According to CNN, North Korea’s launch last week of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), reported to be its most formidable yet, may have been a less advanced weapon than previously believed, according to a South Korean military official.
The official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said South Korean and US analysis of the March 24 launch of what North Korea claimed was a new Hwasong-17 ICBM, was in actual fact the older and slightly smaller Hwasong-15 — an ICBM last tested by Pyongyang in 2017.
The South Korean official said assessments by Seoul and Washington showed the ICBM launched last week only had two engine nozzles, like Hwasong-15, whereas Hwasong-17 has four.
And video released last Friday by state-run Korean Central Television (KCTV) purporting to show Kim Jong Un guiding the launch reveal the North Korean leader’s shadow appearing westward, meaning it was filmed in the morning, but the launch took place in the afternoon, the official said.
Also, it was cloudy in the launch area last Thursday, but the weather in the KCTV video appears to be sunny, the official said.
Several missile experts have since reached a similar conclusion, but they caution the significance of last week’s successful ICBM launch — North Korea’s first in more than four years — should not be discounted, pointing out the test still demonstrated a weapon with the theoretical ability to hit all of the continental United States.
The ICBM fired by North Korea last Thursday flew to an altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) and to a distance of 1,080 kilometers (671 miles) with a flight time of 71 minutes before splashing down in waters off Japan’s western coast last Thursday, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry.
Japan’s Vice Defense Minister Makoto Oniki told reporters shortly afterward that the missile’s altitude would suggest it is a “new type of ICBM.”
Japanese officials were sticking to that assessment this week, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno saying on Monday that Tokyo judged the missile to be a new type based on flight altitude and other information.
And CNN previously reported that the Pentagon is still assessing to what extent the missile is an improved version of previous launches.
But the South Korean official and missile experts said further close analysis of images in North Korean state media of last week’s launch gave two potential clues relating to Pyongyang’s alleged subterfuge.