North Korea announced it had tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that would “radically promote” its forces.
According to the North Korean state news agency KCNA, leader Kim Jong Un warned that the new development would make enemies “experience a clearer security crisis, and constantly strike extreme uneasiness and horror into them by taking fatal and offensive counter-actions until they abandon their senseless thinking and reckless acts.”
Last week, North Korea warned of “nuclear war” after U.S.-South Korean forces jointly conducted 11 day-long military drills.
Analysts said that the tested ICBMs were North Korea’s first use of solid propellant in an intermediate or long-range ballistic missile.
Solid rocket fuel has a long shelf life, allowing for missiles to be kept in a state of readiness for extended periods. Rockets powered by liquid propellants typically must be loaded with fuel at their launch site, a dangerous and time-consuming process requiring additional infrastructure and logistical support.
South Korea’s defense ministry said North Korea was still developing the weapon and needed more time and effort to master the technology, indicating that Pyongyang might carry out more tests.
The new missile, called the Hwasong-18, will “extensively reform the strategic deterrence components of the DPRK, radically promote the effectiveness of its nuclear counterattack posture and bring about a change in the practicality of its offensive military strategy,” KCNA said, referring to the country’s official name by its acronym.
In response to North Korea’s tests, the U.S. and South Korean air forces staged drills within hours after the news report, Seoul’s defense ministry said. American B-52H bombers joined F-35, F-15, and F-16 fighter jets in the joint exercise.
“By deploying U.S. strategic assets with increased frequency and intensity, the two countries will continue demonstrating our strong alliance’s will that we will never tolerate any nuclear attack from North Korea,” the ministry said in a statement.
“For any country that operates large-scale, missile-based nuclear forces, solid-propellant missiles are an incredibly desirable capability because they don’t need to be fueled immediately prior to use,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calling solid-propellant missiles “much more responsive in a time of crisis.”
Officials said that the missile, fired from near Pyongyang, flew about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) before landing in waters east of North Korea. Its maximum altitude was lower than some of last year’s record-breaking tests.
“North Korea could have opted to focus on collecting data necessary to check its features at different stages than going full speed at the first launch,” a professor at the University of North Korean Studies said. “As it was a test that did not demonstrate its normal flight pattern, North Korea will likely conduct additional tests.”
The United States has developed solid-fuel missiles since the mid-twentieth century. The Soviet Union produced its first solid-fuel ICBM in the early 1970s, followed by France’s SSBS, a medium-range ballistic missile.
Reuters contributed to this report.