In response to the growing obsolescence of its conventional military capabilities, North Korea has strategically pivoted towards a national security approach centered on asymmetric capabilities and the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This strategic shift is crucial for Pyongyang’s defense, given its imperative to deter external threats to the Kim family regime.
Short and Medium-Range Arsenal: Evolution of Missile Technologies
Legacy Systems and Solid-Fueled Missiles (2019): North Korea’s short- and medium-range capabilities encompass a range of artillery, short-range rockets, and legacy Scud-based and No-Dong missiles. In 2019, the country showcased advancements with the testing of new short-range, solid-fueled missiles, including the KN-23 and KN-25. These developments signify North Korea’s ongoing commitment to enhancing its missile arsenal.
Long-Range Missile Technology: From ICBMs to Space Launch Program
Intercontinental Ambitions (2017): North Korea made significant strides in long-range missile technology, conducting its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, the Hwasong-14, in July 2017. This was followed by the Hwasong-15 test in November 2017, indicating a shift towards heavier ICBM designs. The Unha (Taepo-Dong 2) space launch program played a role in developing this technology, enabling North Korea to put crude satellites into orbit. While the KN-08 and KN-14 long-range ballistic missiles have been displayed, their current status remains uncertain, as they have not undergone flight testing.
Specific Missile Systems: Features and Range Capabilities
Hwasong 7 (Nodong 1): Serving as a North Korean medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), the Hwasong 7 boasts a range of at least 1,200 km. Its design influenced the Iranian Shahab-3 MRBM and Pakistan’s Hatf-7 Ghauri.
KN-23 and KN-25: These short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) represent North Korea’s commitment to technological advancements. The KN-23, with a range of 690 km, showcases a quasi-ballistic trajectory, while the KN-25, tested in August 2019, blurs the lines between multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) and SRBMs.
Hwasong-15 (KN-22) and Hwasong-13 (KN-08 / KN-14): The Hwasong-15 stands as an intercontinental ballistic missile with an estimated range of up to 13,000 km, while the Hwasong-13, an experimental ICBM, displayed in 2012 and 2015, has since ceased public appearances, raising questions about its operational status.
Navigating North Korea’s Missile Dynamics
In navigating North Korea’s missile dynamics, the nation’s strategic focus on asymmetric capabilities and WMDs emerges as a response to its evolving security landscape. From short-range advancements to long-range ambitions, the intricate web of missile systems underscores Pyongyang’s commitment to maintaining a credible defense posture. The shifting status of specific missile programs adds an element of uncertainty, emphasizing the need for continuous monitoring of North Korea’s strategic developments.