North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Missiles and Missile Accessories

On 15 April 2012, during a military parade commemorating the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, six (6) transporter erector launchers [TELs] ferried six new mobile missiles through KIS Square, which have been dubbed the KN-08.  Some observers have claimed that the missiles paraded through Pyongyang were showpieces.  Markus Schiller and Robert Schumucker wrote:

The question is now if these mock-ups were modeled after a real design that is still hiding behind the curtain, or if the whole presentation was staged just for show, to celebrate Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday and to gain some strategic leverage.

Judging from other insights about the North Korean missile program, the latter seems more likely. Nonetheless, close monitoring of future developments is advised.

Only once a North Korean ICBM lifts off the pad for the first time, as a proof of concept for the design’s functionality, the development work really starts. After that, it will take many years and many, many flights to arrive at a deployable and operational ICBM force, since the development of a modern ICBM is extremely demanding. To put things into perspective: The development of the Soviet/Russian Topol-M ICBM is said to have cost 142.8 billion Rubles (in 1992 prices – at that time, the Ruble exchange rate was around one US Dollar). Looking at the Musudan missile’s “development history” – not a single launch –, and considering North Korea’s poor situation in every dimension, it seems unlikely that this first launch will ever happen.

For now, the ICBM presentation was nothing else than a nice dog and pony show.

Nick Hansen writing on 38 North offers a different analysis:

While some analysts have also concluded that the missile’s warhead—about 2.5 meters long and tapered—is fake, it actually resembles that found on the Nodong-A medium range missile already fielded by the North. Even if it is not an operational weapon, the real warhead will likely be about the same length and diameter. This conclusion is based on the dimensions and shape of the transporter’s erection arms and its front brush guard. The erection arms run parallel with the missile’s sides and are attached to the clamp that holds the missile in place when traveling. The brush guard provides protection to the warhead during off-road operations and outlines its shape.

There are other considerations that point to the displayed missiles as part of a process to develop a new weapon. For example, the serial numbers painted on the side of each missile indicate that the missiles come from two production series. The small differences in those missiles indicate that flaws may have been discovered and improvements made, indicating an ongoing process of development. Also, the KN-08 TEL was real and clearly specifically designed for this missile, representing a significant investment of time, effort, and money. Finally, while analysts who believe the missile was fake have argued that the KN-08, if liquid fueled, would not suitable for a land mobile launcher, they neglect the fact that the North already has an operational liquid fueled missile: the Nodong-B, which is 17 meters long, only a few meters shorter than the KN-08.

In summary, the KN-08 missiles observed in the April 15th parade may, in fact, be part of a developmental process for fielding a new three stage liquid fueled missile with a longer-range than the Musudan. Whether it will eventually be able to achieve the 10,000 km range of an ICBM is to be seen. That will depend, not just on further developments in DPRK missile technology, but also on the weight of the warhead that it will carry and, particular, whether or not the North will be able to reduce that weight through miniaturization of a nuclear payload.

Prior to the parade that concluded with the KN-08 march, Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) delivered a speech in which he addressed the Strategic Rocket Force Command, along with the KPA’s three conventional military services and the Korean People’s Internal Security Force.  On 2 March 2012 DPRK state media reported that Kim Jong Un inspected the Strategic Rocket Force Command.  Prior to the SRFC’s creation, administration and command of KPA ballistic missile units resided with the Ballistic Missile Training Guidance Bureau (a.k.a. Artillery Guidance Bureau; Missile Bureau) and operational planning and control from the Operations Bureau, both directly subordinate to the KPA General Staff.

Daily NK reported on 19 April, four days after the parade, that SRFC represents a consolidation of the KPA’s missile units and  supply and training bureaus into a unified command organization directly subordinate to the National Defense Commission [NDC] and the KPA Supreme Command.  Prior to the SRFC’s creation, administration and command of KPA ballistic missile units resided with the Ballistic Missile Training Guidance Bureau (a.k.a. Artillery Guidance Bureau; Missile Bureau) and operational planning and control from the Operations Bureau, both directly subordinate to the KPA General Staff.  According to the article,  “. . .there used to be a rocket corps included in the unit in charge of the whole artillery force, including self-propelled howitzers and multiple rocket launchers, but it appears now that it was separated.  After Kim Jong Un made the existence of the strategic rocket force known, a new missile of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) class showed up in a military parade. A military source stated, ‘With a diameter of 2 meters and a length of over 18 meters, the firing range of this missile is believed to be longer than that of the medium-range ‘Musudan’ ballistic missile’ (which is approximately 3,000-4,000 km). The emergence of the strategic rocket force is interpreted as North Korea’s will to further devote itself to improving rocket capabilities and developing ICBMs in the future. The United States and international society believe that North Korea’s ICBM technology is still too technically inadequate at atmospheric re-entry and target guidance technology to strike the US mainland.”

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