Jeffrey LewisNorth Korean Targeting

Greetings from the old #nukefest2013.

For my regular column at Foreign Policy last week, I pondered the meaning of Kim Jong Un’s Map of Death.  In that post, I made some simple estimates of the four targets:

If one has but four targets to select, these four reflect a certain logic. North Korea is targeting both the national and theater leadership in Washington and Hawaii, as well as major U.S. military installations for naval operations (San Diego) and either long-range bomber missions (if it is Barksdale) or cyberattacks (if it is Lackland).

I really wasn’t sure about that fourth target — Barksdale or Lackland.  When everyone thought it was Austin, I thought it might be Lackland near San Antonio.  I was wrong.  We now have two unobstructed images of the map, I am reasonably certain the fourth target Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Lousiana.

It is relatively simply to try and trace the lines ending in the four targets.


The problem, of course, is Lt. Gen. Kim Rak Gyom’s kepi. His damned hat is in the way.

Now, however, North Korean state TV has broadcast two additional images that show the unobstructed map.  These are available on YouTube.  That gives us three shots of the map:

The two new pictures are sort of blurry, but the good news is that the crease on the map is eminently visible, which helps bound the possibilities.

Based on the new images, along with a high resolution version of the original, I think we can conclude with a relatively high degree of confidence that the line continues behind General Kim’s hat. There was some circumstantial evidence for this — in the high resolution version of the original image, one can see what appear to be arrowheads on the lines that terminate in Hawaii, South California and the District of Columbia.  No such arrowhead is visible for the fourth and last line, although there seems to be a lot of blurry text on the map that jumbles things up.

The relative positions of three targets — lets call them Oahu, San Diego and Washington, DC — check out against each other and allow us to infer the location of the fourth target.  The fact that the lines also trace back to North Korea is a nice sanity check. Here is an overlay — apologies for the vintage map, but it seems to be the closest match to the projection used by the North Koreans.

The mystery line would appear to end near Shreveport, Louisana, home of Barksdale Air Force Base, Air Force Global Strike Command and Steele Means. That’s a little easier to see on a contemporary map of the United States.


This method is pretty rough. But I’ve repeated it several times with many maps. There are limits to self-reporting, but my experience is that multiple iterations of this exercise results in a cluster of results around Shreveport.


Again, I think the targets are pretty straightforward.  Washington DC and PACOM are national and theater leadership targets. (Pearl Harbor is also homeport to the  USS Cheyenne.)  San Diego is the principal homeport of the Pacific Fleet (and the USS Decatur) and Barksdale is the home of Air Force Global Strike command.

It is interesting that Omaha gets a pass, as does Whiteman Air Force Base.


  1. Anon2 (History)


    The NK imagined targets are essentially immaterial. Almost certainly NK cannot hit them now. But…

    Your link to KCNA:

    “It is the invariable aim sought by the U.S. to reduce everything in the DPRK to ashes in a twinkle through surprise “preemptive nuclear strike” and thus secure a bridgehead for realizing its strategy for world hegemony.

    It is the truth learned by the DPRK in the course of protracted confrontation with the U.S. that neither peace nor prosperity of the nation nor national reunification can be achieved unless the U.S. imperialists are eliminated.”


    I’m sorry, but the above is the speech of a paranoid schizophrenic. How exactly can we allow a “person” so out of touch with reality to have nuclear weapons aimed at other people?

    Why would we allow someone like an Adam Lanza to have access to nuclear weapons to avenge imagined slights? If we could have pre-empted Mr. Lanza’s attack, is it not our moral obligation? There is something wrong here that global civil society needs to recognize.

    The KCNA propaganda is literally “insane”.

    • Magpie (History)

      General rule for all politicians of all types, everywhere and always: don’t look at what they say, look at what they do.

      NK acted rationally all along, given that the sole aim of national policy is the survival and continued power of The Latest Kim. These latest actions may be rational, depending on what their aim is (I guess we’ll see), but we don’t really have enough to go on yet (see also my massive flights of fancy elsewhere here – there is at least some possibility that these are well considered, rational actions. That was the point I was trying to make in all of those words: that might not be what’s happening – probably isn’t – but as long as any rational explanation exists I think it’s way premature to base any actions on the premise that Jong-un is “just a nut”).

      In either case, what KCNA says is almost entirely irrelevant, except as a possible Turing-test candidate.

    • Anon2 (History)


      “General rule for all politicians of all types, everywhere and always: don’t look at what they say, look at what they do.”

      Maybe true for normal politicians. Not for paranoid schizophrenics with guns. If Stalin told you he was going to kill you, and hold your daughter as his personal slave, and if he had a gun pointed at your face, are you going to ignore what he said?

      I personally do not believe Kim Jong Un is a paranoid schizophrenic. The people who write this stuff in the Ministry of Propaganda — I think they are absolutely paranoid or if not, instead people who would stop at nothing including murder of Americans to achieve their aims. And they have “programmed” the better part of 24 million people via conditioning to believe and act upon these instructions. Just like the Manchurian candidate, except it is the whole population has been exposed to this programming.

      This is a very dangerous situation because some people within their command infrastructure may not see through the propaganda, and may believe ‘It is the invariable aim sought by the U.S. to reduce everything in the DPRK to ashes in a twinkle through surprise “preemptive nuclear strike”’ and ‘that neither peace nor prosperity of the nation nor national reunification can be achieved unless the U.S. imperialists are eliminated.’

      Do you want some Colonel with his finger on the command to launch button who has been programmed with this since birth or whose mother may have died in the “great patriotic war”. The words of the KCNA are without a doubt paranoid and are a threat to “kill your family”.

      Kim Jong Un is different. He has lived in the West. His 80 year old “Uncles” in the army since the Korean Conflict may not know or care about anything else than the victory of the 1950 war.

    • JP (History)

      Does this whole situation not remind anyone else of Operation RYAN? Able Archer?

      It may seem “insane”, but this is exactly what Andropov and the Soviet leadership believed when they had KGB agents counting lights in the White House windows in the early 80s.

      I wouldn’t be so quick to brush it off as Ministry of Propaganda product, rather than the genuine feelings of a paranoid leadership.

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      Even though the propaganda may be “insane”, that does not mean the boy leader is a psycho. Unfortunately, being rational is no barrier against criminal conduct and no barrier to risk taking. Plenty of rational people jump out of airplanes, climb mountains, rob grocery stores, kill their spouses, and so forth.

      One popular “rational” explanation for the latest propaganda is that Kim needs to please his military leaders, who might be able to overthrow his regime. Another “rational” explanation is that he wants more aid, and is simply advertising how dangerous he could be, if the rest of us don’t pay up and pay dearly.

      North Korea’s actions, so far, do not paint a picture of imminent war. He has not amassed troops near the border, etc., only issued bizarre threats which few believe he can carry out right now. Of course, he is following an R&D trajectory that may someday create real threats directly for the U.S.

  2. George William Herbert (History)

    That’s an assertion of 11,000 km range.

  3. Sineva (History)

    Interesting that they appear to be going for counterforce rather than countervalue targeting,no threat of exchanging seoul for los angeles or some other large us urban center,as for the distances if the kn08 is based on the ss-n8 with some improvements then it might just be able to make that range,reliability wise on the other hand who can say

    • John Schilling (History)

      All of those targets are in urban areas, so there shouldn’t be any lack of general deterrent effect. My guess is that the targeting isn’t counterforce or countervalue, but counterpersonal. North Korea can’t plausibly conduct a meaningful countervalue strike against the United States, but it can plausibly threaten to kill the specific people who would have to give any order to attack North Korea.

      Well, it could if it had reliable, accurate ICBMs with 11,000 km range, and if the United States didn’t have a robust early warning system, and if our politicians and generals weren’t immediately replaceable. North Korea being a quasi-monarchy based on cult of personality, I can easily believe them not fully understanding that last bit.

  4. Sineva (History)

    “North Korea can’t plausibly conduct a meaningful countervalue strike against the United States”
    I guess that would depend on what one considers “meaningful” but I would imagine that the people living in the cities on the us west coast might be inclined to disagree with you on that one,of course it really depends on weather the us government is willing to exchange them,both cities and their inhabitants, for their dprk equivalents,as for the norths targets being in populated areas I believe thats referred to as collateral damage ie it was your own fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time

    • George William Herbert (History)

      It’s not really “the west coast”.

      If you look at the trajectories – and you can do this yourself in Google earth, just start a distance ruler measurement in say Pyonyang and start dragging the endpoint to places in the US – Greely is more or less right dead center in the middle of trajectories to the various continental US target locations.

      The closest point in the lower 48 is Seattle area. San Francisco, Salt Lake, and Minot are all roughly the same distance. San Diego, Denver, and Green Bay are all roughly the same distance. DC and Barksdale are both about 11,000 km, as is Pantex. It’s a bit more to Norfolk, a bit more to Kings Bay and that’s about as far a shot as they’d conceivably have any interest in taking, I can’t think of anything in Florida they’d be interested in.

      To put it in geographical perspective, the shot at Barksdale is nearly a direct overflight of Greely, a bit past halfway there.

      I took a quick screen snap in Google earth but I don’t think the formatting here lets us add photos/images to comments (entirely reasonable, but …)

  5. richard g maier IV (History)

    kim could have at least put the routes on a polar trajectory( where did the maps come from,golden book encylopedia?).you could run the barksdale line to savannah.just looks kind of foolish+hard to grasp,not seeing something on a polar route.rodman should have brought a globe on his recent visit.seriously,i do not want a korean castro for the rest of my days.had to live with that as a kid.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I suspect they didn’t wish to confuse the Young General.

  6. Juuso (History)

    This is another off topic post, but Jeffrey might be interested of this new 22 minute Second Artillery documentary.

  7. Anon2 (History)


    How about an article on the plusses and negatives of targeting the Musandan test with one or more interceptors (test launch rumored for today or tomorrow).

    Plus side:

    -Eliminates the opportunity for DPRK to get a clean test, particularly if destroyed during early boost phase. They will never know if Musandan works, and thereby lowering the incentive to use the missile for nuclear blackmail.

    -Demonstrates the Allies ability to defend against any hypothetical future DPRK nuclear missile. (Assuming the intercept works.)

    -Just in case the DPRK actually arms it with a warhead (yes, back to the crazy DPRK rhetoric), eliminates any chance that THIS missile is used to destroy an Allied target, potentially a population center.

    -Allies can claim a successful intercept even if the intercept fails, but the Musandan malfunctions on its own. As the failure probability of the Musandan is high on its own right, this allows a successful intercept claim for all outcomes except Musandan Success and Interceptor fail.

    -If the intercept occurs over international waters, not only is collateral damage minimized, but plausibly it is legal as a self defensive response.



    -Escalates further the tensions between the countries. May be seen as a hostile first move precipitating a war.

    -In the case where the intercept fails, removes the conflict stabilizing effect of a “likely” Allied intercept of any missile launch, and thus allows further nuclear coercion by the DPRK.

    -In the case where the intercept fails, makes a pre-emptive first strike more attractive for both sides as the Allies apparently cannot defend with high probability. This is inherently destabilizing from a conflict avoidance perspective.

    • j_kies (History)

      Can we please restrict ourselves to the domain of practical / tested engagements?

      The US has tested 1 and only one boost phase engagement, with kinetic weapons e.g. the ALHTK demonstration. In a credible sense we have 3 possible means of boost phase negation; 1) A high power rifle near the launch point (ID’ed by the NAS/NRC), 2) application of A-A missile up close and personal while the missile has dynamic behaviors like the aircraft that missile was designed against (AMRAAM etc) and 3) the Air-air combat cannon with a ‘dead-eye’ pilot on the trigger. (last means also fabled as a kill during the V2 raids in WWII)

      If you want to invoke boost phase via directed energy currently, please consider restricting yourself to posting in bad science fiction blogs.

    • John Schilling (History)

      I haven’t seen any details on exactly where the current pair of Musudan TELs are parked, but if “coastal launch site” is reasonably close to literal, I think we’d want to add Aegis/SM2 to the list. SM3, which is what we most often think of in terms of sea-based intercepts, is explicitly not a boost-phase system. SM2 is designed to engage fast, maneuvering aircraft as well as missiles, so it ought to be able to engage an IRBM early in boost phase when its trajectory is similar to that of a fast jet in a zoom climb.

      So, if the launch site isn’t too far inland, it should be possible for an Aegis cruiser or destroyer parked just outside Korea’s territorial waters to shoot down a Musudan on the way up. Kinematic details are left as an exercise for the student.

      This avoids all the problems of having to maintain permanent CAP over North Korea, but it would practically invite a Gulf-of-Tonkin style “misunderstanding” when the Norks start objecting to an American warship parked close to a sensitive segment of their coast.

    • j_kies (History)

      I am of the opinion that SM2/SM6 sorts of things likely don’t close the loop for the necessary stand-off and sensing/FC limitations. I would expect that if such capability existed, they would have already demonstrated it (choose a rationale) using a ballasted target to emulate the range/altitude time profile. As a corollary to the mythical nature of untested long range missiles, untested intercept scenarios are also inherently non-credible.

      You might wish to consider the problem when the aircraft starts at say 50Kft flying ‘toward-ish’ the missile launch; the physics is easy, consider timeline for the missile to match the aircraft altitude, the resulting coverage for aircraft starting points is small.

  8. Rob Goldston (History)

    It seems to me that another option to consider is taking out the missiles before they are launched. I would imagine that this would be legal, since North Korea has negated the cease-fire and threatened the U.S. and its allies with thermonuclear annihilation. It might also avoid the embarrassment (and worse) of missing a missile (headed to Tokyo?) with our interceptors. On the other hand, can we find the launchers? And, of course, would this start KW-II?

    • Anon2 (History)

      Rob Goldston and J Kies,

      Taking out the missiles on the TELs would certainly be more reliable and also safer for the aircrews than launching an AMRAAM or trying to use the F-16 to Dogfight the missile with the cannon. Otherwise, the F-16/F-15/F-22 needs to orbit for hours just outside the North Korean SAM/AAA range (presumably outside of NK airspace), waiting to sprint and run in to the target at “just the right time”. If the standoff range is say 20 miles it is doubtful that the fighter could get to within the envelope of the AMRAAM to hit the NK missile during its accelerating boost phase (which is undoubtedly starting a at a few G’s) so as to chase down the Musudan. (Which I misspelled in my earlier post.)

      Of course during this run-in, the fighter is subject to its own anti-air threats from the NK defenses.

      However, coming in using stealth to plonk 3 Musudan’s on the TEL at a more indefinite time from the maximum available altitude and slant range, using a laser designator to put the bomb on target, seems comparatively more reliable.

      Finally, I pretty sure Kies is being facetious about using the cannon. The missile can ultimately out accelerate and climb the jet, so the envelope to be diving in at the right place at the right time for the right high angle off tail shot is so limited to be virtually impossible. Maybe some lucky P-51 guy did it in WW-II, but also think of the debris field of a fueled V2 — I have to think if the story is true he was really lucky (or flying a P-47 that could take the hits).

      None-the-less, I think this is a fun basic physics problem.

      For the Musudan, the initial acceleration would be around 23000/14200 = 1.6 G’s (if my physics and data sources serves me) which is I believe beyond the acceleration available to the current fighters going straight up. Of course the Musudan is burning off propellant and thus increasing its acceleration. Subtracting away the reverse acceleration of gravity, starting at net 0.6 * 9.8 m/s^2 and ignoring air resistance which works in the reverse against the decrease in mass, the missile passes through Mach 1 in around 30 seconds and Mach 2 in around 1 minute. Assuming the fighter rapidly accelerates in a dive to mach 2 itself, it must be loitering within 20 miles and must be at exactly the right place to arrange its spray of bullets for the missile to fly through it before it is outside of its cannon intercept envelop. Good luck. Talk about a golden BB. Is my math close to right?


  9. Anon2 (History)

    ‘An armed attack by the USA on North Korea fits anyone’s definition of “a war”.’

    And this attack exactly differs from Cheonan attack and the shelling of Yeonpyeong by what?

    According to your definition, we are on to at least the 4th Korean War.

    I think most of us would define a war as is a generalized mobilization of offensive capability against another country, not a limited defensive attack where only a few unlucky military personnel and missiles are destroyed.

    The problem here is not the defensive (pre-emptive) attack by the U.S., it is that the North Korean response might be to escalate to a full war.

    By the way — assuming the Musudan uses NTO and UDMH, isn’t this stuff corrosive? The current press that I have been monitoring says that the missiles have been fueled.

    Doesn’t this commit the DPRK to launch unless they want a BFRC?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Anon2 writes:
      By the way — assuming the Musudan uses NTO and UDMH, isn’t this stuff corrosive? The current press that I have been monitoring says that the missiles have been fueled.

      Doesn’t this commit the DPRK to launch unless they want a BFRC?

      UDMH is not corrosive to metals but can dissolve some plastics.

      NTO is not really that corrosive to Aluminum. Fueled Titan missiles sat in silos for … 25? 30? Years; Soviet R-27 SLBMs from the 60s were retired in the late 80s, factory loaded and sealed.

      If anything the older Acid (RFNA) units will see corrosion.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      The propellant is storable. Recall that these were to be deployed on submarines by the Soviets.

    • Anon2 (History)

      Jeffrey and GWH,

      Thank you for the reply. I was under the mistaken impression that the NTO or UDMH attacked the aluminum fuel or oxidizer tanks in the missile. I was fairly certain that the propellant components could be stored outside the missile indefinitely.

      Otherwise I am hoping that the recent front page of People’s Daily “nudge” gets the missiles de-fueled and put away. I am very concerned of a Kim Il-Sung birthday nuclear fireworks display coming to some open ocean “test range” to finish the negotiating ratchet up.

      If there is a 50% chance that the missiles on the TEL are nuclear birthday demonstrators, an intercept before an open ocean demonstration would prevent the DPRK from achieving negotiating leverage (by the demonstration), as the risk of a full scale DPRK attack after a successful defensive intercept would be lower than the risk of further nuclear blackmail following a completed weapons system demonstration.

      The problem remains that risk of a failed intercept showing that the missile defense system has “no clothes”.

      I would assume that the people making the decisions have intelligence if the missiles are armed with nuclear warheads or not.

      So we go back to Goldstone’s defense: if the missiles are known armed or 50% probably armed with warheads, plonk them on the pad with a LGB or video guided missile. If they are known with high probability to be simple missiles without warheads, we can afford to wait. If there is high uncertainty (low intelligence quality), we have the Dirty Harry question of the day: “Do you feel lucky (punk)”. (Or, Happy Birthday Mr. President.)

      Mr. Kies,

      I just went through the full exercise. I figure — why publish here and help the DPRK. I leave it to the allied military to do the exercise to consider using active inventory fighters and missiles to intercept. I’ve actually been involved in this type of design work before for an unclassified project (and I would only work for the United States).

    • rwendland (History)

      While UDMH & NTO are storable, note that NTO is only liquid –11°C to 21°C constraining the conditions it could be left in the missile for a long time. While the NTO trucks could be equipped with heaters & chillers to keep the NTO in that temp range, it seems unlikely NTO could be heated/chilled when in the missile. Or maybe the idea is to hide in temp controlled tunnels, and launch fairly quickly once outside.

      NTO only seems well suited to silo or submarine deployment, where the environment can easily be controlled.

      I’m beginning to favour the idea the Musudan uses Scud/Nodong fuels, like the Unha-3 second stage. According to Markus’ RAND paper (Fig. A.3), that would make the range 1,250 to 1,700 km assuming aluminium construction.

      That could have the huge political advantage that NK might do a short range test without overflying Japan. (Though can ~400 km altitude be called overflying?)

    • rwendland (History)

      … re NTO limited liquid temp range, googling I find this was discussed last year on ACW. John Schilling made the point the boiling point would be higher in the pressurised tanks, and that additives could be used to extend the liquid phase temp range. So the problem is not as severe as first appears. Nevertheless it is not ideal, and I believe the Soviets never used NTO + any additives for a land mobile missile.

    • Cthippo (History)

      Let me give you an example that’s more relatible…

      You got a BBQ? How do you check if you have gas for it? You shake the tank and if you feel liquid sloshing around in there you have gas, right? Propane has a boiling point of -44 degrees F, but because it’s stored under pressure it remains a liquid at ambient temperatures. When you take some of the propane out to cook your dead cow parts, the prressure decreases and some of the liquid boils off and raises the pressure again until it reaches equilibrium.

      Same with NTO. As long as it’s under pressure it will remain in a liquid state without refrigeration despite it’s boiling point.

    • rwendland (History)

      True Cthippo, but your example illustrates another aspect of my point. Propane tanks are heavy and strong to resist the pressure – you’d prefer not to have to build heavier/stronger NTO tanks on a missile.

      I’ve dug out an old USAF NTO manual (DTIC Accession Number: ADA036741). It has a charts (page 2.3-8 & 2.3-11) of Vapor Pressure for NTO & MON-10 (NTO + 10% NO):

      0C: 0.25 / 0.55 atmospheres
      10C: 0.45 / 1.0 atm
      20C: 0.75 / 1.6 atm
      30C: 1.2 / 2.4 atm
      40C: n-a / 3.6 atm
      50C: n-a / 5.2 atm

      So if you wanted to leave an unchilled missile out in the NK summer sun safely for a long time, you’d probably have to build an NTO tank to resist roughly 3.5 atm, rather than roughly 2 atm for a silo/sub. I’d guess that extra tank mass would lose quite a bit of the missile’s performance.

      (NB strangely the manual does not seem to have a vapor pressure chart for the popular MON-3, nor beyond 36C for pure NTO – I guess the USAF thinks no-one would allow pure NTO to get above 36C.)

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I am surprised the aren’t canistering the thing. Maybe the wanted to show the missiles for the parade.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Rwendland wrote:
      So if you wanted to leave an unchilled missile out in the NK summer sun safely for a long time, you’d probably have to build an NTO tank to resist roughly 3.5 atm, rather than roughly 2 atm for a silo/sub. I’d guess that extra tank mass would lose quite a bit of the missile’s performance.

      getting numerical…

      3.5 atm is about 52 Psi; with a 72 inch airframe that is about 1872 lbf resisted per linear inch of tank wall in hoop stress. Quadruple that for margin to 7488 lbf strength required. With Al6mg that would be about 0.20 inch thick.

      That is about as thin as easy aluminum welds with MiG processing go anyways, and is plenty light enough.

    • rwendland (History)

      Thanks George. I’m not that familiar with the engineering and metal stuff, so that is very useful. I find that pretty convincing that NTO in the summer sun isn’t that much of a problem, contrary to what I first thought.

      Out of interest I estimated the mass of 0.2 inch (5.08 mm) Musaden NTO tank at around 400 kg. So while significant, less than the warhead.

      I couldn’t find a source for the NTO tank size, so I guessed 5 metres long & 1.5m diameter, and for a simple cylinder:

      0.00508 * ((1.5*pi * 5) + (2 * (pi*0.75^2))) = 0.138 m^3 volume Al
      0.138 * 2700 = 372.6 kg

    • j_kies (History)

      Quibbles – not minor
      Static margins are all fine for uniform processes and materials – what about appropriate safety factors? For extra credit, lets ask about the heat treatment and work to remove stress concentrations at the weld points? Not to mention the lovely work to passivate the tankage before you insert those ‘storable’ oxidizers…

      Ok so for the logistics, its a TEL right, so you have this thing fueled in the ‘hide’ and you drive out to a launch point and erect it… What structure margins did you insert for the lateral loading of the missile bouncing on the average NK roads?

      If we ignore the symbolism of the TEL and assume they drive it around empty go to a launch spot, erect it, fuel and prep (from some other gaggle of vehicles) anyone wish to consider how many vehicles, how many minutes and all with untrained/exceedingly limited crew training.

      Again, the math of structures are easy to estimate, consider the usage and put in the appropriate margins before you get too excited about unicorns and elves.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      j klies writes:
      Static margins are all fine for uniform processes and materials – what about appropriate safety factors? For extra credit, lets ask about the heat treatment and work to remove stress concentrations at the weld points? Not to mention the lovely work to passivate the tankage before you insert those ‘storable’ oxidizers…

      I’ve been designing rocket propellant tanks for decades, though most of those were on paper. A few got built. I know on a first name basis the engineers at most of the startup space companies who design and build propellant tanks, etc. I missed their usual annual conference last weekend due to illness, or I would have been drinking with them (the rocket fuel pump margarita machine? epic.).

      I used a static factor of safety of 4.0 for a simple rough analysis. This is close to the 4.2 required for civilian transport or ground use pressure vessels in the US.

      Usual unattended pressurize/depressurize margins for rockets are 1.5, some highly engineered vehicles are more like 1.25. Near people those margins get marginally higher, though few others use the 2.0 margins I typically go for in non-mass-critical stages.

      Heat treatment is not applicable to the alloys in an Unha tank (Al6Mg), the 5-series US alloys (5059, 5083, 5086, 5456), and so forth. They’re stress hardened rather than heat treated. Welds are a little weaker than the base metal, yes. 10-20% UTS loss in the HAZ is not unheard of. You deal with it.

      7-series alloys and 6-series alloys heat treat. You can re-temper after welding if you need to. Or just use 5-series alloys.

      That is as far as I’m going to go somewhere that is read by proliferators. Please believe me that I know how to deal with passivation and stress concentrations, though. Everything I wrote above is obviously known already by North Korea and Iran.

    • j_kies (History)

      I do agree that for hoop stress and such your structure numbers make sense (providing the NK alloy sheets are fairly uniform in composition and quality). These are reasonable structures for a vertically assembled and fueled missile like an SLV.

      However; I cannot accept this as a viable design for a fueled missile transported horizontally by truck and then erected at a launching site. The R11/R17 family has very different scaling and structures (and margins that permitted assembly by limited skills slave labor for the A4/V2).

      If we assess a Musudan as a TEL fired system that is transported loaded, the resulting structures provide substantially less range-payload than other views. If we assess a Musudan as a system fueled at the launch site, the range-payload space may approach your design limits but the fueling process essentially negate the military advantages of mobility.

      Given the totality of parades and releases in the context of design engineering; I anxiously await the BFRC on attempted Musudan TEL launch.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      We do not know if it’s transported fueled or not.

      If it’s a prefueled road mobile ICBM that would be a first, and the stresses would be 6-8 times higher than if transported unfueled, and risk of structural problems much higher.

      For their other mobile missiles they appear to follow Scud practice of fueling after missile erection at launch site. Those mostly use IRFNA rather than NTO, but the toxicity of NTO is only an increment worse (IRFNA contains typically 20% NTO, anyways).

      It would not be unusual if the missile were transported empty and with a slight internal tank overpressure of inert gas or air, used to induce a slight tensile preload to all the structures and ensure nothing dropped into compressive loading in the tank structures due to transport vibration or gross bending / transportation movement loads.

      Scuds are not known for having serious reliability problems after being driven around. This is bigger (over 2x the diameter, etc) but the character of the transportation problem is not hugely different. If transported empty.

      I do not think we know enough to answer the question of whether it’s pre fueled or not. The SS-N-6 / R-27 we think some of its technology (and the BM-25 Musudan’s apparent immediate predecessor, perhaps) came from is pre fueled, as are the newer multistage Makeyev SLBMs. That does not mean that a Musudan or KN-08 must be pre fueled.

      I do know enough about the size, other missiles, and engineering to be able to say that IF it is transported empty, the loads due to transport don’t seem to be a big deal. I wouldn’t drive it on dirt roads or offroad, but it should be able to be made survivable for normal road driving. Leveling and paving roads to all the missile shelter bunkers and launch sites does seem to be an activity NK can successfully achieve.

      Assuming that they must pre fuel and that the loads therefore will break the missile seems to imply that their engineers would be incompetent, despite having successfully made a new IRBM or SRBM design every 3, 4, 5 years or so for decades, and having (eventually) succeeded at an orbital launch with a larger rocket / missile. I believe that they have demonstrated enough competence that it’s unwise to assert that they must have gotten this one wrong. They could have, anyone can always miss something or be blind to an error. But it’s rather arrogant to assert they could not have gotten it right, and there exists an engineering approach which should solve the problem.

      Even if it is pre fueled, it might be able to be made tough enough / strong enough / pre-pressurized enough to handle transport loads. I’m NOT going to go off into a public engineering analysis of that; that would be proliferation sensitive. But it’s not beyond the credible that a solution could exist out there.

    • j_kies (History)

      All fair comments – stuff we don’t know we don’t know – however let me simplify: If the structures are beefy enough to take the same handling as the Scud family that NK has experience with then the Musudan cannot range Guam with the expected payload. If they take the Jupiter path of empty transport to launch point where they fuel and prep the missile, lots of indications and warning are available to make the system “JDAM Bait”.

      The KN-08 has the same problems amplified for the greater range requiring even smaller structure margins and higher energetics. Neither the Soviets nor the US took that path (road mobile LR liquids) and all prior NK missiles live within the Soviet design parameters.(Some old guys express amazement that anyone would believe the NK’s would uniquely do something like a KN-08) Given public information, engineering analysis and US/Soviet development history; if asked, I would assess the KN-08 as a pure maskirovka exercise with fairly high confidence.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      j_kies writes in part:
      If the structures are beefy enough to take the same handling as the Scud family that NK has experience with then the Musudan cannot range Guam with the expected payload. If they take the Jupiter path of empty transport to launch point where they fuel and prep the missile, lots of indications and warning are available to make the system “JDAM Bait”.

      Keep in mind that Scuds are steel and the SS-N-6 / R-27 missile are aluminum. As are Unha (recovered stages, Al6Mg). Encapsulated R-27 (and followon R-29 series, etc) are road or road-rail transported thousands of kilometers from the Makeyev factory to both west and east coast Russian sub bases, fully fueled, though that’s not repeated all that many times and encapsulation makes the support a lot more consistent.

      We do not know how much R-27 technology is in the Musudan – it could be a Unha-like tank with ribs and flat sheet skin, for all we know, just with a R-27 motor and propellants. We really don’t know. But we should probably not baseline it as being heavier on a per cubic meter basis than Unha’s stages unless there’s a good reason to do so.

  10. SQ (History)

    Settling aside the debates over actual missile capability, I’d like to pause to salute the author.

    Jeffrey, this is as fine a piece of decoding an encoded set of signals as I can remember seeing in some time. A very thorough analysis — you went the extra mile by finding that YouTube video, the vintage map of the Pacific, etc.

    Well done.

    As for the kepi, here’s to the day when you can visit Pyongyang and buy kitsch like that from a street vendor the way you can in the Old Arbat in Moscow today.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Thanks – I was so disappointed at the non-reaction that I couldn’t bring myself to even look at blog for days.

      You cheered me up.

  11. ChrisV (History)
    (See map at 2:50-to-3:15)

    One target is in Texas.

    I can make out the narrator saying “Washington DC” but that’s it (Translator needed).

    • Anon2 (History)

      And Colorado Springs Strategic (something), and Hawaii.

    • Anon2 (History)


      I saw you quoted in the Washington Post for pointing out in a tweet that Colorado Springs was mis-marked on the map.

      Did you pick that up from me (so I can gloat, Anonymously)??

      Glad to be of service.


    • Jeffrey (History)

      Depends who you are on Twitter.

    • Anon2 (History)

      “Depends who you are on Twitter.”

      I am the Nomad probe from Star Trek 1967. I am searching for the Creator, Dr. Jeffrey Roykirk. Are you the Creator?


      On another note, can they de-fuel/de-oxidize the unlaunched Musudans safely (i.e. without killing their slave labor)?

  12. Anon2 (History)

    A few people have commented that Kim Jong Un has not been seen publicly since April 1st.

    Surprise, he shows up at midnight with a bunch of generals in this NK website:

    How come Kim Jong Un’s image is the only one that doesn’t change the shading in the pixellation of the polished granite floor? It could be a Photoshop job. Is there someone else who is better at detecting Photoshop type manipulation. Is it just me, or does there appear to be a person behind the image of Kim Jong Un that is covered up, maybe in that light grey military uniform?

    This all goes away if we see a video of Kim giving a speech tomorrow on his Grandfather’s Birthday that does not look computer animated. All of this is getting a little bit tin-foil hat weird.

  13. sineva (History)

    “On another note, can they de-fuel/de-oxidize the unlaunched Musudans safely (i.e. without killing their slave labor)?”

    I would imagine that the people involved in this potentially very dangerous process are highly trained and competent professionals for obvious reasons,the nazis may have used slave workers to build v2`s but the fueling and firing were carried out by highly trained military technicians, in addition I would imagine that the north koreans would have a great deal of experience in the fueling and defueling of all their liquid fuel missile types as they`ve been doing it since the late 1980s

    • George William Herbert (History)

      The oxidizer in a Scud isn’t that much less toxic than NTO; it CONTAINS some NTO, it’s IRFNA, which is Inhibited (0.6% HF) Red Fuming Nitric Acid. The Red Fuming part is NTO (or rather, conditions-dependent mixes of NO2 and N2O4, with a shifting equilibrium yadda yadda…).

      Not quite as red-cloudy as a pure NTO BFRC, but more corrosive of metals and organics if it spills (and any such corrosion? produces NTO…).

      You routinely see people in scud user nations fueling or defueling without chemical warfare gear. *bangs head on table*

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