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The intercontinental ballistic missile that North Korea launched on
Wednesday appears to be significantly larger and more powerful
than previous versions, according to independent analysts.
“It’s a monster,” says Vipin Narang, an associate professor at MIT
who tracks the North’s nuclear capabilities. The missile is so much
larger than previous versions that Narang suspects it could carry a
powerful thermonuclear weapon, regardless of whether the North
has managed to make a compact, missile-friendly version.
“They wouldn’t have to miniaturize much,” Narang says.
Other analysts are less sure about what the missile could carry
and where it could reach. David Wright, a rocket expert at the
Union of Concerned Scientists, says the devil remains in the details
surrounding the rocket’s engines and the weight of the warhead it
carries. Still, he believes that this missile gives the North Koreans the
ability to deliver a nuclear warhead to U.S. soil. “I think at this point
they could,” he says.
Earlier this year, the North tested a massive nuclear weapon with a yield
of 100-600 kilotons — roughly 7 to 40 times the power of the bomb
dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The size and weight of that device is
unknown, but there were reports in August that the U.S. Defense
Intelligence Agency believed North Korea has had success miniaturizing
some of its lower-yield nuclear weapons.
The new ICBM was launched early Wednesday local time. It shot up to
an altitude of 4,000 kilometers and flew for 53 minutes before plunging
into the Sea of Japan. After the launch, North Korean media declared
the nation had successfully tested a new “Hwasong-15” ICBM.
Based on the height and duration of Wednesday’s flight, Wright believes
the Hwasong-15 could travel 13,000 kilometers. That would put all of the
continental U.S. within range. He cautions that the weight of a real
warhead could cause the missile’s range to shrink considerably — but
even by his most conservative estimate, the missile could hit cities along
the U.S. West Coast.
The North has been known to give new names to missiles that have only
minor modifications, but in this case “the rocket is clearly something
new,” Markus Schiller, an aerospace engineer with the German company
ST Analytics, said in an email.
The North previously conducted two tests of an ICBM called the
Hwasong-14 in July. In addition to appearing to be far larger than that
missile, the Hwasong-15 also looks like it has more powerful engines,
Schiller says. He also believes the North has learned how to “gimbal”
the thrust chambers on the bottom of the engine — an advanced way to
steer the missile that North Korea has never used before.
Schiller says he believes the missile could accommodate a payload of 2
metric tons or even more.
The missile’s nose is so large that Narang believes it might even be able
to hold decoys that could fool U.S. missile defenses.
Even with these advances, many questions remain about the North’s
missiles and nukes. It’s unclear whether the country has perfected re-
entry technology that would allow a warhead to survive the final leg of
its journey toward its target. Nor is it known how the North’s nuclear
weapons would tolerate the stresses of being launched aboard a rocket.
But Narang says this new missile unambiguously puts the U.S. within
range. And given what’s known about the rest of North Korea’s
weapons program, he says, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
He says, “We have to assume that this thing can park a warhead on the
Question １: What did Mr. Narang say North Koread does not need to
Question ２: According to Mr. David Wright, what is North Korea
capabble of doing now in the fourth paragraph?
Question ３: What could the new missile’s large nose do to the U.S?
Question ４: What does the missile’s re-entry technology make
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