Kim Jong Un throwing down gauntlet to US with massive ICBM: Analysts

Leader Kim Jong Un watched the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) roll through Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang.
Leader Kim Jong Un watched the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) roll through Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL • The gargantuan new missile North Korea put on show at a weekend military parade is an explicit threat to American defences and an implicit challenge to both the current and next US president, analysts say, warning Pyongyang could test the weapon next year.

Leader Kim Jong Un watched the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) roll through Kim Il Sung Square - named after his grandfather - in Pyongyang at the climax of an unprecedented night parade on Saturday. Analysts concurred that it was the largest road-mobile, liquid-fuelled missile anywhere in the world, and was highly likely to be designed to carry multiple warheads in independent re-entry vehicles (MIRVs).

Dr Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said it was "clearly aimed at overwhelming the US missile defence system in Alaska".

The missile was estimated at 24m long and 2.5m in diameter, which specialist Markus Schiller said was big enough to carry 100 tonnes of fuel, which would take hours to load. It was so big and heavy that it was practically unusable, he added.

"You can't move this thing fuelled, and you can't fill it at the launch site. This thing makes absolutely no sense at all, except for threat equation games, like sending the message of 'we now have a mobile ICBM with MIRVs, be very afraid'," he said.

North Korea watchers regularly caution that the weapons Pyongyang puts on show at its parades may be mock-ups or models, and there is no proof they work until they are tested.

But the new missile was carried on an enormous and previously unseen 11-axle transporter-erector-launcher, far larger than the eight-axle Chinese-made vehicles the North has employed so far.

"The truck may be a scarier story than the missile," said Ms Melissa Hanham of the Open Nuclear Network. If North Korea is "indigenously producing their own chassis, then there is less of a constraint on the number of ICBMs they can launch".

The ICBM was proof that the North had continued to develop its arsenal throughout the now-stalled diplomatic process involving US President Donald Trump and Mr Kim, analysts said, and gave Pyongyang greater heft to demand a return to the negotiating table.

"Like it or not, North Korea is a nuclear power and is probably the third nuclear power capable of striking American cities, third after Russia and China," Dr Andrei Lankov of Korea Risk Group told Agence France-Presse.

Seoul yesterday urged its neighbour to stick to agreements that bar armed clashes between them.

South Korea's presidential Blue House said it held an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the weapons displayed during the North's military parade and Mr Kim's speech. "We emphasised various agreements made between the South and the North to prevent armed conflicts and war," it said in a statement.

Although Mr Kim vowed in his speech to continue building his military might, he said he hoped the neighbours would hold hands again after the end of the pandemic.

The parade and speech came as the neighbours are at odds over the killing last month of a South Korean fisheries official by the North's troops after he went missing, an incident that shocked and enraged many in the South.

In a separate statement, Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said Mr Kim's speech would lead to peace and better ties, and expressed hopes for a resumption of dialogue on issues such as the shooting incident, cooperation over virus response and humanitarian aid.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2020, with the headline 'Kim throwing down gauntlet to US with massive ICBM: Analysts'. Print Edition | Subscribe