Wednesday 2 February 2022

The North Korean Hwasong-12 test of 29 January 2022

click to enlarge

On 29 January 2022 at 22:52 UT (30 January 2022, 7:52 local time in North Korea), North Korea test-fired a Hwasong-12 IRBM. The missile impact point was in the Sea of Japan. According to western sources, it had as flight time of ~30 minutes with a range of ~800 km and an apogee of ~2000 km (the yellow trajectory in the reconstruction above). In other words, a highly lofted trajectory, such as we have seen earlier during various 2017 North Korean missile tests. 

Such a lofted trajectory can be chosen for two reasons: to avoid overflying other countries (Japan) and/or to be able to monitor most of the flight from North Korea itself.

Going from the reporteded apogee altitude and range (~2000 km and ~800 km), I find that this same missile would have an implicated maximum range of ~4300 km (white line in reconstruction above, and red circle) when launched on a more normal, more depressed ballistic trajectory. 

This fits with results for earlier Hwasong-12 lofted test flights, such as the 13 May 2017 test, and is slightly more than the more depressed Hwasong-12 test firings over Japan of 29 August 2017 (which as I have pointed out partly failed but was intended to fly ~3300 km) and 14 september 2017 (which flew ~3700 km).


images: KCNA/Rodong Sinmun


Images of the launch published by the North Korean Government in Rodong Sinmun (above) include two images of the earth reportedly made from the missile, showing the Korean peninsula.

From the two published launch pictures, the launch location of the missile was geolocated by Joseph Dempsey to a spot near Mupyong-ri at 40.6112 N, 126.4257 E. In the image below I match particular terrain details in the drone launch image released by North Korea to a Google Earth image of that particular spot. Which is a familiar spot by the way: it is the same courtyard where on 28 July 2017 the first successful launch of a Hwasong-14 ICBM was carried out (at that time the courtyard was still grass covered: in the meantime it has been paved). On recent Google Earth imagery, what I think could very well be a monument built to commemorate the 2017 launch is visible near the southern courtyard perimeter (we know the North Korean's built commemorative monuments on other test launch sites). I have indicated it in the image below.


click to enlarge

The text of the post-launch North-Korean Government announcement in Rodong Sinmun of 31 January 2022 is interesting. It claims that the  "test-fire was aimed to selectively evaluate the missile being produced and deployed and to verify the overall accuracy of the weapon system". 

As Ankit Panda has pointed out, this probably indicates that this was not a test of a new improved Hwasong-12 variant: but rather a test launch to demonstrate the readiness of a deployed system of production grade missiles (similar to frequent test launches of Minuteman ICBM's and Trident-II SLBM's by the USA). We might therefore see more of such periodical launches in the future.

This was the 7th launch of a Hwasong-12, and the first launch of this type since 15 September 2017.

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