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Why did N. Korea choose Hwasong-12 over other missiles?

Posted August. 11, 2017 08:14,   

Updated August. 11, 2017 08:43


Why did North Korea choose the Hwasong-12 missile among an array of its missiles when it threatened to surround U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with an “enveloping fire?” It is because Pyongyang believes that the Hwasong-12 is the only one among its missile arsenals whose performance and safety have been proven.

Considering that Guam is more than 3,000 kilometers away from North Korea, Pyongyang has two missiles capable of striking the island – the Musudan with a maximum range of 3,500 kilometers and the Hwasong-12 with a range of 5,000 kilometers. The North failed eight out of nine attempts to test-launch the Musudan.

The Hwasong-12, which is equipped with a new high-power liquid-fuel engine, recorded a range of some 787 kilometers and an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers in the May test-launch. If fired at a normal angle, the rocket has a range of up to 5,000 kilometers and is capable of reaching Alaska, let alone Guam. After North Korea successfully tested the thrust of the new engine on March 18, with its leader Kim Jong Un watching, Pyongyang hailed it as the “March 18 revolution.”

The launch photo released by North Korea’s official daily Rodong Sinmun showed that the expected landing area and altitude almost matched the actual trajectory. “North Korea disclosed the Hwasong-12 because of its confidence that it was able to land the missile at the desired target,” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the private Korea Defense & Security Forum.

Another reason is that the North successfully conducted the test-firing of the intercontinental ballistic missile-class Hwasong-12 twice last month. The Hwasong-14 is a two-stage rocket, and its first phase rocket, which determines the missile’s capabilities, is the Hwasong-12.

“North Korea has successfully test-fired the Hwasong-12 three times, including the two tests of the Hwasong-14,” said Chang Young-keun, a professor at Korea Aerospace University. “The successes indicate the North is all the more confident about the performance of the new engine.”

Hyo-Ju Son hjson@donga.com