November 30, 2017

North Korean Hwasong-15 Barely An ICBM "with light to no payload"

Sources (but in particular North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA)) announced that a Hwasong-15 ICBM was test-fired at 3am Pyongyang time, November 29, 2017. It was launched near
 Pyongsong, NK, and reached an altitude of 4,475 km over a flight distance of 950 km. It splashed down 53 minutes later at a planned point in the Sea of Japan. See MAP and Range Graph 1. below.

Wikipedia carries expert advice on the Hwasong-15 “Based on its trajectory and distance, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 km (8,100 miles) – more than enough to reach Washington DC. and the rest of the US”. However preliminary calculations place the range from 13,000 km on the high-end "with light to no payloads" to 8,500 km with more standard 500 kg nuclear payloads. See Range Graph 2. below.


With a "light to no payload" the Hwasong-15’s range indeed covers all of Earth's continents, except South America and Antarctica. So the Hwasong-15 could hit the city of Darwin Australia with a 500 kg nuclear warhead and Australia’s more southerly cities with a light to no payload.

Experts may be again under-rating the pace of North Korea’s ICBM-nuclear warhead advances when theycast doubt on North Korea’s ability to master the technology needed to design a warhead capable of withstanding the enormous pressure of re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere and suggested the isolated country may still be years away from developing a credible delivery vehicle for a nuclear weapon.”

MAP Hwasong-15’s  flight (Map courtesy CNN via Twitter 29 November 2017)

Range Graph 1. The Hwasong-15 ICBM's test-flight on November 29, 2017 (Diagram courtesy Australia's news(dot)com(dot)au on 29 November 2017)
Range Graph 2. Indicating Hwasong-15s of 13,000 km range with "light to no payloads" could hit Washington DC. and the rest of the US, (Courtesy many sources via US Public Radio International (PRI))

So should we be worried about North Korea's Hwasong-15s?



Ztev Konrad said...

There are strong suggestions that the rocket engines are from former Soviet designs

"Based on design characteristics observed in those photographs, Elleman ruled out liquid-propellant engines from any source other than the former Soviet Union. Out of that narrowed range of possibilities, only the RD-250 had the performance and external features to match recent North Korean tests.

“No other country has transitioned from a medium-range capability to an ICBM in such a short time,” Elleman wrote in the IISS report released earlier this month. “What explains this rapid progression? The answer is simple. North Korea has acquired a high-performance liquid-propellant engine (LPE) from a foreign source.”

And which source ?
The RD-250 rocket engine was produced at the Ukrainian Yuzhmash factory until 2001, Yuriy Radchenko, head of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, told journalists in Kyiv on Tuesday.
At the Ukrainian facility, the double chamber, liquid-propellant RD-250 engines were mated with the Soviet R-36 ICBM during the Cold War. "
Other suggestions are that the engines come from Russian stocks.
Who to blame seems to caught up in the Ukraine-Russian conflict, as its in Russia's interest to blame Ukraine and Ukriane and its allies blame Russia. I suppose we will never really know

This source discusses the physical parameters of the rockets and comes to the same conclusions about being ex Soviet designs. As well the change from dual chamber to single is mentioned with indications of the likely use of expert help to do so.

". In addition, Western experts who visited KB Yuzhnoye Ukraine within the past year told the author that a single-chamber version was on display at a nearby university and that a local engineer boasted about producing it."

Of course the unusual high lofting launch does match what the Rd-250 was used for in its later production , as a satellite launcher.

"The Tsiklon-2 carrier rocket lofted its first satellite into orbit in 1969, with the last of 106 launches occurring in 2006."

Josh said...


The range of the missile empty would have hit DC. So it has sufficient throw weight to put a largish payload on the US west coast, at a minimum.


Anonymous said...

I do not believe anyone outside of a small circle inside DPRK knows the exact weight of the test warhead inside the Hwasong 15. After all, everyone is just looking at the exterior photos. This type of guess is no better than 50-50.

Clearly the H15 is much larger than the previous H14 on both 1st and 2nd stages. The 2nd stage now has 4 instead of 2 motors and the 1st stage no longer use side thrusters but a gimbaled motor. For sure with each test, regardless of the embargo, they are progressing on the technology front.

Should Australia be worried about the 15? I would say yes. No doubt there are other hurdles for the DPRK to overcome that we do not know about, but they are moving ever closer to their end goals. At the same time, there is not much anyone can do anything about this, besides living with that. Proliferation is much harder to contain in the late 20th and in the 21st century. Not sure what it means for deterrence long term.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev Konrad

Indeed nuclear and missile scientists form Ukraine, Russia and Chinese financing seem the main suspects.

This goes all the way back to the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. A collapse that left many scientists unemployed OR called upon to work for Ukraine and Russia for no pay.

An October 2, 2017 article reports:

"Bruce Klingner, CIA deputy chief for North Korea from 1996-2001, revealed how Russian nuclear rocket scientists went running to the hermit kingdom after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

He told BBC’s Panorama: North Korea's Nuclear Trump Card: “We have reports back when the Soviet Union collapsed that Soviet and Russian nuclear and rocket scientists were out of jobs, were looking for money, so some travelled to North Korea - there were reports of 10 former Soviet nuclear rocket scientists in North Korea.”

The North Koreans have had to develop their nuclear knowledge by themselves, but as well as using Soviet scientists, the Kim family regime has sent spies over to nuclear nations to steal their secrets.

In July 2011 two North Korean spies were secretly filmed taking photos of fake documents in a Ukrainian nuclear facility.

A Ukrainian officer who was part of the sting operation, told Panorama: “We knew what was going on, they were interested about scientific documents on solid fuel used in rockets...[much more]”

[I wonder if any Chinese scientists or China helped?]

The article continues reports

"Another defector, Kim Kwang-Jin, revealed the North’s relationship with China has been pivotal to funding its nuclear programme

He said the Chinese have opened bank accounts in China for North Korea to pay for weapons, with all funds personally controlled by North Korea. Mr Kim, said: “Kim Jong-Un controls all foreign cash in North Korean, when the nuclear programme needs more funds he gives more.”"