North Korea’s Secret Weapon Unveiled: The Terrifying Hwasong-18 Solid Fuel ICBM Threatens Global Security

North Korea’s recently developed ICBM, the Hwasong-18, boasts an extensive range and incorporates solid fuel technology, enabling rapid deployment. It can be launched from a mobile launch vehicle (TEL), which adds an element of unpredictability to the missile’s firing location.


On July 13, North Korea made an announcement regarding the successful launch of a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) called the Hwasong-18. This development is aimed at enhancing the country’s self-defense capabilities, as stated by North Korean state media. The Hwasong-18 is regarded as the primary weapon system for North Korea’s strategic forces.

During the launch, the Hwasong-18 missile achieved a remarkable altitude of approximately 6,650 km, covering a distance of over 1,000 km in a time span of 4,491 seconds (around 74 minutes). The missile accurately hit its intended target off the east coast of Korea. This marks the longest flight of any missile launched by North Korea.

According to experts, if the missile were launched on a standard trajectory, it could potentially travel more than 15,000 km, enabling it to reach the mainland United States.

The Hwasong-18 is North Korea’s inaugural solid-fuel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), introduced during a military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army on February 8. On April 13, the missile underwent its maiden launch, covering approximately 1,000 kilometers before crashing outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.

Visual evidence from the test showcases a three-stage ICBM being launched from a mobile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL), allowing for firing from unpredictable locations. Estimates suggest that the Hwasong-18 weighs between 55 and 60 tons. Based on available photographs, the rocket measures around 27 meters in length, with the first stage boasting a diameter of 2.21 meters, while the second and third stages measure 1.9 meters in diameter.

Some analysts propose that the missile has the capacity to carry a single high-power warhead or up to six smaller component warheads. Additionally, experts note that the dimensions of the Hwasong-18’s first stage align with those of a large solid-fuel rocket engine reportedly tested by North Korea on December 15, 2022.

The utilization of solid-fuel rocket engines in the Hwasong-18 grants North Korea several advantages, including enhanced speed and safety during deployment when compared to liquid-fueled missiles. Unlike their liquid counterparts, solid-fuel missiles do not require on-site refueling, reducing the time needed for preparation and enabling faster and easier nuclear attacks. Additionally, solid-fuel rockets are considered more stable and offer increased operational flexibility.

According to a report by NK PRO, a research agency based in Seoul specializing in North Korea, both of Pyongyang’s Hwasong-18 tests have been remarkably successful, despite the country’s limited experience with multistage solid-fuel rockets. The agency expressed surprise at North Korea’s ability to achieve such a high level of success with a solid-fuel ICBM, considering the technical complexities involved.

Vann H. Van Diepen, a former senior official for nuclear non-proliferation at the US State Department, lauded the launch of the Hwasong-18 missile on two occasions as a remarkable achievement, highlighting North Korea’s pioneering role in solid fuel technology.

Overall, the utilization of solid-fuel rocket engines in the Hwasong-18 has facilitated North Korea’s advancements in missile capabilities, providing them with faster deployment, increased operational efficiency, and a greater level of unpredictability during launch, making it challenging to detect and respond to potential attacks.

Experts suggest that the next significant challenge for Pyongyang is to develop a nuclear warhead that can withstand re-entry into the atmosphere and is compact enough to be mounted on a missile.

Shunji Hiraiwa, a North Korea expert at Japan’s Nanzan University, pointed out that the recently revealed Hwasan-31 nuclear warhead appears to be too large to be deployed on North Korea’s ICBM.

In 2017, North Korea commenced testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and successfully conducted two launches of liquid-fueled ICBMs, namely the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, from mobile launchers. Subsequently, a larger ICBM known as the Hwasong-17 made its debut at the October 2020 parade and was first test-launched in 2022.

The U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) states that North Korea’s latest ballistic missiles, particularly the Hwasong-18, exhibit mobility, significant power, high accuracy, and possess characteristics that make interception challenging.

U.S. analysts acknowledge that these tests have showcased North Korea’s advanced missile technology, which forms the basis of its deterrence strategy.

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