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A deep dive into N. Korea’s recent claims about the Hwasong-16B

The North Korean authorities’ exaggerated claims about their test launch of a hypersonic intermediate-range ballistic missile called the Hwasong-16B, which was fired into the East Sea on Apr. 2, appear to be aimed at flaunting the North’s technological achievements while confusing the South Korean and U.S. militaries.

Asked about the North Korean media’s coverage of the Apr. 3 test launch, a high-ranking North Korean source told Daily NK on Monday that “the Rodong Sinmun report concerns the potential of the hypersonic missile technology that has been developed.”

“The hypersonic glide warhead [. . .] reached its first peak at an altitude of 101.1 kilometers and the second [at] 72.3 kilometers while making [a] 1,000-kilometer flight as planned to hit the waters of the East Sea of Korea accurately,” Rodong Sinmun reported on Apr. 3.

But South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the 1,000-kilometer flight distance claimed by North Korea appeared to be “exaggerated because it contradicts our military’s analysis,” while reporting that “analysis by South Korea, the U.S. and Japan found [a distance of] about 600 kilometers.”

Given the discrepancy of about 400 kilometers between North Korea’s claim and the Joint Chiefs’ analysis, some analysts raised the possibility that the South Korean military may not have fully detected the North Korean missile, given the characteristic course adjustments of a hypersonic missile.

“The distance announced in the newspaper was the target figure from the computer simulation. The target range was not achieved in the test because the [missile’s] altitude and speed were deliberately limited,” the source said.

The Rodong Sinmun also said that the test launch “was carried out in the way of verifying the characteristics of the glide-skip flight trajectory and cross-range maneuvering capability of the hypersonic glide vehicle [warhead] while limiting its range to less [than] 1,000 kilometers, taking safety into consideration, and forcibly controlling the speed and altitude by delaying the start of the second-stage engine and rapidly changing the flight trajectory in the active region.”

North Korea had three goals in mind in reporting on the launch

So why did North Korea exaggerate the missile’s range in its report? Daily NK’s high-ranking source insisted that it was actually “not an exaggeration,” explaining that it was not dishonest to describe the missile’s true capability, which was deliberately limited for the purposes of the test.

The source said that the North Korean authorities had three main reasons for releasing the missile’s potential capability rather than the actual test results after the missile launch.

First, North Korea wanted to assess the South Korean and U.S. ability to detect its missiles. The goal was to cast doubt on the South Korean and U.S. military’s ability to track missiles while creating a rift between South Korea and the U.S., as well as within South Korea. A related goal was to reinforce the fact that North Korean missiles cannot be shot down by Patriot missiles, which are a major component of South Korea’s and Japan’s air defenses.

A second goal, the source said, was to show that while North Korean missiles are aimed at U.S. military bases in Guam or Hawaii, they could also penetrate South Korean and U.S. air defenses and hit the Japanese island of Okinawa.

“The North Korean leadership is formulating a new military strategy based on its observation of the war between Russia and Ukraine. It has come to the conclusion that we must prevent the U.S. and Japan from supporting the South Korean puppet regime in an inter-Korean war just as the U.S. was unable to directly support Ukraine.”

In other words, the North Korean military leadership is developing a strategy to prevent the U.S. from sending military assets or troops from bases on Guam or Okinawa to help South Korea in the event of a conflict.

“The reason North Korea emphasized that it had ‘forcibly controlled’ the flight distance was no doubt primarily out of concern for the safety of neighboring countries, as North Korea claims. But it was also meant to show that North Korea has the capability to strike not only U.S. bases on Guam but also targets 1,000 kilometers away, including U.S. bases in Japan and aircraft carriers in the area,” Hong Min, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told Daily NK in a telephone interview.

The third and final goal, the source said, is to strengthen internal cohesion by showing that progress is being made in developing defense technology. However, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been briefed on the actual altitude, range and trajectory of the test missile launch and is aware of the differences between the simulation and the actual test results.

The source also said that Kim praised scientists and researchers in the field of defense technology, noting that “this test launch is the greatest gift of all the reports made during the Eighth Party Congress period.”

“We can attack Guam or Japan whenever we want. The greatest achievement is that the enemy can’t intercept our missiles,” Kim reportedly said.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

April 11, 2024 at 11:30AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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