Scott LaFoyAir-Launched Cruise Missiles in Uiju, DPRK.

This article was co-authored with Jeffrey Lewis, who pulled the historical documents and made the connection between the KN05 and the Styx storage site. 

North Korea has air-launched cruise missiles, and it looks like they store them at an airfield in Uiju, near the PRC border. We normally talk about the DPRK’s ballistic missile programs due to their high-profile nature and the extensive media coverage afforded to them. The DPRK puts its ballistic missiles on display and incorporates them into strategic propaganda. The DPRK does this less often with its cruise missiles, particularly its  air-launched cruise missiles, which are quietly tested without much announcement and no camera coverage. It is unclear if this is due to their strategic value or due to problems with the program, information about the ALCMs has to come from external analysis

Based on Ankit Panda’s writing, declassified NPIC data, and satellite imagery, we believe that the KN05 is probably stored at an expansion to a legacy air-launched cruise missile storage facility attached to Uiju airfield, near Sinuiju and the PRC border. This facility would likely be the initial staging point for ALCM testing in Korea Bay.

Ankit Panda’s new book Kim Jong Un and the Bomb lists, in its appendix, the KN05 missile as a previously “publicly unseen” air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) that is the DPRK’s only flight-tested ALCM. It is a modified Kh-35 anti-ship cruise missile, which also has a ground-launched variant known as the KN01 STORMPETREL. Prior to Panda’s book, the existence of an air-launched variant of the Kh-35 in the DPRK was speculated, but never reported as fact. 

Uiju-Up Airfield and associated storage facilities


Uiju has been historically associated with the DPRK’s secretive air-launched cruise/anti-ship missile programs and is one of the few airbases that can effectively host the DPRK’s aging Ilyushin Il-28 bomber. The IL-28 has also previously been associated with older DPRK air-launched cruise missile programs. 

There have been several previous reports of the DPRK testing air-launched anti-ship or cruise missiles, but these have tended to associate these tests with an air-launched Styx anti-ship missile variant. In 2008 and again in 2011 Yonhap news carried stories that air-launch Styx were fired from an IL-28 bomber. The 2008 story additionally reports that an AN-2, a single-engine biplane better known for paratrooper and special forces use in the DPRK, may have fired two Styx missiles, but also notes how unlikely this is due to the size of both the An-2 and Styx missiles. It may be the case that information was conveyed to Yonhap incorrectly or in an incomplete state, and that the larger An-24 transport aircraft was involved as an experimental ALCM launch platform. However there are no other additional reports of An-2 or An-24-launched ALCMs. 

Ankit Panda’s writing indicates that the KN05/Kh-35 is the only ALCM that the DPRK has flight-tested, bringing into question if the 2008 and 2011 flight tests were not of the Styx, but of the KN05/Kh-35 instead. Other analysts, including Haena Jo, have speculated that this may have been the case, or that the Kh-35 would at least be the logical successor to the Styx within the DPRK’s air force. 

The Historical Styx ALCM Program

In the mid-1980s, NPIC identified that the DPRK appeared to be experimenting with mating a Styx cruise missile to an IL-28 Beagle bomber out of Uiju airbase, though their final determination was never declassified. Analysts compared the Styx program to earlier observed PRC successes in converting ground-launched Styx cruise missiles into air-to-surface weapons, and believed this was a reasonable path for the KPA to mirror. (CIA-RDP86T00590R000400600002-4 pg iii)

Uiju-Up Airfield Legacy Styx Storage Facility, 2010

NPIC analysts slowly built a case starting in 1983 based on the existence of a Styx Cruise Missile storage facility next to Uiju ( CIA-RDP91T00712R000100080006-9 PDF pg 4). Airfield, and the absence of any other nearby facility (such as a naval base) that could reasonably employ Styx systems. (CIA-RDP86T00590R000400600002-4 pg 7). While analysts struggled to make a definitive connection, the location, the absence of other explanations, and redacted HUMINT indicated that as of 1984 the DPRK “may be testing the Styx cruise missile on the Beagle” (CIA-RDP84T00491R000101610001-8 pg 71). NPIC analysts in 1985 still use language like “if the DPRK success in mating the Styx with the Il-28” (emphasis added, CIA-RDP85T01058R000201940001-0 pg 5).

While a final determination does not appear to be declassified at this time, as of 1985 NPIC analysts were drawing a connection between the cruise missile storage facility and the IL-28s based out of Uiju Airfield. It is unclear from the records whether or not the air-launch Styx cruise missile experiments were successful or if an actual flight test was ever observed. 

Starting in 2011, satellite imagery shows the construction of a new munitions depot immediately adjacent to the existing Styx cruise missile depot. The partially buried and berm-protected storage units indicate munitions storage, and its proximity to the older Styx depot implies (though does not confirm) similar usage. 

Uiju-Up Airfield Possible KN05/Air-Launched Kh-35 Facility, 2010
Uiju-Up Airfield Possible KN05/Air-Launched Kh-35 Facility, 2011
Uiju-Up Airfield Possible KN05/Air-Launched Kh-35 Facility, 2019

A Side Note: Did the Styx ever fly?

A small mystery in the historical record is whether or not the Styx was ever actually observed successfully launching off an Il-28 bomber. Panda describes the KN05, not the Styx, as the DPRK’s only flight tested ALCM, and the declassified NPIC documents never go so far as to report an actual flight test. 

Analysts have occasionally listed the IL-28 and Styx together, as is the case in Scobell et al’s The True Force of North Korea and Bermudez’s Shield of the Great Leader. Others, such as Douglas Barrie, have noted that loading a missile the size of the Styx onto the Il-28 would still provide a significant challenge for the DPRK’s air forces.

However not all missile tests make it into public media, and it is not clear if the absence of an observed, reported missile test is the same as the absence of testing. Much like the KN08, the Styx may be a bit of a Schrodinger’s Missile, that both is and is not operational while unobserved.


North Korea appears to store the KN05 air-launched cruise missile in Uiju-up Airfield, one of the few airfields capable of basing the IL-28 bombers likely needed to launch the missile, and the only base historically associated with the DPRK’s previous air-launched cruise missile program. 

Ankit Panda’s writing revealed the existence of the KN05/Kh-35 ALCM in the DPRK, something that had been previously speculated about but never confirmed as an actual weapons program. Declassified CIA/NPIC documents detail a historical Styx storage facility and apparent ALCM program run out of Uiju-up. Modern satellite imagery shows this historical facility expanded some time around 2011 to include new munitions storage facilities. Together this information implies that the DPRK’s ALCM program, whether experimental or operational, is still probably based out of Uiju-up.

Hopefully we will get some imagery or hints out of the DPRK at some point. But failing that, at least we have a promising candidate site.