North Korea has unveiled what is said to be its – and possibly the world’s – largest mobile nuclear weapon.
At a huge military parade in the capital Pyongyang, overseen by dictator Kim Jong-un, the Hwasong-16 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was wheeled out.
Analysts have said its “monster” size and range means it could target nukes to anywhere in the US and would overwhelm America’s missile defence systems. The really worrying element, however, is less the missile itself and more the truck it was resting on.
But there could be a fatal flaw in Mr Kim’s new nuke. It could be too big to move.
The unveiling of the Hwasong-16 missile system came at a military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 75th anniversary of North Korea’s ruling Communist Party.
During his centrepiece speech, Mr Kim ended up sobbing and begging forgiveness for his failings.
It was a rare show of weakness in a dictatorship that has always boasted of its raw strength.
And that strength has been embodied in its nuclear missile program that it has threatened to use should it be attacked.
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The Hwasong-16 has been described as “gargantuan,” and a “monster,” and is being seen as an explicit threat to US defences, AFP reported.
Pictures from the parade show the enormous missiles and the vehicles that carry them being paraded down Pyongyang’s wide boulevards while crowds cheered their passage.
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).
Jeffrey Lewis, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said it was “clearly aimed at overwhelming the US missile defence system in Alaska”.
If the ICBM carried three or four warheads, he added on Twitter, the US would need to spend around $1 billion on 12-16 interceptors to defend against each missile.
“At that cost, I am pretty sure North Korea can add warheads faster than we can add interceptors,” Dr Lewis added.
TRUCK ‘SCARIER’ THAN NUKE
The 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 Melissa Hanham of the Open Nuclear Network, who described the weapon as a “monster”.
“If (North Korea) is indigenously producing their own chassis, then there is less of a constraint on the number of ICBMs they can launch.”
FATAL FLAW IN NEW NUKE
The missile was estimated at 24 metres long and 2.5 metres in diameter, which specialist Markus Schiller said was big enough to carry 100 tonnes of fuel, which would take hours to load.
And that may be the impressive new system’s Achilles’ heel – it’s just too heavy to move around and hide.
“You can’t move this thing fuelled, and you can’t fill it at the launch site,” Mr Schiller said.
“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’.”
North Korea watchers regularly caution that devices Pyongyang puts on show at its parades may be mock-ups or models, and there is no proof they work until they are tested.
Another surprise at Sunday’s military parade was the sight of Mr Kim sobbing as he apologised to North Koreans for the daily hardships they endure, reported The Sun.
Mr Kim took off his glasses to wipe away tears as he addressed his impoverished people who have been left battered by typhoons, the coronavirus pandemic and sanctions.
Pyongyang, however, still insists officially it has not had a single confirmed case of the killer virus which has infected almost every nation worldwide.
He said: “Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily.
“I am really sorry for that.”
Invoking the country’s previous leaders, Mr Kim continued: “I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il thanks to the trust of all the people.
“My efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their lives.”
North Korea is notoriously secretive but it is believed the regime is being stretched to the brink with a very tough 2020.
It is believed some 60 per cent of North Koreans, around 15 million people, live in absolutely poverty, according to a recent study by Vienna University.