North Korea Reveals First Video of its Record-Breaking Hwasong-15 Missile Launch

The intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-15's test launch in an undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, November 30. KCNA/via Reuters

North Korean state-run media released videos and pictures of Wednesday's Hwasong-15 launch, which Pyongyang claims is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching almost anywhere in the world.

The video of the launch begins with a scene of a truck arriving with the missile, showing off its impressive length.

First, this is a very big missile. Quite a bit larger than the Hwasong-14 from earlier this year.

— Michael Duitsman (@DuitsyWasHere) November 29, 2017

"This is a very big missile," Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, wrote on Twitter. "And I don't mean 'Big for North Korea.' Only a few countries can produce missiles of this size, and North Korea just joined the club."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in the video, filmed interacting with army generals and inspecting the missile as they ready it for launch. The countdown begins and, after nine seconds, the missile launches into the air surrounded by a cloud of fire and smoke.

Read more: Kim Jong Un doesn't want to start a war—and his latest missile launch proves it

North Korea said the missile was launched from a nine-axis self-propelled launching vehicle entirely manufactured in the country.

The missile launch at the climax of the 2-minute video released Thursday shows six shots of the rocket taking off into the night sky, from a variety of distances.

The missile flew about 4,500km (2,780 miles) into space at its peak, way above the International Space Station, covering a distance of about 950 km (590 miles) downrange before crashing into the Sea of Japan, known as East Sea in Korea, within Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). North Korea said the total flight time was 53 minutes.

Compared to the Hwasong-14 launched on July 28, the Hwasong-15 missile flew higher, for longer, but covered a shorter distance.

Still photos of the missile launch show Kim and his advisers observing the launch and celebrating in front of monitors displaying data, sharing cigarettes, hugs and smiles.

Read more: Photos show Kim Jong Un laughed like a child during new ballistic missile launch

In other pictures, Kim is shown inspecting the missile ahead of the launch in a factory that, according to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, is the newly-constructed building where heavy machineries like tractors and trucks were made he inspected earlier in November.

The Hwasong-15 was inside a newly constructed building where Kim previously looked at a number of heavy vehicles being assembled. 2/

— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) November 30, 2017

Kim enthusiastically declared the launch a success. "He said that the day was a significant day when the historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power was realized," an article published in the state-controlled news agency KCNA reported.

But while the missile launched showed North Korea has made some progress in its ballistic missile development, some of its claims remain unsubstantiated.

North Korea claimed the missile launch confirmed "the safety of warhead in the atmospheric reentry environment," but has shown no evidence to support this claim. It also claimed to have a "super-large heavy warhead" that could be fit on the missile and hit U.S. mainland, but the missile's ability to cover the distance depends on its trajectory and its payload.

For a North Korean missile to reach the U.S., it would have to carry a nuclear weapon weighing less than 350 kg experts doubt the country has developed at this stage.

"It is doubtful North Korea can fashion a nuclear weapon that weighs less than 100 kg. It is also unlikely that North Korea has enough experience developing, testing and validating the technologies needed to build a 50 kg re-entry vehicle capable of protecting the warhead during the high-temperature, high-stress environment experienced during descent through the atmosphere," Michael Elleman, senior fellow for missile defence at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote in an analysis for 38North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project.

"This means Kim Jong Un's nuclear bomb must weigh less than 350 kg if he expects to strike the western edges of the U.S. mainland. A 600 kg payload barely reaches Seattle," he added.

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