N. Korea Most Likely to Test Hwasong-15 ICBM: U.S. Expert
(Source: Yonhap News Agency; issued Dec 10, 2019)

SEOUL --- North Korea is most likely to test its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental United States if it decides to conduct an ICBM launch in protest over stalled nuclear talks with the U.S., an American expert said.

Concerns have deepened recently that the communist nation could test-fire an ICBM from its Dongchang-ri satellite launch site, after Pyongyang announced it conducted a "very important test" at the site Saturday without specifying what was tested.

But the announcement, which followed reports of preparations for a rocket engine test, was seen as a warning that the North could use the rocket engine to fire an ICBM if the U.S. fails to comply with its demand for a new acceptable negotiating proposal by year's end.

Speculation has since arisen over whether the North would fire an existing ICBM or a new type.

Vann H. Van Diepen, a former U.S. State Department and intelligence official with expertise on weapons of mass destruction, said the North is likely to test-fire its most advanced ICBM, the Hwasong-15, also known as the KN-22.

"The North's rocket force developers and operators are most likely to seek to improve the reliability and operational effectiveness of the KN-22 and possibly also the KN-20," Van Diepen said in an article carried by the 38 North website that monitors the North.

"Further launches would improve the North Koreans' confidence that these systems will perform as designed and would provide an opportunity to verify any modifications or improvements made to address whatever shortcomings they might have perceived in the 2017 launches," he said.

The North successfully test-fired the Hwasong-15 ICBM in November 2017. The missile is believed to be capable of striking anywhere in the continental U.S. Earlier that year, the North also test-launched the shorter-range Hwasong-14 ICBM, also known as KN-20, twice in July.

Van Diepen said chances are low of the North firing a newly developed liquid-fuel or solid-fuel ICBM.

"A next round of ICBM testing is unlikely to feature new types of ICBM systems: new liquid-propellant ICBMs probably are unnecessary in the near-term given the KN-22's potential, and North Korea probably is not technically capable of developing solid-propellant ICBMs so soon," he said.

Pyongyang has ramped up pressure on the U.S. to meet its demand for a new acceptable negotiating proposal by the end of the year, strongly suggesting that otherwise, it could restart testing of nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

An ICBM launch or a nuclear test would represent a blow to U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of next year's presidential election as he has boasted of the North's suspension of such weapons tests as one of his key diplomatic achievements.

Trump has warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-un not to interfere with his reelection bid, saying the communist nation could lose "everything." The North said in response that the country has nothing more to lose.

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