After a hiatus of close to two months, North Korea on Wednesday successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-15, which can strike 'anywhere on the United States mainland'.
Hwasong-15, an upgraded version of Hwasong-14 missile, reached heights of almost 4,500 kilometers and covered a distance of around 950 kilometers before splashing into the sea around 210 kms from Japan's Aomori Prefecture. Experts opine that had the missile been fired on a standard trajectory, the Hwasong-15 would have been capable of traveling 13,000 kilometers.
The official KCNA news agency said the missile was more sophisticated than any previously tested and was capable of carrying "super-large heavy (nuclear) warhead".
This was North Korea's 20th test launch of a ballistic missile this year and it has reignited tensions in the region after a lull of more than two months.
North Korea's Missile program:
Before discussing about any nation's missile development endeavours, it must be noted that test firing a missile and it being in operation are very different things. Even after a country successfully test fires a missile, it takes years for production lines to be set up for missiles to be produced in good numbers.
North Korea's missile program began in the 1970s with Soviet-provided Scuds and a launch pad procured from Egypt. In 1984, first Scud-B missile was test fired.
By 1984 North Korea was building its own versions called Hwasongs, which had an estimated maximum range of about 1,000km, and could carry conventional, chemical and possibly biological warheads. Pyongyang subsequently developed Pukguksong, Nodong and Musudan series of missiles.
Nodong was essentially an upscaled version of Hwasong missile with an extended range of 1,300km. Then came Musudan, also known as Hwasong-10, missiles series based on the Soviet R-27 'Serb' SLBM missile.
In 2016, Musudan missile was tested a number of times, with two apparent partial successes and a number of failures. North Korea claimed that at least one of the tests was a total success and with in excess of 3,000 kms it could hit US military bases in Guam and Okinawa.
On October 10, 2015, North Korea unveiled a potentially new ICBM, called the KN-14. It is a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile believed to be under development and said to have a range close to 10,000 kms. The design of KN-14 appears comes from the Soviet-era R-27/SS-N-6 missiles. There is also a KN-08 series of missiles about which very little is known, but what many experts say for sure is that it is an ICBM.
Although similar in appearance, KN-14 is slightly shorter, with a blunt and rounded nose cone compared to the KN-08. Currently, it is not precisely known whether the KN-14 is a two or three stage ICBM, however, the former is considered a higher possibility. The KN-14 may potentially be capable of delivering up to 700 kg payload. Pukguksong, Nodong and Musudan series of missiles are fully operational while the KN series is still under development and it is not known how many of these North Korea has in ready to fire mode.
KN-14 is also sometimes referred to as Hwasong-14 and the Wednesday (Nov 29)'s test was that of Hwasong 15, an upgraded version of Hwasong 14.