EXPERTS have pored over a cache of photographs released by North Korea's state media overnight for clues about Kim Jong-un's scary new weapon, the Hwasong-15.

The rogue nation test-fired the new model intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) early Wednesday in its biggest show of force yet.

Now, propaganda pictures have revealed that the missile is bigger and more powerful than previous models - and mean North Korea is now officially a member of a small group of rocket power nations.

Here's what the experts have concluded from the photographs.

Check out the size of this … North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspect the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile. Picture: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP
Check out the size of this … North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspect the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile. Picture: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

THIS MISSILE IS A MONSTER

For an indication of the size of the new missile, you need only look at North Korea's supreme leader for perspective.

Mr Kim is pictured inspecting the missile lying on its side on the back of a truck in a warehouse.

Even lying horizontally, the weapon dwarfs Mr Kim, who stands 170cm tall.

US Center for Nonproliferation Studies research associate Michael Duitsman said the new missile was significantly bigger than its predecessor, which was tested twice in July.

"It's a very large missile, noticeably larger than the Hwasong-14," Mr Duitsman told news.com.au.

"It has a different engine set-up on the first stage that probably produces larger thrust and can carry a larger payload."

The larger size means it can travel much further due to extra fuel capacity.

David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Reuters it looked like the missile could carry more than twice as much propellant as the previous model.

In North Korean ICBMs, the rocket is fired over two stages.

Mr Duitsman observed that the launch had a much larger and more powerful second stage than in previous iterations.

SHOOTING IT DOWN WOULD BE A CHALLENGE

The pictures show North Korea has a new 18-wheel transporter erector vehicle for its rockets.

It's one axle longer than previous vehicles and has a new cab and erector arm.

Pyongyang boasted after its launch this week that the vehicle, from which the missile is erected, had been made domestically.

If true, this is a significant development because North Korea no longer needs to buy the prime movers from other nations, such as China, which has agreed to enforce harsh economic sanctions against the hermit kingdom.

North Korea’s new nine-axle transporter vehicle, from which it erects the missile. Picture: AFP/Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service
North Korea’s new nine-axle transporter vehicle, from which it erects the missile. Picture: AFP/Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service

These vehicles make it easier to move missiles without being detected by adversaries and allow North Korea to launch them from remote locations.

That makes pre-emptively destroying the Hwasong-15 a much more difficult proposition.

However, Mr Duitsman said he was "not entirely convinced" that North Korea had made the vehicle itself, and suggested that it may have been modified from a Chinese model.

 

ADVANCED STEERING

Eagle-eyed experts have noted that the new rocket appears to have a new engine and more advanced steering and thrust technology.

The Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 were steered by one major rocket engine nozzle surrounded by smaller nozzles that tilted on one axis.

The Hwasong-15 appears to have two large "gimballed" engine nozzles that can move up and down, and left and right.

"It gives a method of steering that is different to what we have seen previously (but) I'm not sure what advantage this new method is," Mr Duitsman told news.com.au.

 

IT MAY NOT BE ABLE TO TRAVEL AS FAR WITH A REAL NUKE

The Hwasong-15 has a much larger and blunter nose cone than previous models, which could allow it to carry a larger nuclear payload.

North Korea boasted that the new missile could carry a "super-heavy nuclear warhead", capable of striking anywhere in the US.

Wednesday's missile flew for 53 minutes across 960km and reached a height of about 4500km. If shot at a normal trajectory, experts say it could reach as far as 13,000km, which puts New York City in striking distance.

This is a big step forward in North Korea’s missile technology. Picture: AFP/Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service
This is a big step forward in North Korea’s missile technology. Picture: AFP/Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service

But there's a significant hitch. The missile fired this week had a dummy warhead attached.

Experts, such as those at respected North Korea blog 38 North, say the missiles would struggle to travel much further that the US's west coast when weighed down with a real warhead.

Michael Elleman of 38 North argues that it is "unlikely" North Korea has the experience to build a light enough warhead to travel those distances.

Kim Jong-un celebrates the success of his scary new weapon. Picture: AFP/Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service
Kim Jong-un celebrates the success of his scary new weapon. Picture: AFP/Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service

"Kim Jong-un's nuclear bomb must weigh less than 350kg if he expects to strike the western edges of the US mainland," he wrote.

"A 600kg payload barely reaches Seattle."
 



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