N. Korea's ballistic missiles test likely to end in failure: expert

PHOTO: Reuters

North Korea is likely to see its first test of the KN-08 or KN-14 intercontinental ballistic missile end in failure as the missiles have never been flight-tested, a US expert said,

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year's Day address that the country has entered the final stage of preparations to test-fire an ICBM, an apparent threat he's perfecting capabilities to deliver nuclear warheads to the US

John Schilling, an aerospace engineer with expertise in the North's missile programs, said that the North's ICBM test could involve a missile variant of the space launch vehicle Unha or the road-mobile KN-08 missile or its upgraded version KN-14.

A test of the Unha rocket fitted with a reentry vehicle large enough for a nuclear warhead would likely work, but it would put "an end to any pretense or hope of a peaceful space programme," the expert said.

The North has twice succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit on the Unha rocket, first in late 2012 and second in February last year. Pyongyang claimed the launches were for peaceful space development purposes, despite widespread criticism it's for testing missile technology.

"If the North Koreans really want to impress anyone, and particularly if they have any hope of their space programme being seen as a peaceful endeavour that might escape the political and economic sanctions imposed on North Korea's missile programs, they will want to demonstrate their ICBM capability using a KN-08 or KN-14 mobile missile," Schilling said.

North Korea president Kim Jong-Un happily inspecting things

  • North Korean leader Kim Jung Un supervises a demonstration of a new rocket engine for the geo-stationary satellite at the Sohae Space Center n this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 20, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jung Un supervises a demonstration of a new rocket engine for the geo-stationary satellite at the Sohae Space Center n this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 20, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the newly-built Medical Oxygen Factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 15, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the newly-built Medical Oxygen Factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 15, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Kosan Combined Fruit Farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 18, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) smiles as he guides a test fire of a new multiple launch rocket system in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 4, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to Farm No. 1116 under KPA Unit 810, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to Farm No. 1116 under KPA Unit 810, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to Farm No. 1116 under KPA Unit 810, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang August 25, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang August 25, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance during a fire drill of ballistic rockets by Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 6, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance during a fire drill of ballistic rockets by Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 6, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to Farm No. 1116 under KPA Unit 810, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to Farm No. 1116 under KPA Unit 810, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the January 18 General Machine Plant in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 10, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Sunchon Chemical Complex in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 13, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 18, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 18, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang August 25, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang August 25, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Chollima Building Materials Complex, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), July 27, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the newly-built combined fishing-tackle factory under the Korean People's Army (KPA), in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, July 30, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the newly-built combined fishing-tackle factory under the Korean People's Army (KPA), in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, July 30, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the newly-built combined fishing-tackle factory under the Korean People's Army (KPA), in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, July 30, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the newly-built combined fishing-tackle factory under the Korean People's Army (KPA), in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, July 30, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the January 18 General Machine Plant in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 10, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps during a demonstration of a new large-caliber multiple rocket launching system at an unknown location, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 22, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends an art performance staged by the amateur art groups of KPA units selected in the sixth round of the second-term art performance contest of KPA officers' wives in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 16, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to the drill for ballistic rocket fire of the Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 21, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a Fish Food Factory run by KPA Unit 810, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), July 24, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a Fish Food Factory run by KPA Unit 810, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), July 24, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance at the Phyongsong Synthetic Leather Factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang July 12, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to the Paektusan Architectural Institute in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang July 14, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip after a simulated test of atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile, at an unidentified location in this undated file photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on March 15, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during a test launch of ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic rocket Hwasong-10 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 23, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during a test launch of ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic rocket Hwasong-10 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 23, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during a test launch of ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic rocket Hwasong-10 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 23, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to Pyongyang Orphans' Secondary School in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 3, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Pyongyang Terrapin Farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 6, 2016.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Taedonggang Pig Farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 18, 2016.

"In any case, the first test of an entirely new multistage missile whose main engine has only recently been demonstrated on the ground will almost certainly end in failure," he said, referring to the two road-mobile ICBMs.

Still, even a failure might put the North on a path to success, he said.

Read also: Kim Jong-un bans Christmas, forces people to worship his grandma 

Schilling also noted the first American ICBM, the SM-65 Atlas, failed 26 seconds into its maiden flight and eight tests were conducted over the course of a year, with only two fully successful. The first all-up test of the competing SM-68 Titan was even shorter, exploding on the launch pad, he said.

"We should expect North Korean ICBMs to follow a similar path -- a series of early failures leading to an operational capability even with a spotty testing record," the expert said.

The North is unlikely to conduct an ICBM test as frequently as it did with the intermediate-range Musudan missile that was tested eight times between April and October last year, he said.

"Pyongyang can afford to keep up that pace in a full-scale ICBM development programme. Its aerospace industry hasn't demonstrated the production capacity needed to test an ICBM every month," he said. "

One test every three to six months would be more realistic, at least in the long run, so this is not a process that will be completed in 2017."

Should the North decide to test the KN-08 or KN-14, it is expected to use existing launch sites, rather than a mobile launcher, in order to reduce chances of failure and to learn as much as possible from the failures, he said.

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