The gargantuan new missile North Korea put on show at a military parade is an explicit threat to US defences and an implicit challenge to both the current and next US president, analysts say, warning that 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-time 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).
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.”
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’.”
North Korea watchers regularly caution that the 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.
But 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.
Melissa Hanham of the Open Nuclear Network said: “The truck may be a scarier story than the missile.
“If the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is indigenously producing their own chassis, then there is less of a constraint on the number of ICBMs they can launch,” she said, using North Korea’s official acronym.