles more quickly than liquid-based missiles,” with the latter being able to be fueled only shortly prior to launch, and necessitating more support vehicles and equipment, making them easier to spot using satellite imagery and other sensors.
Also of note is the use of a tracked TEL for the first time to carry a North Korean ballistic missile, which will be able to travel over rougher terrain and semi-paved roads. Together with the use of a solid-fueled missile, North Korea will now be able to significantly expand the number of possible launch sites in the country while simultaneously reducing the footprint of its launch site and time taken to launch, thus making them much more survivable by making it more difficult for adversaries to track.
North Korea has previously used only wheeled TELs, which would restrict them to operating from the small amount of paved roads in North Korea. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the whole of North Korea had a mere 452 miles of paved roads in 2006.
The test is the latest violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, which demands North Korea “not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile." It was the first test-firing of a North Korean missile since the U.S. Trump administration came into power.
Condemnation of the test from world leaders was swift with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe labeling it as "absolutely intolerable" at a news conference in Florida where Abe has been visiting U.S. President Donald Trump. North Korea’s main trading partner China was, however, predictably more circumspect, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying the country opposes the test but calling on all related parties “not to provoke each other."