North Korean state media released images of Kim Jong Un visiting a plant that makes rocket engines for the country’s ballistic missile program, and they reveal capabilities and intentions that paint a nightmare scenario for the US.
“Today is a very bad day,” George Herbert, an Aerospace consultant and rocket engineering scientist who works with the US’s primere North Korean missile analysts wrote in response to the pictures.
To the untrained eye, the pictures of Kim touring the missile plant look like nothing special. Kim beams a broad smile next to a diagram. Kim walks past a big spool of wire-looking things. Kim runs his hand over a big weird block of… something.
But as is often the case in North Korean propaganda images, each shot reveals an important message about the state of the country’s notoriously opaque missile development. In the case of this recent batch of photos, North Korea sought to prove the US wrong on all its most wishful thinking.
With its photo gallery on Wednesday, North Korea demonstrated that it’s hot on the trail of technologies that can match the US’s ability to throw huge nuclear payloads across massive distances.
In the slides below find out what experts are saying about North Korea’s new imagery.
Herbert told Business Insider that North Korea appears to have made leaps and bounds in its application of composite materials to its missile program.
Instead of heavy sheets of aluminium, North Korea now looks ready to use kevlar and carbon fibre materials to drastically reduce the weight of the missiles, and thereby the range or payload.
'The significance (of the advanced materials) is that those casings weigh about half as much. Either you can carry a bigger payload or you can go further,' said Herbert.
But the Pukguksong-3 wasn't the only missile revealed in the images. North Korea is also planning an update to the KN-08 or Hwasong-13, a ballistic missile with an even further range than its current ICBM.
Herbert said North Korea is in the process of updating the Hwasong-13, a massive ICBM that can carry a huge payload all the way to New York City from North Korea.
However, the material upgrade to the Hwasong-13 amount to 'incremental improvements,' according to Herbert. New materials could make the missile a 'little bit lighter and more efficient,' but 'with the HS-13, it doesn't really change a whole lot,' according to Herbert.
Here's Kim with that funny grey block, which is actually a vital component necessary to delivering a nuclear warhead.
Herbert said this block is 'essentially reinforced carbon carbon' which is a super heat and pressure-resistant material used for the nose of the warhead.
When a ballistic missile fires, the rocket engines blast it into space, but only the reentry vehicle, which holds the warhead, remains. To get through the earth's atmosphere at many times the speed of sound, North Korea needs advanced materials like reinforced carbon carbon.
North Korea may have shared these images in responses to stories that its reentry vehicle failed in previous tests.
This is a huge block of reinforced carbon, and Herbert thinks North Korea may be trying to say 'we have as much of this stuff as we need.'
Back to the diagrams, Herbert says that although North Korean propaganda is skewed and overly optimistic, 'the numbers feel right.'
The diagrams 'appear to be the numbers describing the conditions of reentry' including 'how much pressure and heating as its coming back into the atmosphere.'
Basically, North Korea just showed off a wide range of different components for extremely deadly and effective nuclear ballistic missiles, and they all look about right.
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