North Korea has banned and confiscated weapons

North Korea's Missile Program - Threat or Bluff?

The intensified North Korean missile tests, along with nuclear weapons tests and wild threats, have kept the world in suspense since 2014. But how advanced is the North Korean missile program actually? The analysis presented here comes to the conclusion that there is no significant independent missile program in North Korea and that all the missiles that the country has fired more and more for a number of years apparently come from abroad, practically exclusively from the territory of the former Soviet Union and from China. This finding makes a fundamental political reassessment of the current crisis necessary, both with regard to the real threat posed by North Korea's missile weapons and with a view to the political role of Moscow and Beijing.

The increase in North Korea's missile test activities since 2014 together with nuclear weapons explosions and unveiled threats have kept the world in suspense. But how much progress has the indigenous North Korea missile program actually made? The analysis presented here arrives at the conclusion that North Korea has no significant own missile program. All missiles that were shot or displayed came from foreign sources, either from the area of ​​the former Soviet Union or from China. These findings suggest a re-assessment of the prevailing political crisis both with regard to the acute danger of war as well with regard to the role of Russia and China.

1 Introduction

Since 2014, two years after Kim Jong-un came to power, the situation on the Korean peninsula has deteriorated dramatically. Initial hopes for relaxation were bitterly disappointed. North Korea is one of the biggest trouble spots in the world today. In addition to martial statements by management, the massive expansion of nuclear activities and the threat of military strikes against the USA, efforts in the missile sector are of particular importance. Sporadic launches were replaced by a massive launch program and new missiles appeared. Together with the detonation of a large nuclear charge and images of a model with which North Korea claimed the availability of hydrogen bombs, missiles were tested, which North Korea referred to as ICBMs. North Korea also threatened rocket attacks on the Pacific island of Guam.

These apparent successes contrast with the real situation in the country: economic weakness, ailing industry, insignificance in high technology, total poverty and constriction through economic sanctions. That North Korea can still have such a successful missile weapons program is astonishing, because there are no miracles in the missile sector. In the following, a technical analysis of missile weapons is presented, the aim of which is to clear up this discrepancy and thus answer the question of whether North Korea's missile program is a threat or just a bluff. While the technical background of the nuclear weapons program eludes serious analysis due to a lack of reliable information, the missile program offers the opportunity to develop a technological analysis that provides a clear view of the real situation through test activities and the display of systems.

This investigation is not limited to the reconstruction of the technical parameters of the last tests with long-range missiles. Rather, it encompasses North Korea's entire missile program, which spans four decades. The investigation begins with an overview of the conspicuously large number of missile programs and evaluates the test activities using engineering criteria. The focus is on the question of whether North Korea is pursuing an independent program for the development and production of missiles that can be used for military purposes.

The analysis shows that there is no significant independent missile program in North Korea and that all of the missiles that it has been using increasingly in recent years have evidently come from abroad, almost exclusively from the territory of the former Soviet Union and China. This finding makes a fundamental political reassessment of the current crisis necessary, both with regard to the real threat posed by North Korea's missile weapons and with a view to the political role of Moscow and Beijing.

2 The North Korean Missile Program

Since Kim Jong-un took office, the North Korean missile arsenal has grown faster than in the previous three decades.

With eight new types that were only added in 2016 and 2017, the previous size has more than doubled. In addition, there are four systems that have so far only been presented as models or in containers, so that an assessment is not yet possible.

The North Korean activities in missiles with longer range began under Kim Il-sung with the Soviet-Russian missile R-17 / Scud B. The starting point of the development is that Iran received some missiles of this type from Libya, but for use against Iraq needed a lot more of them. According to an analysis submitted by Bermudez in 1999, Iran commissioned the replica of this missile according to the principle of "reverse engineering" - production based on available equipment - for which some missiles of this type were imported from Egypt and this job was supposedly completed quickly. North Korea quickly followed this example: "North Korea quickly reverse engineered Scud B".[1] However, this statement must be viewed with great caution, as it is more or less a personal assessment without further evidence.


Table 1: Overview of North Korean missiles with longer range

SurnameNK designationType1status2comment
Scud BHwasong 5SRBM - flOScud technology (IRFNA-Kero)
Scud CHwasong 6SRBM - flO
Scud DSRBM - flO
Scud ERHwasong 7SRBM - flO
KN-18/21SRBM - fl(?)
Nodong (ND)3Hwasong 8MRBM - fl(?)
Taepodong 1SLV - flA.
Unha / Taepodong 2SLV - flO
MusudanHwasong-10IRBM - fl(?)Mod. Technology (NTO-UDMH)
KN-17Hwasong-12IRBM - fl(?)
KN-20Hwasong-14IRBM - fl(?)
Hwasong-15ICBM - fl(?)
KN-02 / ToksaArtilleryOSolid rocket rockets
KN-11Pukguksong-1SLBM - fe(?)
KN-15Pukguksong-2MRBM - fe(?)
KN-08Hwasong 13ICBM - (?)M.Models at

KN-14Hwasong 13modICBM - (?)M.
Missile container4ICBM (?)M.
Missile container4ICBM (?)M.

In fact, guided ballistic missiles such as the R17 / Scud B are so highly complex that "reverse engineering" by North Korea can be ruled out with certainty. This is shown by many examples of unsuccessful efforts, for example Iraq's replica of the R-17 / Scud B during the war against Iran and the replica of the SA-2 rocket engine by Iraq or India. If successful, the results are significantly different (and worse) than the original model, as can be seen from the Soviet replica of the US B-29 bomder as the TU-4. Whether North Korea was actually able to replicate Scud-B missiles and the additional vehicles required for the weapon system remains a matter of dispute to this day.

However, essential points are completely disregarded in this replica discussion: An R-17 / Scud B is only part of a weapon system and on its own is relatively worthless. An extensive marching column is required for the operation, which in addition to the launch vehicle (launch pad) of the MAZ 543 type, which comes from Minsk, includes many other special vehicles, so that an R-17 brigade with 6 TELs (transporter, erector, launcher) around 300 May include vehicles. For a complete starter battery, North Korea would have had to build at least the most important vehicles in addition to the rocket or modify the trucks available on the market.

What about the briefing and training of the North Korean staff? Could this be done by Egyptian professionals guiding the customers? What about the extensive documentation that is available in the local language and has to be translated accordingly?

Since the Soviet and North Korean R-17 / Scud-B missiles and the MAZ-543 launcher are like an egg to the other - even the labels match - one must assume that these missiles including the vehicles and the Accompanying material was supplied by the Soviet Union and the training for use took place in North Korea, in order to finally find its way to Iran and later to other countries.

However, the question of the Soviet reaction remains completely ignored. Do you really believe that the Soviet Union, as North Korea's closest ally, would have tacitly accepted a "theft"? Isn't it rather to be assumed that the transfer took place in consultation with the Soviet Union, since it exported R-17 / Scud B to the war opponent Iraq and wanted to avoid that the supply of Iran with the same missiles became known? Reports of Soviet R-17 / Scud-B deliveries to North Korea seem to confirm this.

The first rocket launches in North Korea were seen in 1984, and there were around 110 to 120 launches over the next three decades by mid-2017.[2] The figures given by the various sources differ slightly. Some kills may have been overlooked as the tests were mostly surprising, and other events may have been interpreted as missile tests in some cases when they weren't. Sometimes neither the device type nor the result are given and sometimes the assignment is also problematic because the flight path information and the missile type do not go well together.[3] But despite these uncertainties and differences in the number of kills, the overall picture is clear.

The activities show two phases: In the nearly three decades from 1984 to 2011, the experimental activity with the weapon rocket was characterized by sporadic launches with sometimes years of pauses - six years between 1984 and 1990 and 13 years between 1993 and 2006. These launches totaled around 30 kills, an average of one shot per year; three different types of missiles were used. In addition, North Korea launched two different large satellite carriers three times without success. When Kim Jong-un took over the government, the picture changed significantly: It began in 2012 with the demonstration of ICBM models and in 2014 culminated in a massive program of launching missile types that had previously been fired, and then suddenly from 2016 onwards, new missiles were presented on a large scale. By mid-2017, more than twice as many missiles had been shot down as in the entire previous period.

Those responsible in North Korea must have recognized during these years that an internationally serious missile program requires intensive and therefore visible experimental activity, because real capabilities can only be demonstrated through many successful missile launches. Accordingly, since then, together with the North Korean nuclear program, which has been running for years, and military threats, the fear that this situation could have uncontrollable consequences has grown.

This fear is understandable. North Korea is hermetically sealed off from the outside world, so that reliable information is hardly available and one has to rely on Western sources and sparse North Korean imagery. North Korea has also mastered disinformation and staging: pictures presented, photos without usable scale, display of striking objects and media exaggeration are the rule. But despite rocket launches and threatening gestures, it is advisable not to jump to conclusions.

How can an insignificant country, which is nowhere conspicuous for its technical high performance, whose industry is ailing, which has no economic strength and which one tries to restrict through a network of sanctions, be capable of such a rocket science effort? When and how could North Korea have developed these extraordinary skills? The characteristics documented with the shooting program - speed, flexibility, efficiency, success orientation - should enable North Korea to show top performance in other areas of weapons technology. But nothing of that can be seen. In addition, with these characteristics one could quickly develop the country from a poor house to a prosperous economy. But that doesn't seem to be the case either.

While secrecy and disinformation make the investigation difficult, a realistic look at North Korean missile activity is long overdue. Since North Korean statements are worthless, which also applies to some Western speculations, the evidence can only be based on a large number of circumstantial evidence. Missile trials are the key material. Sometimes chance hits also make important contributions that back up knowledge gained elsewhere.[4] With this material, a relatively consistent overall picture can be developed that allows conclusions to be drawn as to whether North Korea has actually made a big leap in the independent development and manufacture of missile weapons or whether there are other sources for the missiles.

3 tests - decisive criterion for a missile evaluation

Serious missile weapons programs run according to a specific, necessity-based pattern and technical innovations do not come out of nowhere, but require appropriate preparatory work and it takes a very long time to implement them. The widely held view that countries like North Korea act differently and start series production after a test belongs in the land of fairy tales. North Korea handles developments like it does everywhere, you just have to analyze the process carefully. Tests play the decisive role in this. Depending on whether you are the development or the Series production serve, they differ in terms of content and scope.

In the development a larger number of test samples is created in the form of lots that are tested. First of all, the safe function and then the military usability should be proven. This does not happen simply by a quick sequence of launching these rockets, but one proceeds systematically and carefully: The test devices are equipped with many sensors for pressures, forces, temperatures etc. - "instrumented" - in order to monitor the behavior of the rocket during flight and send the data to a receiving station via telemetry. The launches are carried out from launch systems, from which the testing is monitored and controlled by setting, measuring and documenting the technical parameters of the rocket before the launch. The data evaluation and the comparison with the design result in the safety margins and lead to the weak points that have to be corrected in further development work. The results of the flight path measurement are used to generate the missile's firing board, which is required to set the parameters for military use. Because it is not enough to just shoot far, the target area must also be hit safely. Therefore, the test shots cover the entire spectrum of use, so they also cover the full range.

Antennas and data transmission by telemetry characterize a development program and enable other countries to recognize such activities. If one observes tests without massive telemetry, then it is a question of rockets that have the development behind them and are subject to regular checks or that are launched for political demonstration reasons, but not development shots.

Accompanying the Series production, the decisive, time-consuming phase of serious rocket programs, which is usually completely underestimated in terms of its degree of difficulty, the production process and the manufacturing quality must also be checked by batch approval shots. Regular tests of the delivered weapons are required in order to prove their function (endurance tests). They are also required to ensure the training of the troops. Both are expediently carried out in combination. But unlike the missiles launched in the development phase, the missiles in the lot acceptance are not separately equipped with measuring devices and telemetry. They are left in their original state, since the shooting must take place with the prescribed procedures under the most realistic conditions possible and only monitoring of the flight is necessary.

Tests are therefore the decisive criterion for a serious weapons program and the type of tests and successes provide information about the program content and progress. Such activities can neither be kept secret nor carried out in secret, because they are visible and can be assessed during the transmission of data. This applies to all types of testing - engine tests, static tests with the entire device, and rocket launches. By observing such launches and following the flight path, images of the missile give rise to possibilities of determining the data of a missile. Missile technology is not a secret science. Essential data are payload and range. Both depend on each other for a given missile: a lower payload enables a greater range.Therefore the range specification alone is not a meaningful criterion for the classification of a missile. Only the range together with the payload gives meaningful information. The exhaust gas jet also shows the type of fuel and thus its performance. The throwing power depends with the fuel values ​​only on the launch weight of the rocket and the empty mass - the decisive bottleneck of all reconstructions. Based on the dimensions of the missile, estimated values ​​for the other missile parameters can therefore be used to draw conclusions about the throwing power.

The predominant analyzes of North Korean activities focus practically everywhere on determining the performance data of these missiles, with a particular focus on range.[5] However, because of the many assumptions that are only based on plausibility, these investigations are rather mere arithmetic exercises with a wide range of results. This is mostly sufficient to characterize the potential of a missile weapon, but it covers a much more important question: Why does North Korea have such missiles? Were these actually made there or maybe they come from other sources? The answer to this question is of crucial importance in evaluating the North Korean "missile programs".

Much more attention should be paid to the missiles available in North Korea and to the testing. In missile analysis, these systems are grouped into liquid and solid rockets and their technical data is compared; in trials, the characteristics of the tests, the firing rates and the sequences are decisive. Both together make it possible to give a clear answer to the question asked.

4 North Korean liquid missiles

These rockets are divided into three groups: the Scud family, which also includes Nodong and the two satellite carriers, the newer Hwasong-10, Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, and finally the long-range rocket models. Before considering the individual systems, it makes sense to have a look at the procedure for developing missiles: tried and tested and available, possibly slightly modified components are used and new developments are avoided whenever possible. This also applies to the diameter of the rockets, since new calibers or a change in caliber would require new manufacturing equipment. The goal of such work is a reliable end product and not the - scientifically certainly interesting - technical development work. The saying that you don't have to reinvent the wheel also applies to rocket technology.

4.1 Scud family

The North Korean Scud family includes the types Scud B, Scud C, Scud D, Scud ER and KN-18.[6] The development began in the Soviet Union with Scud B in the late 1950s. It was carried out in the Makeyev design office, the drive comes from Isayev and is identical for the entire family. The fuels IRFNA (inhibited red fuming nitric acid, inhibited, red-smoking nitric acid) and kerosene (kero) as well as the construction are conventional and characteristic of this period of origin. The various models differ in terms of fuel tank and payload. The performance data are known from manuals or reconstructions. The Scud B missiles, Scud C and Scud D originate from the Soviet Union / Russia, with only Scud B being introduced to the Soviet armed forces, while Scud C and Scud D - performance-enhanced configurations of Scud B - were not. Since a Scud B was first shot down in North Korea in 1984, there have only been sporadic launches. The first six years are particularly interesting. After the "successful reverse engineering" there was an extensive export to Iran, but acceptance shots were not observed. In the period up to 2011 - that is, over a period of 27 years - around 18 rockets from this family were shot down. It seems that some errors occurred, which, however, cannot be assigned to individual missile types.

With these low starting numbers, the services awarded to North Korea of ​​an independent replica of Scud B, the development of Scud C and its production for export are not compatible. North Korea's Scud B came from the Soviet Union and matched perfectly with the Scud B made there.[7] North Korea used these imported products to resell them as a middleman - unquestionably in consultation with the Soviet Union or Russia - to countries like Iran. A North Korean freighter for Yemen seized by the Spanish Navy in 2002 contained one of these Scud deliveries.

The device KN-18 is a Scud C with (detachable) warhead and end-phase guidance, which was presented for the first time in 2017 and successfully tested in May.[8] However, this missile deviated from the configuration shown at the military parade, as an element was inserted between the steering unit and the warhead. It can be assumed that the compressed gas supply had to be relocated from the stern to the front for reasons of center of gravity, as is also the case with Scud C. One point is important in this context: the showpieces presented - all of them are models and not original devices - do not have to correspond to worn devices. A similar version of the KN-21, which was fired in August 2017 and is said to be based on Scud B, does not detach the warhead.

KN-18/21 are reminiscent of the Soviet Scud-B variant Aerofon, which is equipped with grille wings and optical end-phase control. It is not known whether the KN-18/21 is a Soviet-Russian further development or the concept originates from North Korea. This configuration is interpreted, among other things, like the Iranian missile Khalij Fars as a radar-guided ballistic weapon against point targets. But it is also possible that the warhead is a dummy.

With Scud C as a weapon carrier, the range of the KN-18/21 is greater than that of the Aerofon, but with a smaller weapon load because of the weight of the steering, controls and radar. In the case of mobile objects, direct hits can hardly be achieved with this weapon. KN-18/21 is more of a modified Scud C, but it can be used as a demonstration object for “progress” in the missile sector for North Korea.

The Scud ER rocket is an early Scud concept with a diameter of 1.025 meters and an aluminum construction, which was developed in the Soviet Union, but not introduced, as the competitor model SS-22, a two-stage, rapidly deployable solid-fuel rocket, was preferred there .[9] The appearance of Scud ER "out of nowhere" and the smooth launches of volleys in 2016 and 2017 show that Scud ER was already available and was not developed and manufactured in North Korea. The volley launches are intended to simulate the comprehensive availability of this missile weapon to the world public.

4.2 Nodong

The actual development and manufacturing capabilities of North Korea can be clearly seen on Nodong. Nodong is something like the older and bigger brother of Scud B, both in terms of the general overall concept and the technical structure. The steering unit has a large volume and, in terms of configuration, is not based on the more powerful Scud C, which was developed later. The engine has about twice the scud thrust.

Engine developments, especially with the Scud fuels IRFNA and kerosene, are lengthy and risky endeavors. A new development should have started many years before the actual missile program. Normally, two Scud engines would have been bundled for Nodong. These engines are reliable and, if the reports on the independent replica were correct, they should have been sufficiently available in North Korea. There can only be one reason that Nodong looks completely different: North Korea received the engine and missile from outside.[10] Nodong shows how it really is with its capabilities in the missile sector: The country has neither the ability to develop new products nor to produce independently. Nodong should come from the Makeyev design office and the drive from Isayev. This type of missile was probably not introduced into the Soviet armed forces at the time because of various weaknesses. The performance values ​​are known through information from different countries and through reconstruction.

Although the identification of the first missiles of this type was inadequate - initially it was assumed that an R-13 (Soviet submarine missile) improved in North Korea - and confusion with Scud C is possible, the first successful North Korean test launch is dated 1993, however with a shortened range according to Scud C. A data transmission could not be determined. A development program that was carried out in parallel with the Scud activities was also not observed, apart from two unconfirmed events in 1990 and 1992, which are explained as unsuccessful attempts. The Nodong, like Scud B, suddenly existed and since 1998 there have been identical systems in Pakistan (Ghauri) and Iran (Shahab 3), which also appeared there out of nowhere.[11] It cannot be said whether the North Korean Nodong missiles with different warheads use different tank structures, as in Iran with Shahab 3 and Ghadr-1, or whether only the warheads have been changed.

Nodong must therefore also be considered an import. It cannot be determined whether it is a complete device or whether the import is limited to the main components such as the engine. The structure may well have been manufactured in North Korea or in parts obtained from abroad.

4.3 Satellite Carriers

The satellite carriers Taepodong 1 and Taepodong 2 / Unha also clearly show a Soviet-Russian handwriting and are based on Scud and Nodong elements. The basis of Taepodong 1 is the combination of Nodong with a Scud-like second stage. A small solid rocket - presumably Toksa (see KN-02) - completes the satellite carrier.

The image of this missile spread by North Korea, the lack of preliminary development activities, the only shot in 1998 in which the first two stages worked properly, but which failed due to a late misbehavior of the third stage, and the subsequent end of the program underline that this one The carrier does not come from North Korea, but from another country - only Russia is possible here - and was completely delivered. On the one hand, the North Korean experience with rockets up to 1998 was too modest for a fully functional three-tier system with stage separation and thrust stages in the second stage to be pounded out of the ground overnight, as it were. On the other hand, there is no regular program setting after a miss that was almost successful. The termination of the program can only be explained by a lack of support - no further deliveries from the executing agency.

The large satellite carrier Taepodong 2 / Unha also has three stages and is based on a first stage with four Nodong and four control engines, the second stage uses the Scud engine. The third stage, the diameter of which is smaller than that of the second stage, has the same dimensions as the upper stage of the Iranian Safir spacecraft. The Russian-Iranian cooperation at this stage suggests that Unha's existing cooperation between North Korea and Russia also includes this stage and is independent of Iran.[12] The provision of drawings and components would therefore be done by the same institution for both countries.

The first signs of a large missile were there as early as 1994, but at that time a two-stage long-range weapon was suspected. It took almost twenty years before the first launch took place, but now as a three-stage satellite carrier that failed to launch. The sequence of further test shots dragged on over several years - July 2006: failure (configuration unknown); April 2009: failure; April 2012: failure; December 2012: Success; February 2016: Success. The payload is small and should be around 100 kilograms.

One possible explanation for the long interruptions is the (sometimes difficult) troubleshooting or the delivery of important parts, since the construction of a complete in-house production of the first stage should not have been a serious option. The fragments of this stage recovered from South Korea reveal a Soviet handwriting and suggest that the basic device is based on a two-stage weapon rocket of greater power, the development of which, however, was not continued at a later stage.[13] This is supported by the fact that the first two stages worked perfectly with the second shot. For the "upgrade" to the satellite carrier, because of the "Safir upper level", specialists from the former Soviet area took care of the situation.

The production of simpler parts of the rocket structure and the integration should have taken place in North Korea, the overall concept originates from the Soviet Union / Russia, from where main components such as the drive are supplied. The many years of activities on Unha, the construction of a large test complex in northwest North Korea, which has been pushed forward for many years, and the enlargement of the launch tower show that even larger missiles are planned. Other non-critical assemblies can also come from other countries.

4.4 Hwasong-10 / Musudan

Since September 2003 there have been reports of North Korean activity with a missile 1.5 meters in diameter. The diameter and shape led to the assumption that it could be a North Korean further development of the Soviet submarine missile R-27 / SSN6. Because of the greater length, it was concluded that a significant increase in performance. Western observers referred to this missile as Musudan because it lacked a North Korean coding. Two years later, Iran came into play, as it was suspected that North Korea was being sold to this country. R-27 / SSN6 comes from the Scud design bureau Makeyev, the engine from Isayev. Unlike Scud, this rocket is based on NTO (nitrogen tetroxide, Dinitrogen tetroxide) and UDMH (asymmetrical dimethylhydrazine) on modern fuels, a new drive principle and a good lightweight construction.

After nothing was reported about this weapon in the following years, North Korea presented primitive models on a MAZ-547 launch vehicle in October 2010. Testing began six years later in April 2016. Without a preliminary test program, the shooting down took place from the Wonsan military airfield, which is located in the south-east of North Korea. The test program was carried out in an operational manner by a TEL and initially comprised six kills in a rapid sequence, of which only the sixth was successful. The rocket, which was shot almost vertically, reached a summit height of 1,400 kilometers, so that it fell on North Korean territory. Two more kills were again failures and since then it has been quiet about this missile.

The published images of Hwasong-10 show a missile that largely corresponds to the drive side of R-27, but differs significantly from the models presented at parades. The lattice wings and the greater length catch the eye. Presumably this missile is the land-based version of the R-27. Makeyev had aimed at the same with the R-13 submarine weapon with the R-18 missile, but received no government order to continue it. Since there is no evidence that North Korea had received Russian or Soviet submarines with R27 missiles in the past, it must be assumed that the Hwasong-10 is based on a continuation of R-27 that was not made in North Korea, but at the manufacturer of this rocket itself.

The internal structure of the rocket is not known, but it can be assumed that some changes had to be made for safe TEL transport: The oxidizer tank on the front does not have a common tank bottom with the fuel tank in order to safely separate the self-igniting fuels from one another. The drive is obviously mounted in such a way that the introduction of the thrust force and the fixing of the motor lead to low loads on the outer skin. The main engine and the two control thrusters have been retained, albeit with adjustments. It is not known whether NTO was replaced by IRFNA because of the ambient temperature, but it would be possible.

The exit system R-27, the material used and the lattice wings show the massive involvement of forces from the former Soviet area. This also applies to the launch vehicle. The quick start sequence, which excludes corrective measures after the unsuccessful attempts, suggests that these are demonstration shots of (almost) finished devices and not development activities and the problems caused by the engine, due to insufficient stability (need for lattice wings) or poor quality (North Korean structure production ?) are caused. However, nothing can be said about the actual North Korean share of Hwasong-10. The throwing power of Hwasong-10 should be for a ton of payload with a maximum range of 2,200 kilometers.

4.5 Hwasong-12

This missile is one of the newest North Korean missiles that use NTO or IRFNA and UDMH as fuel like Hwasong-10, but have a structure that differs from Hwasong-10: The main engine sits with four control engines below the separate tanks in the conically flared stern like the Soviet medium-range missile R-12.The rocket is transported on a TEL vehicle, which cannot deny its origin in the post-Soviet area, but it is launched from a separate launch table.

After one or two unsuccessful attempts, Hwasong-12 was shot from a high angle in May 2017 at an altitude of around 2,000 kilometers.[14] The nature of this campaign shows that this was also a demonstration of a (almost) fully developed rocket and not development tests, whereby the failures, similar to Hwasong-10, could be caused by the engine or deficits in quality assurance. The specific trajectory of this test obviously served as with Hwasong-10 to make the evaluation of the flight performance and the fragments more difficult. Nothing is known about a warhead partition. The next launch on August 29, 2017 was at a summit height of 550 kilometers over 2,700 kilometers, with another start on September 15 the range was 3,700 kilometers, so that the performance potential should be exhausted. Based on the data for distance and summit height, both shots show that they were performance-optimized tracks.

Images of launch preparations, which may show a model and not the current missile, and a launch video enable reconstruction. The results have to be given a wide range, since it is difficult to determine the dimensions. The lower value for the diameter is variously given as 1.5 meters, which corresponds to the Hwasong 10 diameter.[15] The value calculated from the rocket geometry and exit acceleration for the diameter is around 1.6 meters, the length a little under 18 meters and the weight around 28 tons. The reconstructed range is almost 3,000 kilometers with one ton of payload. The distance of 3,700 kilometers indicates a smaller payload, which should be around 0.6 tons. Because of the unknown empty weight of Hwasong-12, this value can only be roughly estimated.

Whether the Hwsong-12 is an old Soviet-Russian weapon concept that was not introduced is unclear, but there must be some post-Soviet source of proliferation that North Korea relies on.[16] Unlike the other North Korean missiles, there are no indications in the direction of Makeyev and Isayev. Again this rocket appears all of a sudden and without a preparatory program is finally successfully fired like a mobile, operational weapon system including the necessary support facilities.

4.6 Hwasong-14

Less than two months after the presentation of Hwasong-12, another long-range missile was launched, Hwasong-14. With two problem-free flights, the first on July 4th and another on July 28th, 2017, the availability of a missile with ICBM capability was to be documented. Both were in turn brought to the launch site with a TEL, which is set up on the Chinese WS 51200 truck, in order to then be launched as a steep shot from a separate table. No preliminary development program could be identified, which creates the same overall picture as with the mobile, operationally usable weapon systems Hwasong-10 and Hwasong-12.

Dimensionally similar or even identical models of this rocket, at that time still known as the Hwasong-13, had already been presented under Kim's father. However, the technical designs changed over time: First as a background object with a rear view, the "flightless" missile[17] with two rocket motors, and then as a three-stage rocket, the configuration having the characteristics of both a solid and a liquid rocket.[18] The successor model was then again different and configured with a second stage of the same caliper.

Hwasong-14 is two-stage, with the small size of the second stage indicating a small payload. As with the Hwasong-12, the engine is apparently a single combustion chamber from the series of Soviet-Russian engines of the type RD-251. This can be seen from the dimensions and the transverse turbo pump.[19] It is not clear whether NTO is used as the oxidizer, as is the case with RD-250, or whether it has been replaced by IRFNA for temperature reasons. As with Hwasong-12, the dimensions cannot be determined directly, but must be deduced from the configuration and the acceleration. According to this, the diameter is around 1.83 meters, which results in a rocket length of around 19 meters. The caliber of the second stage measures 1.4 meters. The total mass is around 36 tons. The payload hull is large and gives cause for speculation.[20]

The North Korean claim to have an ICBM for the first time with the Hwasong-14 is nonsensical without specifying a payload. Since the North Korean satellite carriers already had ICBM range, no new situation has arisen with Hwasong-14. With one ton of payload, this results in a range of around 5,200 kilometers, so that a rocket with a realistic threat potential against the USA is still a long way off. The summit height of the first take-off of 2,800 kilometers could be reached with around half a ton of payload, the 3,800 kilometers of the second shot required a payload reduction of around 300 kilograms.

4.7 Hwasong-15

Four months after the second Hwasong 14 launch, another new rocket of great power was launched in December 2017. At around 50 t, the two-stage Hwasong 15 rocket is around 50% heavier than its predecessor, the diameter is around 2 m and the length is around 21 m. The drive (in a slightly modified form) is the RD-251 engine 2 combustion chambers, so that the starting thrust actually has the value of 80 t mentioned by North Korea. The nocturnal launch was again carried out almost vertically from a 9-axis TEL in an operational manner. The summit was 4,500 km, the impact took place 53 minutes later, almost 1,000 km from the launch site in the Sea of ​​Japan. With the Hwasong-15, North Korea launched a real ICBM for the first time, which can transport a gross payload of around 800 kg over a distance of more than 10,000 km and brings the USA into the shooting range of North Korea. According to North Korean pronouncements, no further missiles will be developed.

With this rocket, North Korea can also bring a payload of at least 500 kg into a low earth satellite orbit, which makes Unha completely obsolete. It is therefore surprising that Unha is being pursued in North Korea. The sudden appearance of this third rocket based on the RD-251 engine, the similarity of the first-stage conception with Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14, the problem-free use and the successful shot in the context of another, parallel to Hwasong-10, Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 implemented program make external subcontracting indispensable as an explanatory model. The image of this missile, and the use of RD-251 and the rapid succession of three new missiles, suggest that these missiles were not designed and manufactured in North Korea, but were obtained from abroad, either from Russia or perhaps from abroad other countries of the post-Soviet space.

4.8 ICBM models and images of engine tests

In addition to the missiles that have been fired, the models of missiles and missile containers already described, which are classified as ICBMs, were shown. Together with various missile details that can be seen in photos in workshop halls from North Korea, however, the result is an inconsistent picture. Also photos of engine tests, which, in addition to the Hwasong-10 propulsion, contain both an engine bundle and a single combustion chamber with a transverse turbo pump, which are reminiscent of the Soviet-Russian RD-251 rocket engine and Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 must be assigned do not bring any improvement. So one will have to wait and see whether ICBM-class missiles are actually available in North Korea. The devices that have been used so far do not provide any indication that progress is being made here.

4.9 The situation of the North Korean liquid missiles

Practically all North Korean liquid rockets are? Nbsp; known Soviet-Russian weapon systems or - even if (currently [?]) No serial device can be associated with them - marked by the handwriting of these institutions. This can be seen in particular in the rocket engines, for which corresponding information is consistently available. These missiles lack the typical characteristics of development activities. Since they were not shot down from the large-scale development and launch center in the northeast, but from different locations in the country in an operational manner, these are all ready-made systems that are only fired for demonstration purposes.

The Scud B to Hwasong-15 missiles have nine different calibers, ranging from 0.88 meters to 2.4 meters, and are made of different materials. For this, manufacturing equipment, production regulations with quality assurance measures and appropriately trained and experienced personnel are required. For North Korea this would mean an immense material, industrial and human effort with a large number of institutions involved, especially because it appears that these programs are being advanced almost simultaneously. In view of the modest industrial and technological resources, this cannot be managed independently, but only with extensive supplies and personal support from abroad.


Table 2: Origin of North Korean liquid missiles

SurnameOriginCaliberDesign officescomment
Scud B / CRus0,88Missile: Makeyev (?) /… TW: IsayevScud technology (IRFNA-Kero)
Scud DRus
Scud ERRus1,025
Nodong (ND)Rus1,25
Taepodong 1Rus
Taepodong 2 / UnhaRus (?)2,4/1,5
Hwasong-10Rus1,5Mod. Technology (NTO / IRFNA-UDMH)
Hwasong-12Rus (?)1,6 (?)Rocket: ...
Hwasong-14Rus (?)1,83/1,4TW: Gluskow (?)
Hwasong-15Rus (?)2

These missiles were and are either sourced directly from the Soviet Union and / or its successor states or partly manufactured in North Korea with appropriate assistance. In the case of engines, one could or can probably fall back on remnants from earlier productions. To what extent engines specifically for North Korean missile requirements were or are still being produced cannot be determined. The quantity required is negligible compared to the earlier Soviet-Russian production volumes, so that there should be no bottleneck. Other components can be obtained without any problems.

5 North Korean solid fuel rockets

Compared to the liquid rocket, the situation in the solid rocket sector is much more modest. No serious solid rocket program was known until the end of 2014; larger production and test facilities have not been identified in North Korea.[21] In addition to the small artillery missile KN-02 (Toksa), which is only mentioned for the sake of completeness, there are only two devices: a submarine missile and a land-based variant, both in the short or lower medium-range range. These missiles repeat the pattern that is known in North Korea from liquid missiles: Sudden appearance without a previous development program and largely successful kills as in a military operation.

5.1 KN-02 (Totschka)

This rocket originated in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and is also known as the SS-21 or Totschka. It is a guided solid-state short-range missile with a cartridge. The North Korean devices are no different from the Russian ones. KN-02 is irrelevant to the assessment of North Korean missile work. This type of missile is one of the inexpensive types of the arsenal and seems to be available in sufficient quantities, because it is fired massively. It is used as a cheap filler material to increase the quantity of the rocket demonstration program.

5.2 Pukguksong-1 (Polaris-1)

This missile stands for North Korea's suddenly appeared independent military power in submarine missiles. However, there are some inconsistencies in the success reports. The activities began at the end of 2014 and only included the shooting procedure. The sequence of tests was carried out in individual steps: two expulsion attempts on land, then several tests with a device submerged in the sea, similar to those in Russia. A submarine was not used. For these tests, first mass dummies and then inert bodies were used, which, however, contained a short-term fuel charge in order to be able to simulate the sequence up to the ignition of the engine with a short combustion phase during the tests of the exhaust process. Only then did tests of the entire system follow.

The depiction of the first successful shooting down from a submarine, published by North Korea in May 2015, was purely a propaganda report because the images had been manipulated.[22] After kills described as a failure, but which can be explained by the test sequence, North Korea reported a successful test in April 2016; This flight showed a small but important anomaly: there was a brief flight of sparks from the nozzle. To underpin its technical expertise, North Korea also published images of a static engine test, which, however, has little in common with the flight images in terms of the engine flame and rather shows a different configuration. This two-stage submarine missile was successfully shot down twice and presented in 2017, with the aircraft and missile model differing slightly.

A crucial key to evaluating the missile's performance is its dimensions, which are difficult to determine. Since the power increases with the third power of the diameter, Pukguksong-1 must not have a caliber that is too small. A dimensional comparison with the Chinese JL-1 submarine missile shows some similarities. The dimensions should be 1.4 meters in diameter and 8.5 meters in length, the total weight at 13 tons, which results in a throwing performance corresponding to the JL-1. There was no preliminary development program for this weapon. Instead, the focus was on ejection attempts, which normally only take place when the missile has been fully developed and all that is necessary is to “marry” the submarine. Another explanation is therefore more obvious: the ejection tests were the preparation for a series of tests in which a missile developed outside of North Korea was tested. This can be, for example, life tests for a weapon system that has been in place for years and for which the weapon manufacturer does not want information about the state of the missile to be known. The kills then take place as part of a service as contract trials. All that has to be done is to ensure that the shooting procedure works, which is why the customer wants to have North Korea proven its technical capabilities step by step. The observed steps correspond exactly to this procedure.

In order to manufacture rockets like Pukguksong with the necessary quality standard, it is necessary to master the technology required for this in addition to the systems. To do this, you either need licenses or acquire the knowledge yourself, which takes a long time and leaves visible traces. At JL-1 in China, it took well over ten years to do this, and it would be surprising if North Korea could do this without any problems and in the blink of an eye. So this missile cannot possibly come from North Korea either. It stands to reason that China is the source.

5.3 Pukguksong-2 (Polaris-2)

After the submarine missile launches, a land-based missile was launched for the first time a little later, which is probably a modified version of the submarine missile. The submarine and land-based missiles differ in the front section and presumably the nozzle configuration of the first stage, but the two stages are each the same length. So far there have been two successful tests. The launch took place again in an operational manner from a TEL, so that a fully developed rocket can be assumed. The base of this rocket therefore corresponds to that of Pukguksong-1.

5.4 The situation of the North Korean solid fuel rocket

The KN-02 artillery missile is unimportant. The other two rockets must be assumed to have been delivered from abroad. The similarities with Chinese missiles are striking, so that it can be assumed that the source is in China. Independent North Korean contributions are unlikely to have been included.


Table 3: Origin of North Korean solid fuel rockets

SurnameNK designationoriginCalibercomment
KN-02Rus0,6cartouched TZ
KN-11Pukguksong-1PRC (?)1,4Composite TS
KN-15Pukguksong-2PRC (?)1,4

Solid rockets larger than these two have not yet been fired, and there is no indication that North Korea has statically burned down larger devices.

6 re-entry bodies

With re-entry bodies the picture of great diversity is repeated. Except for the conical design of earlier warheads, there are hardly any matching weapon sections in the current missiles. Some are evidently simple sheet metal models, others differ considerably in some cases. This is particularly evident from the re-entry bodies of the solid rocket, which show no similarities.Instead of standardization, each type of missile is equipped with a specifically designed re-entry body. Since one should not have many different weapon loads in North Korea - the number of "nuclear tests" is far too few for one to have different configurations - the warheads should also be similar in terms of dimensions, geometry and masses, but what do they do? does not apply. The majority of these elements are therefore probably not designed for serious use.

When Hwasong-14 was shot down (July 2017) and when Hwasong-15 was flying (December 2017), parts of the rocket and the re-entry body could be observed in the atmosphere: it appeared that these exploded or burned up.[23] However, it must be taken into account that a shot from a high angle leads to significantly higher loads at a lower level than a shot from long range. As with the rockets, the same applies to the reentry vehicles that there is no avoiding systematic tests - namely flights over the full range with orbit measurement and recovery of the object - which above all have to include the targeted payload.[24] For North Korea this is certainly an extremely difficult, if not impossible, undertaking.

7 Overview of North Korean missile weapons

The North Korean missiles represent a wide range of different missiles. It's not just liquid rockets of old and more modern technology, recently modern solid rockets have also been added, so that you are dealing with a total of 12 different types. One point stands out in this missile list: with the exception of Hwasong-15, all missiles represent the same size class. The main part of North Korean missiles thus affects the lower medium-range weapon range and is only threatening to the regional environment. Only with Hwasong-15, which was shot almost vertically only once, is the USA in North Korea's range. But to do this, North Korea would have to have an operational nuclear weapon weighing around 400 kg, which is certainly hardly feasible without further testing.What is the necessity of marriage

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