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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M

KN-23 Tactical Missile System

On 08 February 2018 North Korea paraded elements of what appeared to be a new road-mobile short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) system. It is equipped with missiles that are similar in appearance to those used by the Russian 9K720 Iskander-M system. Six apparent transport-erector-launchers (TELs) were in the parade, which paled in comparison with one in April of last year, when North Korea displayed more missiles and a wider variation. The new missile appeared slightly larger than North Korea’s existing solid-fuel, short-range missile system — the Toksa SS-21. With presumably a longer range, it seems roughly equivalent to the Russian Iskander or ROK Hyunmoo-2 systems [which is said to be an Iskander derivative].

Xu Tianran noted that " the KN-23 and KN-24 missile systems have different designs, means of transportation and launch methods. However, they have largely overlapping performance and utility.... In theory, the longer range KN-23, which appeared earlier than KN-24, should have eliminated the need for the latter.... KCNA texts imply that the KN-23 is not a “Juche weapon of Korean style.”... One possible explanation is that the KN-23 is a system utilising foreign subsystems, such as a guidance set, motor section and/or the upper airframe. Or, it might be imported as a whole with some of its details locally modified to conceal its origin... In contrast, as KCNA texts put it, the KN-24 is a “Juche weapon of Korean style” built to suit the Korean Peninsula's terrain conditions."

Michael Elleman at 38north noted "that the missiles seen in the parade have data-cable covers that run alongside the exterior surface and extend well into what is believed to be the warhead section, which makes little sense. The cables are used to transmit instructions from the guidance unit (located at the top of the motor, but below of the warhead section) to the steering mechanisms at the back end of the missile. The cables on an Iskander are much shorter, terminating where one would expect it to, at the guidance unit. The new missiles are carried in pairs atop four-axle trucks, which are unlike those that support the Russian Iskander."

Speaking with Business Insider, Justin Bronk, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, also pointed out that the low-key projectile bore a striking similarity to the Iskander missile. "[The missile] looks enormously like Iskander missiles and not a missile that [North Korea has] been seen with before," he told the outlet.

But not everyone is on the same page. Mike Ellen, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, noted that it was "inconsistent with Iskander" and that it was likely just a ripoff of South Korea's Hyunmoo-2 missile system. Whether or not the missile was designed after Russian or South Korean models, experts say the appearance of the new missiles would be taken by the US as evidence of the need to continue to push North Korea to denuclearize.

first shown February 8, 2018,
first tested May 2019
Total length7.3 meters /23.7 feet
Diameter0.9 meters / 2.9 feet
Range of fire 200-420 km
Apogee 50 km
warhead Nuclear and conventional
Number of stages 1
Engine solid propellant engine
  • self-propelled wheeled type
  • self-propelled tracked type
  • missiles on Launcher 2
    The North Korean solid-propellant rocket, first displayed at a military parade in Pyongyang in February 2018, has the potential to launch nuclear strikes in all areas of South Korea. According to a press release published by the State Central News Agency of Korea (TsTAK), North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took part in the testing of “long-range rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons” on 04 May 2019. Two projectiles launched by North Korea on 09 May from Kusong, North Pyongan Province, were deemed to be identical in launch method and ballistic body type to a tactical guided weapon launched from the Hodo Peninsula in Wonson on 04 May 2019. Many military experts believed the projectiles were the short-range missile known as the “North Korean Iskander.” On May 10, the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) revised its assessment on the projectiles from “suspecting” to “concluding” that they were short-range missiles.

    The ROK JCS estimated that the first missile traveled a distance of 420 km and the second a distance of 270 km. While the missile’s maximum altitude had been estimated at 50km up until the day before, the number was revised to 45–50km in a National Assembly report that day. The transporter erector launcher (TEL) shown in the photograph was a tracked vehicle that differed from the wheeled vehicle observed on May 4. “In terms of its shape, it is similar to the ‘North Korean Iskander’ that North Korea unveiled at its military review on Feb. 8 of last year for the 70th anniversary of the North Korean military’s foundation, but because this would be the first time it was actually launched, we would have to analyze the specific data, flight trajectory, strike capabilities, and so forth before making a determination on whether it is a missile,” an MND official said.

    North Korea's missile tests on 04 and 09 May 2019 appear to be aimed at advancing solid fuel and guidance systems. the missiles were KN-23 short-range missiles similar to the Russian Iskander-type missiles. The South Korean military believes North Korea completed a solid-fuel booster for a short-range ballistic missile and is now starting to develop one for mid-range missiles that can reach targets more than 3,000 km away. North Korea in March of 2016 announced it succeeded in a ground test of such a solid-fuel engine. It then test-fired a Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched missile refitted with a solid-fuel booster in August 2016 and a Pukguksong-2 intermediate-range missile in February 2017.

    Michael Elleman concluded "The more likely explanation relates to the direct import of Iskander from either Russia or a third party. Pictures from the test launch support this explanation. As ... highlighted originally by German missile-specialist Markus Schiller, the debris generated by the launch in North Korea is a virtual match of a launch of Iskander conducted by Russia. This coincidence is compelling and fully consistent with the importation of a Russian-produced Iskander."

    KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M

    KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M

    US National Security Advisor John Bolton said 25 May 2019 that there was no doubt that North Korea violated UNSC resolutions. But during a news conference in Tokyo on 26 May 2019, President Donald Trump said that some of his senior officials think North Korea could have violated the resolutions, but he viewed it differently. He said "North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me."

    Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said North Korea's missile tests violated United Nations Security Council resolutions. Shanahan, currently on a tour of four Asian countries, criticized North Korea's short-range ballistic missile tests on 30 May 2019. Commenting on the difference in views between Trump and his senior officials, Shanahan said the administration is aligned for the full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that there is no wavering on that.

    Japan emphasized that North Korea's test-firing of short-range ballistic missiles was in violation of the UN Security Council's sanctions resolutions.

    Trump said 11 June 2019 that he believed his personal relationship with Kim will result in a deal eventually and cited another letter he received from Kim as a counterpoint to some of the harsh words directed at his negotiating team coming from North Korea’s state-controlled media. “The letter he sent was a beautiful letter. It was a very warm letter. That’s a very nice thing. And I don’t say that out of naiveté. I say that was a very nice letter,” Trump said. “I think North Korea has tremendous potential. And the one that feels that more than anybody is Kim Jong Un. He gets it. He totally gets it.... Look, in the meantime, he’s kept his word,” Trump said. “There’s no nuclear testing, there’s no large, you know, long-range missiles going up. The only thing he sent up were very short-term, short-range. That was just a test of short range. It’s a whole different deal.”

    North Korea formally announced 25 July 2019 its latest ballistic missile test, saying the launch was a warning to “military warmongers” in South Korea who are set to soon hold joint military exercises with the United States. North Korean state media showed pictures of Kim Jong Un personally supervising thetest of what it called a “new-type tactical guided weapon.” U.S. and South Korean officials say the projectile was a short-range ballistic missile. The official Korean Central News Agency said the test was meant “to send a solemn warning to the south Korean military warmongers who are running high fever in their moves to introduce the ultramodern offensive weapons into south Korea and hold military exercise in defiance of the repeated warnings.”

    South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said 26 July 2019 that a detailed assessment of North Korea's launch showed the two missiles both flew around 600 kilometers different from its initial estimate of around 430 and 690 kilometers. These figures are still provisional and that a final assessment will be carried out. The second missile flew nearly 700 kilometers, putting nearly all of the South Korean territory in its range.

    This capability would negate the South Korean "Kill Chain" preemptive counterforce posture, which is predicated on the warning provided by launch preparations of liquid propellant missiles, such as fueling the missile. The military said it's presumed to have been launched from the ground using a transporter erector launcher which means the missile could be moved to be launched from a desired location and not bound to a standard missile launch site making it harder to predict North Korea's movements in advance.

    Based on analysis jointly conducted with the U.S an official from the Joint Chiefs of Staff also confirmed that characteristics of the missiles were similar to Russia's Iskander-class ballistic missile system but that it seems to be a new version in which they're currently scrutinizing. The official added the gap in its estimates were mainly due to the missiles' flight trajectory flying in a northeasterly direction from North Korea to the East Sea but stressed any missile flying from North Korea in a southerly direction would have been detected with no glitch. The official also said the military is capable of detecting missiles launched using a transporter erector launcher but said it doesn't use all of its detection equipment and assets in monitoring movements in the North.

    According to Pyeongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency, the launch of short-range missiles was (quote) "personally organized" and overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un himself. It was intended as a show of force, it said, to warn South Korea against going ahead with the joint exercise despite the North's continued messages. "The South Korean authorities are showing a strange double-dealing behavior by organizing some peaceful handshakes and joint statements in public, but adopting ultra-modern offensive weapons and conducting joint military exercises behind the scenes."

    The North described the F-35 stealth jets that Seoul recently acquired as "offensive weapons" and stressed that the regime should further ramp up security to neutralize the threats. And in doing so, Pyeongyang is confident that the missile launch must have made some feel uneasy as its new tactical guided weapon is hard to intercept and is soon to be deployed. The North directed its message to South Korean President Moon Jae-in saying this is a warning Seoul should not ignore. "Leader Kim Jong-un advised the South Korean chief executive that he needs to realize the danger of suicidal acts like the introduction of ultra-modern weapons and military exercises and put a stop to them. Though he might take offense to this, the South Korean chief executive should not ignore today's warning from Pyeongyang."

    UN Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from launching ballistic missiles. But observers believe Pyongyang may have judged that Washington wouldn't strongly object as long as the launches involved only short-range missiles. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disclosed that North Korea's leader promised during the June 2019 summit with the US that it will avoid launching intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles. Pompeo said that aside from agreeing to resume negotiations with the US, Kim promised to avoid conducting nuclear tests and launching intermediate-range and long-range ballistic missiles.

    Seoul's defense ministry reiterated its previous stance that although missiles have been officially verified as "ballistic," it does NOT see them as a direct violation of the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement but that they do go against the spirit of said agreement in lowering tensions on the Peninsula.

    The military confirmed that the two missiles fired on 25 July 2019 both flew some 600 kilometers and were both similar to Russia's Iskander-class ballistic missile system which is known to be able to move away from its original trajectory to change its target or avoid being shot down. But the military also said it's capable of intercepting them with the existing Patriot anti-missile system. Anti-missile systems like the Patriot or the Terminal High-Altitude Defense system, THAAD were designed to shoot down missiles by analyzing their flight trajectory. Normally, ballistic missiles have a more complicated flying trajectory, making it harder to collect and predict data to shoot them down. Upon their descent, they drop steeply and finally hit their target vertically sometimes by changing their angle.

    What was noticeable about these launches is how the military have pointed out the so-called "pull-up" maneuver in the missiles' final dive phase as the main reason it took a day to finalize the missiles' flight distance. It had initially presumed the missiles had flown some 430 and 690 kilometers last Thursday but then corrected them to have flown some 600 kilometers the following day.

    The launches on 31 July 2019 flew a much shorter distance the previous week, flying some 250 kilometers and reaching an altitude of around 30 kilometers which is lower than the 50 kilometers recorded the past week. This may signify that the North is trying to find ways to evade the existing Patriot missile system which normally intercept targets at altitudes of around 40 kilometers.

    KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M

    Donald Trump said he wasn't upset at all about North Korea's firing of short-range missiles. Trump told reporters as such, during his gathering with the press at the Oval Office. Trump once again reiterated that he has a very good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and that the missiles were short-ranged, which many other countries have. When a reporter referred to North Korea's warning and the fact that close U.S. allies are within striking range, Trump said the missiles are standard ones, and that the North didn't say it was a warning to Washington. Trump said Pyongyang's missile firing was a warning to Seoul rather than Washington, as the short-range ballistic missiles are unable to reach US territories. "He [Kim] didn't send a warning to the United States," Trump said. "The two of them have their disputes."

    Here Trump is explicitly de-coupling American security from that of the supposed allied of the United States, South Korea and Japan. Trump is embracing the development of unequal zones of security, the idea that it is OK from the DPRK to be able to threaten South Korea and Japan, as long as it does not threaten the United States. Even before he was elected, Trump had denounced the whole idea of entangling alliances with other states, embracing French president Charles de Gaulle's oft-quoted observation [following Austrian statesman Prince Klemens von Metternich] that "states do not have friends, just interests". Trump explcitly endorsed Japanese acquisition of nuclear weapons, reversing 75 years of American policy.

    Students of the history of debates over strategic will recall that one of the arguments against the Strategic Defense Initiative was that it threatened to decouple US security from West European security through the creation of two unequal zones of security, with North America covered by a defensive shield and Western Europe naked to missile attack. In Germany, the Kohl government never dropped one of its conditions for supporting SDI—that there be no unequal zones of security.

    On 17 October 1994, Secretary General of NATO Willy Claes said " we must work with our new partners to the East to develop a cooperative approach to security and indeed a widening of our unique security community. This is a historical duty, and I consider its realisation the number one goal of my tenure as NATO Secretary General. We cannot accept unequal zones of security nor the isolation of any country. So the efforts the Alliance has undertaken, through the NACC and the PFP, to associate our partners with the work of NATO, and thereby spread security, must be pursued with vigour. "

    In August 2007, F. Stephen Larrabee, who holds the Corporate Chair in European Security at the RAND Corporation, wrote that "... current plans for deploying elements of a U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic are designed to provide protection against only long-range missile threats from Iran and North Korea, and they exclude southern Europe and Turkey, effectively dividing Europe into two unequal zones of security. This is bound to reinforce Turkey's sense of insecurity... "

    US President Donald Trump told reporters 09 August 2019 that he received a three-page letter from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and that the two would have more talks to resolve the impasse over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Trump did not specify the contents of the letter, or when talks with Kim would resume. Speaking to reporters,Trump said that the "really beautiful" letter was delivered by hand and that it was "very positive." After receiving the letter from Kim Jong Un, Trump said he was "never a fan" of joint US-South Korea war games. Trump indicated new talks could be ahead, even as North Korea continues to launch missiles. "I don't like paying for it. We should be reimbursed for it and I have told that to South Korea."

    KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M KN-23 Mobile SRBM / 9K720 Iskander-M

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    Page last modified: 18-09-2021 18:25:41 ZULU