North Korea’s persistent pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has fueled international concerns for decades. Through a series of missile tests, the reclusive nation, led by the Kim dynasty, has demonstrated advancing capabilities, raising alarms globally. This article provides a concise examination of North Korea’s ballistic missile arsenal, highlighting its unique features, and capabilities. The ongoing challenge for the international community lies in navigating the complexities of North Korea’s strategic motivations while addressing the broader implications for global security and nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
North Korea’s Ballistic Missiles
The Hwasong-15, also known as the KN-22, is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that was developed and is currently possessed by North Korea. This missile is designed to be mobile and can be launched from various platforms. It has a length ranging from 21 to 22.5 meters and a diameter of 2.0 to 2.4 meters. The Hwasong-15 utilizes a two-stage, liquid-fuelled propulsion system. With an estimated operational range of 8,500 to 13,000 kilometers, it has the potential to reach any part of the United States mainland. On 28 November 2017, the missile successfully its first flight. It is believed to weigh 72,000 kilograms and is capable of carrying a sizable nuclear warhead. The propellant used in the Hwasong-15 is N2O4 / UDMH.
The Hwasong-14, also referred to as the KN-20 is an intercontinental ballistic missile developed by North Korea. Its first test took place on July 4, 2017. This missile features a single-stage design with a primary engine accompanied by four vernier engines. With an estimated range exceeding 10,000 km, the Hwasong-14 was created and remains under the possession of North Korea. It boasts road-mobile capabilities and can be launched from various platforms. The missile measures 19.8 meters in length and has a diameter of 1.85 meters. Although its launch weight is undisclosed, it can carry either a high explosive or nuclear payload. Powered by a two-stage, liquid-fuelled propulsion system, the Hwasong-14 demonstrates the ability to reach a substantial portion of the continental United States, as well as select areas in Europe and Australia.
The Hwasong-12, also referred to as the KN-17, is an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that was developed by North Korea and is currently in their possession. This missile follows a single-stage design, utilizing a primary engine in addition to four vernier engines. Its estimated range falls between 3,700 kilometrekilometers0 kilometers. The Hwasong-12 is a road-mobile missile and is launched using a transporter-erector launcher. It has a length of 17.4 meters and a diameter of 1.65 meters. The exact launch weight of the missile remains unknown. It can carry a single warhead weighing 500 kg, which can be either nuclear or conventional. The missile operates on a single-stage, liquid propellant propulsion system. Its operational range is estimated to be 4,500 km, enabling it to potentially target Japan, Guam, and other Pacific region allies of the United States.
The Pukguksong-3, also referred to as the KN-26, Pukkuksong-3, Pukgeuksong-3, or Bukgeuksong-3, is a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that has been developed by North Korea and is currently in their possession. On October 2, 2019, the missile underwent its first successful test launch. With an estimated length ranging from 7.8 to 8.3 meters and a diameter of approximately 1.5 meters, specific details regarding its launch weight and payload remain unknown. The missile utilizes a solid propellant propulsion system and is believed to have an operational range of 1,900 km. This range enables it to be launched from a submerged submarine, posing a potential threat to South Korea, Japan, and other neighboring countries.
The KN-23, a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) developed by North Korea, shares similarities in appearance with the Russian Iskander-M and South Korean Hyunmoo-2B SRBMs. It is designed to have a range of approximately 450 km when carrying a standard payload, and it is launched from a wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). The origin of the KN-23 is a subject of dispute, but it is currently in possession of North Korea. This road-mobile missile measures 7.5 meters in length and has a diameter of 0.95 meters. With a launch weight of 3,415 kg, it is capable of carrying a payload of 500 kg. The missile utilizes a single-stage, solid propellant propulsion system. Its operational range is estimated to be 690 km, enabling it to target areas in South Korea and parts of Japan.