Following speculations on a suspected ballistic missile launch that landed near Japan earlier that day, North Korea confirmed its “monster” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) during a fire test last Friday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the latest ICBM test on November 18 and has pledged to counter any threats with its own nuclear weapons, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

 

Hwasong-17, the biggest ICBM in the North Korean missile arsenal, was unveiled in public in October 2020 during the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea parade and marked its maiden flight earlier this year. It is a two-stage, liquid-fueled, and road-mobile ICBM with an estimated diameter of approximately 2.5 meters and a total mass of around 80,000 to 10,000 kg when fully fueled, according to a factsheet article by Reuters.

While the exact capabilities of the massive ICBM are yet to be revealed, experts speculated that it is powerful enough to reach cities within the US and potentially evade its existing missile defense systems. It is also said to be equipped with multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRV) technology, allowing the isolated country to “fire one missile and attack multiple different targets.”

Moreover, what makes Hwasong-17 more potent than its predecessors, aside from its size, is its ability to be “launched directly from a transporter, erector, launcher (TEL) vehicle with 11 axles.” Experts believe this ICBM could carry multiple warheads, making it more challenging to defend against. Nonetheless, it remains under development, with several of its previous test fires reported to have failed, including the November 3 launch test. A military expert told BBC News that despite its successful test, the threat of Pyongyang’s “monster” ICBM has “not significantly increased.”

“It must prove it has mastered the technology to be able to mount enough small nuclear warheads onto the ICBM,” said Yang Uk, a military expert from the Asan Institute.

The latest ICBM test came after the country warned the US of a “fiercer military response” if the latter continued to heighten its security presence in the region, including sending nuclear assets to allies in the neighborhood.

KCNA news agency added, citing Kim Jong Un’s commitment to “solemnly declared that if the enemies continue to pose threats … our party and government will resolutely react to nukes with nuclear weapons and to total confrontation with all-out confrontation.”

Based on the tally maintained by the US State Department, Friday’s launch is now the eighth ICBM test by North Korea this year, which has been reported to have landed near Japan. Accordingly, it flew nearly 1,000 km (621 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 6,041 km for almost 70 minutes. In a statement, Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the weapon could travel as far as 15,000 km (9,320 miles), enough to reach the US mainland.

“The more the U.S. imperialists make a military bluffing … while being engrossed in ‘strengthened offer of extended deterrence’ to their allies and war exercises, the more offensive the DPRK’s (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) military counteraction will be,” the North Korean supreme leader added.

In response to the North’s escalating series of missile fire tests since late September, South Korea has conducted multiple military drills with its US allies and had recently met on the sidelines alongside Japan and other neighboring countries during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to discuss “active cooperation” against Pyongyang’s further missile tests.

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Aside from its allies, Japan and the US, South Korea has also asked China and Russia to help prevent and/or persuade the North from its missile tests, especially with the looming nuclear testing resumption, as well as hold the latter country accountable for its “provocations” that disrupt peace in the region. Ahead of the United Nations Security Council, South Korea’s nuclear envoy Kim Gunn reached out to the Chinese and Russian ambassadors in Seoul to ask for cooperation and “for them to play constructive roles… and make (North Korea) return to dialogue” in terms of its nuclear weapons program.

During his inspection of Friday’s ICBM launch, Kim Jong Un, for the first time, brought his daughter to make her debut appearance in public. The striking photos of the father-daughter tandem hand-in-hand before the massive missile made rounds online with the innocent girl decked in her puffy white coat.

According to analysts, the appearance of the supreme leader’s daughter raises the possibility that totalitarian state leadership will pass to the fourth generation of Kims, and the rounding photograph foreshadows the next generation looking over the power they’re about to inherit. Moreover, some suggested that the revelation is a way for Kim Jong Un to tell his counterparts that “he is not about to bow to pressure to slow his weapons programme or return to negotiations.”