Jeffrey LewisNorth Korean Ballistic Missiles

The Detroit Free-Press has a helpful FAQ on Iran and North Korea with one significant factual error:

Q: Is the United States threatened by a North Korean weapon?

A: Yes. North Korea has missiles that could hit Alaska and Hawaii. Japan feels threatened and might be tempted to build its own nuclear weapons if it doubted the U.S. resolve to defend it.

No. North Korea is developing missiles that could hit Alaska and Hawaii, but does not have them … yet.

The 1,300-km-range No Dong (what a name!) remains the longest-range ballistic missile North Korea has deployed. The No Dong is capable of hitting targets in Northeast Asia, but not Alaska and Hawaii (see below).

North Korea is also developing a longer range missile, the Taepo Dong.

  • The Taepo Dong 2 is a two-stage ballistic missile configuration could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload up to 10,000 km—sufficient to strike Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of the continental United States. The missile has not been flight tested, although South Korean newspapers reported engine tests in May.
  • North Korea flight tested the Taepo Dong 1 (above right) in August 1998, but this was largely a stunt—North Korea used an unanticipated three stage configuration that reduced the missile’s payload to the point that it could not deliver a militarily significant payload. (See also, Bradley Graham’s Hit to Kill 2001, 52-65).

The question of whether North Korea has, or is still developing, ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States is important: North Korea continues to abide by a September 2002 offer of extension regarding the voluntary moratorium on flight tests observed since in 1998.

Here is some basic information about North Korea’s ballistic missiles from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat:

Missiles Stages Propellant Deployment Max. Range (mi) No. of Launchers
No Dong 1 Liquid Road-mobile 800 Fewer than 50
Taepo Dong 1 2 Liquid Undetermined 1,250+ Not yet deployed
Taepo Dong 2 2 Liquid Undetermined 3,400+ Not yet deployed


  1. /pd (History)

    Excellent Posting..Credible Data !! Thanks

    btw:I picked up your blog from Mike Pike !!

  2. Allen Thomson (History)

    With regard to North Korean missiles, do you have any opinion about the reality of the SS-N-6-derived IRBM reported last year?

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Great question.

    I generally don’t have opinions about things that aren’t in the intelligence record.

    In this case, however, Paul actually one of the reporters receiving the leak.

    His article in Arms Control Today is the definitive treatment. Jane’s also carried a story.

    Paul dutifully quotes a State Department official confirming that North Korea was in the process “in the process of deploying” a new intermediate-range ballistic missile.

    Paul also quoted Greg Thielmann as having expressed skepticism, telling Arms Control Today that he is “dubious” North Korea would deploy the missile without testing.

    Paul, thoughts?

  4. Canary (History)

    Glad to see you correcting the record on this. Seems there is an FAQ floating around in the media on DPRK capabilities (e.g. Augusta Chronicle), all of which contain the question you challenge (and the same faulty answer). Should I be surprised that Knight-Ridder, in at least one version, appears to be the author and distributor?

  5. PKerr (History)

    I really have nothing to add to the ACT story. It seems that the North Koreans might deploy a missile without testing it, but it’s not clear that it would be reliable. I am curious as to how much good it does the North Koreans to receive testing data from other countries. I have been told that it helps, at least in principle, but I’m not at all sure that the data substitute for a flight test.