UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

KN-15 Pukguksong-2 MRBM

North Korea's Pukguksong-2 mid-range missile is probably the leading contender for a widely deployed medium range [2500 km] ballistic missile. Probably it was in competition with the Musudan missile for this role. But the solid-propellant Pukguksong has had a generally successful test program, while the Musudan flight test program has been singularly unsuccessful. The tracked Pukguksong transported would have greater off-road mobility [and thus survivability against ROK/USA attack] than the road-modile wheeled Musudan launcher.

Evidently the Pukguksong-2 is the land-based variant of the previously tested solid propellant submarine launched ballistic missile, for which no designation is associated. The demonstrated pop-up cold launch ejection system would be imperative for the underwater launch of a missile from a submerged submarine.

The Pukguksong-2 is nuclear-capable, state media claims, and the DPRK says it can travel from 3,000 to 5,500 kilometers (1,900 to 3,400 miles), though Western estimates are more in the range of 2,500 km. There needs to be a further analysis of the Pukguksong-2... because this was its first launch, but some experts say that when launched at a 70 degree angle it could have a range similar to that of the Musudan, which is three-thousand kilometers.

The missile's name - Pukguksong-2 - translates as North Star or Polaris, the same name of the first US submarine-launched missile. This name is not previously associated with a North Korean missile. The "Pukguksong-2" appears to be considerably larger than the earlier "Pukguksong-1" sea launched variant.

The Transporter- Erector- Launcher [TEL] is fully tracked with 8 road wheels, unlike previously seen TELs which were wheeled. This reduced stress on the suspension and still giving it a respectable top speed, with a compromise on maneuvability. The hull appears to be a modified version of the IS-3 heavy tank with the same distinctive steel road wheels. The suspension has been heavily modified.

The overall impression is highly similar to the Soviet's RT-15 / RT-2P SS-14 SCAMP / SCAPEGOAT of the early 1960s, an MRBM with a TEL based on the IS-3 chassis with 8 road wheels. Some details differ. The Pukguksong TEL is rather more elegant, and the two stages of the Pukguksong missile are of constant diameter, while the SS-14 second stage had a smaller diameter than the first stage. The SS-14 missile was erected out of the coffin-lid protective containter, while the Pukguksong cannister is erected with the missile inside. The SS-14 was hot launched, requiring a meter or so of space beneath the erected missile, while the cold launch Pukguksong sits on a "stool" of the sort seen in Chinese missiles. As of the SS-14, a later SPU 15U59 TEL erected the missile inside the cannister, though retaining the hot lanch mode.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the mid-range missile North Korea fired appeared to be an upgraded version of its submarine-launched ballistic missile. "This is an upgraded version of the SLBM on land. North Korea has also developed a launch pad that is capable of conducting a cold launch, which is used to launch missiles from submarines." South Korea's defense ministry also affirmed North Korea's claim that a solid fuel engine was used to launch the missile.

Experts say that compared to liquid fuel, solid fuel engines take less time to fill and the fuel can be stored for a long period of time in the missile. They also say that when this type of missile is attached to a mobile launch pad, North Korea could launch it at any time and from any place, making it harder for Seoul and Washington to detect the missile before launch. "There is a reason North Korea prefers solid fuel. Liquid fuel is difficult to inject and takes a long time. Solid fuel engines are more combat proficient and it would be hard for Seoul to use the Kill Chain system to launch a pre-emptive strike (on a solid fuel missile)."

Ken Gause, a senior North Korea analyst at CNA Corporation, characterized the launch as a purposely restrained message, and said North Korea was testing Washington to see the nature of the U.S. response and whether it would represent a shift in strategy from the Obama administration.

However, Robert Manning, a senior analyst at the Atlantic Council said it would be a mistake to see Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests as mere provocations. He characterized the launch, and the North's efforts to develop missiles and nuclear weapons over the past 35 years, as a North Korean version of Eisenhower's "massive retaliation" nuclear strategy of the 1950s to compensate for shortcomings in conventional military capabilities.

In addition, U.S. lawmaker Cory Gardner, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, has called for a secondary boycott of Chinese companies that do business with North Korea.

Existing UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea ban any kind of launches using ballistic missile technology. On top of that, China's foreign ministry has expressed its objections to the launch. "China opposes North Korea's violation of U.N. resolutions by carrying out the relevant (missile) launches. At the present condition, the relevant parties should not anything mutually provocative that might worsen tensions on the Korean Peninsula."

Regardless of the motive, the launch is being considered as a grave provocation and North Korea is expected to draw international condemnation at a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council slated for Monday in New York.

North Korea's missile launch prompted calls among some for a revision in South Korea's preemptive strike capabilities. The newly developed intermediate-range ballistic missile can be fired from a mobile launcher without loading fuel in a process experts warn could be completed in just a few minutes. Representative Lee Cheol-woo of the [newly named] Liberty Korea Party compared the missile to those launched from submarines, saying they are virtually impossible to strike preemptively. He and other policymakers said it was time to take a fresh look at South Korea's "Kill Chain" and "KAMD" (Korean Air and Missile Defense)" preemptive strike systems and make adjustments as necessary.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 13-09-2021 11:32:08 ZULU