South Korea says North Korea lied about firing the new intercontinental “monster missile,” as Pyongyang had claimed, and instead would have launched an older, less advanced weapon.
The U.S. and South Korea concluded in analyzing the March 24 launch, which North Korea announced as a new Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), that it was actually an older, smaller one last tested by Pyongyang in 2017.
State propaganda media described the launch as “a historic event”, but according to a South Korean official who wished to remain anonymous, the characteristics of the launch were similar to those of the Hwasong-15, and it only had two engine nozzles, while the Hwasong-17 has four.
The ballistic missile flew at an altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) and a distance of 1,080 kilometers (671 miles) with a flight time of 71 minutes, according to CNN.
Other irregularities that were found in a video published by the state media, Korea Central Television (KCTV), where Pyongyang was seen directing the launch, would also evidence the deception.
The official explained that Pyongyang’s shadow appears to the west in the video, meaning that it was filmed in the morning, but the launch was actually in the afternoon.
There are also differences between how the sky looked during the launch, when the day had been cloudy, and that seen in the video, where it appears sunny.
The alleged fake announcement was probably an attempt by Pyongyang to cover up a failed Hwasong-17 launch earlier this month. However, experts warn against underestimating the success of the latest launch.
On March 16, a missile launched from the North’s capital region exploded shortly after liftoff.
“North Korea released a video after the March 24 test. We measured the shadows in it, however, and it is clear from the altitude and angle of the sun that the video is from the test on the morning of March 16,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
“The video is of the (previous) test that failed. That strongly suggests the other test was something different that they don’t want us to see,” the nuclear weapons expert warned.
“The missile fired on March 24 would have had a range of about 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles), which is certainly within the capability of a Hwasong-15, which can deliver a nuclear weapon anywhere in the United States,” Lewis said, proving a powerful offensive capability that U.S. defense officials should be wary of.
An expert analysis published by the specialist website 38 North, indicated that satellite photos show increased activity at North Korea’s Sohae space launch base, which leader Kim Jong-un recently urged to modernize to launch larger rockets.
However, analysts said, it is unclear “whether this new activity is related to the overall improvement plan,” which would take a long time, or “are short-term measures in preparation for a satellite launch.”
The U.S. has denounced that, with the excuse of putting satellites into orbit, North Korea is planning a space launch to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, as it has done on previous occasions.