A devoted corps of North Korea watchers analyzes information coming out of North Korea on its missile and nuclear tests. I sometimes chime in, but missiles are not my thing. Much of the conversation takes place on Twitter, so you can see people figuring things out in real time.
First, a summary of this latest test. It seems to have been a successful test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile that North Korea is calling the Hwasong-12. This article summarizes the early information and analysis and links to many of the people who participate in those discussions.
The test appears to have been a success. Kim Jong Un looks overjoyed in all his photos. The missile can reach further than previous North Korean missiles. It is one of the new missiles and missile containers displayed in North Korea’s annual weapons parade last month. The test seems to have been from a platform rather than a mobile launcher, which may indicate that they don’t have a lot of mobile launchers available. It’s a liquid-fueled missile, which means that it must be fueled just before launch, and the propellants are difficult to handle.
The main evidence comes from North Korea in photos and bombastic statements. They fake stuff, including photographs, so the analysts also test the photos for enhancement. But there is much we can learn even from faked photos. These three show clearly that it is liquid-fueled. The orange clouds are distinctively dinitrogen tetraoxide, the oxidant for liquid-fueled missiles.
Here’s another photo that shows how things are figured out. Additionally, the outdoor photos show landmarks that help to nail down the location of the tests. Sometimes North Korea lies about that too. This article works out the range from North Korean statements and explains “lofted” missile tests, in which the missile is aimed very high to avoid, as much as possible, disturbing the neighbors.
A statement I found puzzling was that the missile could carry “a large-size heavy nuclear warhead.” Does this mean heavy in its megatonnage yield or physically heavy? The first implies significant progress in nuclear weapons design, the second not so much. BTW, Anna Fifield is a good reporter to follow – she has connections to some of the best analysts and listens to them.
The White House issued a bizarre statement, seemingly trying to goad Russia.
Here are the EU and NATO statements, which are more customary. Vladimir Putin issued a clear statement that the North Korean test but warning the United States about “intimidating” North Korea, probably referring to provocative statements and movement (or not) of military equipment. He also calls for talks, which are the only way we can slow down North Korea’s progress.
Update: Here are a couple more good articles.
Melissa Hanham is one of my go-to people for North Korean missiles. Here’s what she has to say.
Cross-posted at Balloon Juice.