By Kusakabe Motomi
According to North Korea’s announcements, the country launched long-range cruise missiles on Sept. 11 and 12, a short-range ballistic missile that flew in an irregular trajectory on Sept. 15, and a hypersonic missile on Sept. 28. Each missile seems to have been newly developed. Because of the DPRK’s fast-paced development, Project Assistant Professor Koizumi Yu at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, an expert on missile issues, points out that it is highly likely that North Korea is continuously receiving technology from Russia and other countries.
On Sept. 29, North Korea’s Academy of National Defense Science announced that the missile launched the day before was a newly developed hypersonic missile, the “Hwasong-8.” The DPRK claimed that “the launch was a success, as the technical indicators met the design requirements.” Hypersonic missiles are regarded as difficult to detect and intercept because they fly in a low and irregular trajectory, which is different from ballistic missiles, and at speeds exceeding Mach 5.
Based on the photograph released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Koizumi analyzes that the rocket part of the missile launched on Sept. 28 resembles the medium-range ballistic missile “Hwasong-12” and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) “Hwasong-14,” which were launched in 2017.
The original range of this type of missile was 5,000 to 10,000 km, but according to Yonhap News, the missile launched on Sept. 28 flew less than 200 km with an altitude of about 30 km. Koizumi said, “The missile flew too low and didn’t even reach the ocean. There is a possibility that the launch failed due to a malfunction in the rocket’s engine or fuel system.”
It was confirmed that North Korea conducted two or three test launches of both the Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 in 2017. Koizumi points out that the number of launches is very few for a missile test. North Korea’s missile test launches in 2017 were successful, but usually the development of a new missile “doesn’t progress that quickly,” Koizumi said. Koizumi does not hide his surprise, saying, “Considering North Korea’s financial and industrial strength, it is hard to believe that the country was able to conduct so many different tests in such a short period of time.”
Koizumi also pays attention to the warhead on the missile, saying, “The four blades on the warhead can be used to change the trajectory of the rocket.” As the surface temperature of a missile is extremely high when it re-enters the atmosphere, the warhead must be made of high-performance and heat-resistant materials. He believes that those materials were also obtained from overseas.