Some might be tempted to dismiss the North Korean missile program as something that lacks substance, but Russian defense analyst Vladimir Khrustalev wrote in a detailed analysis for Lenta.ru that Pyongyang has in fact made major progress and is close to building its own intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Publicly available information shows that North Korea has almost all the components needed to produce a three-stage ICBM and a multistage launch system to deliver heavy payloads into space, he said.
Until 2012, there were virtually no signs that North Korea was close to developing a ballistic missile capable of travelling thousands of kilometers. On April 15, 2012, Pyongyang unveiled six three-stage missiles designated as Hwaseong-13 at home and KN-08 in the West. Three years later the North showcased another version of Hwaseong-13 which foreign analysts dubbed KN-14.
The KN-14 was shorter and its warhead had a different shape, Khrustalev said, adding that the missile on display most likely had two stages instead of three.
In March 2016, the world managed to take a sneak peek of North Korea’s missile program when Pyongyang published several photos of Kim Jong-un meeting with experts on nuclear weapons and their methods of delivery. The images showed a mockup of a nuclear weapon, the dissembled KN-08 and KN-14, as well as elements of their engine systems. Later that month, Pyongyang reported that it successfully tested heat insulation for the warhead of an ICBM under development. This, according to Khrustalev, is one of the key issues when it comes to building battle-ready long-range missiles. In April, the North announced that it successfully tested the engine for the new ICBM.
Khrustalev noted that although no information is available on the exact composition of the KN-08 and KN-14, experts agree that Pyongyang is capable of developing a multistage ICBM on these platforms using Hwaseong-10’s technological base….