All you need to know on North Korea’s missiles

North Korea’s missile program has undergone a sharp boost under its present leader Kim Jong-un. If we analyze the number of total launches carried out – including those that failed – since Kim came to power in 2011, we find that theygreatly outnumber those carried out by his predecessors: 99 missile tests between 2012 and 2017compared to the 63 between 1984 and 2011 under Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il (17 and 46 respectively).

The strong impulse given to the development of missile systems of various types (from Srbms and Icbms) meets North Korea’s strategic need to structure its defence on an asymmetrical level: despite the fact that Pyongyang avails himself of one of the world’s largest armies (the fourth) counting over one 1,100,000 soldiers and a reserve comprising 4,700,000 units organized in 40 divisions and 18 infantry brigades, the troops nonetheless suffer from heavy shortages as concerns training and equipment, which is obsolete if not antiquated.

Therefore to be able to put into practice the military doctrine based on a war of attrition (of the Maoist kind), North Korea has based its strategy on its missile arsenal as a deterrent against its enemies (South Korea and the US) while concurrently developing an imposing  Special Forces division which it is currently estimated at 200,000 units and which represents the Army’s pride.

Like Iran – with which in recent years it has established a  fruitful collaboration – the origins ofNorth Korea’s program are based on the development of imported of Soviet-made  “Scud” missiles.

As from the 1960s Pyongyang began to autonomously make systems which formed the basis forcurrent missiles and which have been successfully exported to countries such as Iran or Pakistan.

According to sources at the end of the ‘90s Syria provided North Korea with an SS-21 “Scarab”missile (OTR-21 “Točka”) which could have formed the basis for the guidance technology subsequently applied to the “Scud”, making it suited to attacking specific targets in South Korea. The technology for the construction of the Mrbm type No-dong/Hwasong-7 missiles again comes from the Soviet Union’s Slbm SS-N-5 “Sark” (R-21), while the technology which enabled the construction of the Irbm missiles Hwasong-10 and 12 types as well as the Slbm“Pukkuksong-1”comes from the Soviet Slbm SS-N-6 “Serb” (R-27).

It is believed that the guidance system of longer range missiles (Mrbm, Irbm and Icbm) was provided by China, as it had done with Iran’s Shahab missiles.

The Kn-02is the locally-produced version of the above-mentioned SS-21 “Scarab-A”. It is a ballistic missile with a maximum range of 120/170 kilometers, carrying a High Explosive warhead, chemical or with submunitions of an estimated weight of 250 or 480 kilograms.  The solid-propelled rocket has a Cep (Circular Error Probable) of approximately 100 meters. It was put into service in 2006.

The “Hwasong-5”is the North Korean variant of the Soviet “Scud-B” missile purchasedfrom Egypt and which was reverse engineered. It has a maximum range of 300 kilometers. It is road-mobile, single stageliquid-propelled rocket mounted on aTel (Transporter Erector Launcher) and came into service in 1986. Its payload is a single chemical, biological or submunition HE warhead weighing a maximum of 985 kilograms andwith a 450-metre Cep.

The “Hwasong-6”is the locally-produced variant of the Soviet “Scud-C” missile. Like its predecessor it is road-mobile, mounted on a Tel and has the same single stage liquid propulsion. The payload is again a single warhead, with the difference that the estimated weight is of 700/770 kilograms. It has an increased maximum range of 500 kilometers and a Cep of 3,000 meters. It has been in service since 1992.


The“Hwasong-9” missile (or “Scud-ER”) is the extended version of the “Hwasong-6” with a maximum operational range of approximately 1000 kilometers and a single HE chemical or submunitions warhead weighing 500kg. Like its predecessor it operates by single stage liquid propulsion motor andis mounted on a Tel. It also shares the same guidance system with a Cep of 3,000 meters. The missile came into service in 1994.

The latest Srbmmissile system is the Kn-18. Again it is a variation of the “Scud-C”, but it introduces for the first time a Marv (Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle) type of warhead which makes is possible for itto hit targets in slow movement such as large naval units. In North Korea this missileis known as the“carrier killer”. Again it is propelled by single-stage liquid-propulsion with an estimated maximum range exceeding 450 kilometers.Itwas first displayed on 15th April 2017 during the annual military “Day of the Sun” parade in Pyongyangwhich celebrates the birth of Kim Il-sung.

North Korea currently only has two operational or in development phase medium range ballistic missiles (orMrbm). They are the “No-dong 1” and the Kn-15.

Development on the“No-dong 1” began in the mid-80s, again based on the “Hwasong-6”,and was put into service in 1995. The missile has a single stage liquid propulsion motor and is equipped with anHE chemical, submunition or nuclear warhead weighing 800 kg (according to some sources 1000 kg). The mobilemissile is mounted on a Tel and its inertial navigation system, which can be integrated with a Gpl platform, allows it to have a Cep of approximately 2,000 meters and a maximum range between 1200 and 1500 kilometers (although it more moreprobably 1300 km). This missile, in Iran and Pakistan, is called “Shahab-3” and “Ghauri” respectively.

The Kn-15 (or Pukkuksong-2) is a land-based variant of the Slbm Kn-11 which we will analyze shortly. The road basing is mobile on a tracked transporter-erector launcher equipped with a canisterfor cold launches and it has a two-stage, solid propellant. The single HE or nuclear warhead is of a currently unknown weight but should be around 700 kilograms. Its maximum range is estimated at approximately between1, 200 and 2,000 kilometers. It presents a number of improvements in the navigation system and the possibility of overcoming enemy defense lines which its naval counterpart does not. It is believed that the missile is of Chinese provenance as it presents similarities with the DF-21 and JL-1missiles, which could also be confirmed by its rapid development phase compared to its predecessors, however certain characteristics, such as the presence of stabilizers and the single engine differentiate it from the latter. The Kn-15 was first tested in February 2017 with a second test in May that same year.

We would like to reserve a special mention for the missile known as the “No-dong 2” which does not currently result operational nor in a development phase. North Korea has therefore probably abandoned the project. According to Western sources the single stage liquid-propelled missile has a maximum range of approximately 1,500 kilometers and aCep of 250 meters. It is thought that the “No dong-2” can carry a single HE chemical, biological or nuclear warhead of a non-specified weight. The first missile developments date back to the nineties.

As concerns this particular category again North Korea only has two missiles: the “Hwasong-10” and the “Hwasong-12”.

The“Hwasong-10” (also known as the “Musudan” or Bm-25) is based on the Soviet SS-N-6 (R-27). Propulsion is by one or two-stage liquid propelled motor and is more performing compared to previous missiles (dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide). It has been credited with a range between 2500 to 4000 kilometers with a single HE or nuclear warhead with a payload of 500/1200 kg.The guidance is inertial and accuracy of 1600 meters Cep. The missile is road mobile on Tel and is ground launched once the transportation vehicle has moved away. It was first seen on April 15th 2016 during its first flight test which failed.

The“Hwasong-12” (or Kn-17) is a onestage liquid propelled missilewith a maximum range of 4500kilometers. According to North Korean sources it can carry a “large nuclear or HE warhead”. The missile can be transported on a vehicle with wheels but does not have an actual Tel as such, therefore it is platform-launched once the vehicle has moved away.The first “Hwasong-12” test launch dates back to April 5th2017, however the first successful launch was in May 14th that same year.


For these kinds of missiles again we would like to reserve a special mention for the “Taepodong 1” which however American intelligence sources consider obsolete. Based directly on the “No-dong 1” representing its first phase,the “Taepodong 1” has a maximum range of 2000 kilometers(two stage) or 5000 kilometers (three stage)with a Cep of approximately 4000 meters. The missile, in service between 1990 and 1998, was based in a launch silo. It is believed that it was used as a technological demonstrator for the subsequentIcbmmissile, the “Taepodong 2”.

North Korea’s first intercontinental missiles were the Kn-08 and Kn-14, even though to this day we have no proof of test launches for these. The two missiles can be considered to have been developed fromeach other. The other elaboration of the Kn-14 is infact the Kn-08 block 2, and both seem to have been based on the “Hwasong-10”. The Kn-08 (or “Hwasong-13”) is fully credited with a range between 5500 and 10000 kilometers. Itis a two-staged liquid fuelledmissile; like the “Hwasong-12”it is road mobile and was exhibited for thefirst time as a mock-up during the parade on April 15th2012.Its “older brother”, the Kn-14, is also road-mobile but distinguishes itself for being three-stage and having a range of 8,000 to 10,000 kilometers. It was unveiled to the public on October 10th 2015 and it is believed to have carried out an engine test on April 9th 2016.

The“Hwasong-14” (or Kn-20) represents Pyongyang’s first Icbm to have carried out a successful flight test on July4th2017. It is a two-staged liquid fuelledmissile, credited with a maximum range of over 10,000 kilometers. However with a warhead weighing 1000 kg, the range decreases to 3800 kilometers; with a 650 kg warhead the range increases to 5200 kilometers and to over 6000 kilometers for a warhead of 350 kilograms. The “Hwasong-14” is not completely mobile as it uses a transporter-erector and is platform launched. This missile also has an engine which is a locally built version of the Soviet SS-N-6 (R-27) missile.

The“Hwasong-15” (or Kn-22) represents the first North Korean Icbmwith the power to reach the entire North American continent, (from Alaska to Florida). It carried out its first and only test on November 29th2017. Againit is twostaged and liquid-fuelled with a maximum range of over 13,000 kilometers. Payload can reach up to 1000 kilograms, including Penaid(Penetrator aid) to overcome enemy defense lines. The missile is equipped with a thrust vectoring system and was built solely using North Korean know how, although some sources believe that other countries, such as Pakistan, might have contributed. The fact that the “Hwasong-15” was tested the same year as the “Hwasong-14” and 12 suggests that they were developed concurrently and probably share a conspicuous part of the same technology.

As regards the third missile displaying intercontinental characteristics, the “Taepodong-2” (or “Uhna-3”), we know that it was used onlyin the launching of two small satellites in 2012 and 2016. The three-staged liquidfuelledrocket is a direct development of the “Taepodong-1”; it is silos based and has an estimated maximum range of 6,000 kilometers with a payload of 1000 kg, increasing to 9,000 kilometers with a 500 kg payload. It’s first test launch in 2006 failed.

North Korea is equipped with only one submarine-launched ballistic missile, the “Pukkuksong-1” also known as Kn-11. The twostage solid-propelled missilehas a maximum range of 1200 kilometers and is very similar to the Soviet SS-N-6 “Serb” (R-27) which, as we have seen, served as a basis for many of North Korea’s ballistic missiles. Its characteristics are prevalently unknown, however it is presumed it has a payload of 700kgand a HE or nuclear warhead like its land-based counterpart, the previously analyzed Kn-15. It carried out its first test on May 9th2015.

North Korea is equipped with only two anti-ship cruise missiles: the Kn-01 and “Kumsong-3”.

TheKn-01is the North Korean version of the SovietP-15 “Termit” anti-ship missile (SS-N-1 “Styx” in Nato code) also known in its Chinese variant, the CSS-C-2 “Silkworm”. The liquid-fuelled missile has a solid-propelled booster and a rangeof 110/160 kilometers, though some experts believe the Pyongyangversion has been improved to reach 300 kilometers. Its payload is a single HE warhead weighing 500 kilograms and it is 7,36 meters long with a diameter of 760mm. It is believed to be in service since 1994.

Pyongyang’ssecond anti-ship cruise missile is the “Kumsong-3”. The missile is a locally constructed version of the Soviet Kh-35 missile. It is unclear how North Korea was able to acquire it: some sources speculate it did so through Myanmar, others believe through Russia itself. The missile has a turbofan engine with solid-fuelledbooster and a maximum range between 130 and 250 kilometers. It comes both in the patrol boat launch version and   tracked vehicle variant and first appeared in a propaganda video in June 2014. The “Kumsong-3” has “sea skimming” capacities and is 4.4 meters long with a dimeter of 420 mm. It is said to comprise active radar and infrared homing for terminal guidance.

Quantifying the number of missilesNorth Korea has availablerepresents a real conundrum.Some sources estimate 500/600 “Hwasong-6” type missiles and 200/300 “No-dong 1” type missiles. Others, like the Csis, are much more cautious and estimate six or more Icbm, 12 Irbm, 20 or moreMrbm, 30 or more Srbmand no operational Slbm.

The issue of the operativity of North Korea’s missiles opens another case for reflection. According to western standards there are only 7 types of missiles which qualify as operational: fourSrbms, oneMrbms (the “No-dong 1”), the “Taepodong-2”Icbm and the Kn-01 cruise missile while an eighth could be the other antiship missile the “Kumsong-3”. The remainder are all officially defined as “in development”.  Howeverthe North Korean philosophy differs greatly from that of the West in that it defines the level of operativity obtained at the moment of the first successful test launch. In that sense many of what the West would considers tests, are considered by North Korea as live fire exercises of various kinds (for example the launch of multiple Kn-18 missileson June 8th2017).