The mobile launcher is concerning because it’s harder to detect and preemptively strike, according to Carl Schuster, a professor at Hawaii Pacific University and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
“It can roll out of a tunnel and launch on short notice,” Schuster told CNN.
Solid fuel-powered missiles are easier to move and launch than their liquid fuel counterparts. That makes them difficult for those monitoring North Korea’s military movements to spot, as there are fewer indicators, such as movement of trucks, for South Korean or US satellites and other surveillance to pick up on.
North Korea’s liquid fuel-powered ballistic missiles up until now required a garrison, fuel storage tanks and support vehicles to launch, which can be identified with imagery, experts say.
Solid fuel is like an explosive jelly, less corrosive than liquid fuel, and it can be more easily stored in the rocket’s fuel tank than the liquid alternative, which requires specially lined tanks.
“If this is the KN-15, North Korea is refining their solid fuel capabilities,” says David Schmerler, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “It should be concerning everyone because it will be improving the chance to use their offensive capabilities better.”
And with an uptick in tests, North Korea may have significantly advanced its missile technology and increased the size of its arsenal, Schuster said.
Or Pyongyang could be bluffing.
“It very well may be a bluff that is intended to convince us that a unilateral preemptive strike is impractical, unrealistic and unwise,” Schuster said.