Report: North Korea faked its ICBM launch

Report: North Korea faked its ICBM launch
(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

You may recall the recent announcement of North Korea’s test launch of its new Hwasong-17 ICBM. (Leading to the release of what is probably the most cringe-worthy political video in the history of film.) As Allahpundit pointed out at the time, this was an alarming development because the Hwasong-17 is reportedly capable of hitting any spot in the continental United States and doing so quite rapidly. But as it turns out, there was a significant fact left out in Kim Jong-un’s breathless announcement of his latest military technological achievement. The launch was a fake. Well, it wasn’t entirely fake, as we’ll see in a moment, but it was not at all as it was portrayed to be by Kim’s spin machine. (Reuters)

South Korea’s military has said North Korea’s largest missile test yet used an older, smaller intercontinental ballistic missile, and not the massive new Hwasong-17 ICBM, in part to try to head off negative domestic reaction to a failed launch.

South Korean and U.S. officials have concluded that the March 24 launch appears to have been a Hwasong-15 ICBM, a defence ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Washington has not yet publicly weighed in, with Pentagon spokesman John Kirby telling reporters on Tuesday that the test was still being analyzed.

Analysts who examined the video of the supposed launch immediately became suspicious of its authenticity. Factors such as the length of shadows and the apparent weather conditions didn’t match up with either the time of day or the date that North Korea claimed for the launch. They eventually arrived at two conclusions. The first was that the missile being launched in the video was not the monstrous new Hwasong-17 ICBM, but an older Hwasong-15 model. That’s still a dangerous weapon to be sure, but we’ve known about it for years and it’s far more limited than the new model that they claim to have in operation.

So what happened to the Hwasong-17 and why would North Korea try to pull off a bit of fakery like this? The second conclusion that the analysts reached was that North Korea did indeed attempt a launch of the new model, most likely on March 16, but it failed spectacularly. Kim was reportedly worried about the possibility of “regime instability” after residents of Pyongyang witnessed the failed launch so he wanted to make it look like they were still on track to deploy their newest ICBM.

That’s probably another downside to Kim’s “bonkers” decision to start conducting his test launches from the international airport near the capital. If the failed launch had taken place out in a remote region near the coast as they traditionally have been, almost no one would have known about it. But after such a public failure, Kim was left scrambling to save face and preserve the illusion that his country had achieved a breakthrough in next-generation missile technology.

This news doesn’t mean that North Korea is suddenly a joke and no longer a threat to international stability. They still have plenty of rockets and nuclear warheads. Also, they will almost certainly get the Hwasong-17 working sooner or later. But at least for the moment, Kim has demonstrated that his military ambitions aren’t quite as flawless as he would like to have the world believe.

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