Jeffrey LewisNORK IRBM, Musudan-1?

Yeah, so I’ve been wondering (more) about the reports that North Korea was developing a new IRBM based on the Soviet SS-N-6.

Now Asahi Shimbun reports (full text in comments) that “North Korea unveiled the new missile loaded on a trailer at the military parade held in Pyongyang on 25 April to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army. … According to a US explanation, North Korea converted the “SSN-6” submarine-launched ballistic missile, which the former Soviet military deployed in late 1960s, into a land-based missile.”

Chris Nelson’s eponymous Nelson Report has the best coverage of anybody in the biz about the missile, which Asahi claims is called the Musudan-1 after the first location it was spotted:

N. KOREA…it’s taken a week or so, but S. Korean and Japanese press accounts of what appears to be a new, long range N. Korean missile appear to be taken seriously on this side of the Pacific, although there has been no official comment.

The Asahi reports that an April 25 parade in Pyongyang showed for the first time, perhaps as many as a dozen single-stage, solid fuel missiles … the authorities would not allow any photographs, and this being N. Korea, no one had a cell phone photo, or at least, no one took one which has made it out of the country!

But from what’s being reported, the missiles would appear to be the 5,000 kilometer range IRBM’s which have been discussed, for some time, in public testimony by US military and intelligence officials.

The new rocket is dubbed the “Musudan-ri”, from it’s apparent base, but, as our experts note, below, it is not felt that an actual test has taken place…despite last summer’s big day, when several types of DPRK missiles were fired into the ocean.

A friend who pays very close attention to this sort of DPRK capability sends the following, unclassified remark:

“To my knowledge, there has not been a test of this missile, so we can’t assess its capabilities, except by extrapolation (this assumes that reports of its lineage are correct). So this is what could await us. The NKs often like to reveal what they could do, if negotiations flounder or even unravel. But if Asahi’s take is accurate, this could be a far more potent delivery system than what NK presently has available to it—assuming it works.”

Another friend offers an in-depth assessment, strictly unclassified, based on experience, prior Administration public testimony, and the Asia-based reporting, and suggests caution before saying the DPRK has a submarine-capable new weapon, using an old Soviet model, the SS-N-6:

“The detail about the name of the missile—‘Musudan’—rings true. The US intelligence community has been in the habit of naming NK missiles by villages close to the main NK test facility: Nodong, Taepodong, and Musudan-ri are the closest three inhabited places. The NKs themselves have other names for their missiles, not all of which are known to us.

The choice of a new ‘village name’ also seems to indicate that the intelligence community thinks it is a qualitatively different missile. It is less likely that the missile is deployed at Musudan-ri. It’s a very austere place. To my knowledge, it’s a test site only, probably not even manned full-time. There do not appear to be suitable facilities there for such things. The area has been subject to commercial space photography quite a bit, so you’d think a full-scale missile base would have been noticed. Such things have been spotted elsewhere—recall earlier reports about Kittaeryong.

I cling to some residual skepticism about the SS-N-6 angle. Supposedly, a new missile derived from Soviet technology was spotted by the U.S. in 2003, but with the exception of a totally mysterious label that first appeared in the German press (‘BM-25’) no name popped up attached to it—until now.

I’d still prefer to wait for a missile test before saying that this is a real device, but have to say that this is the most credible account of such a weapon that we’ve yet seen.”

I really didn’t know what picture went with this post, but Dan Pinkston sent along the above. I could make up some half-assed justification, like how the SS-N-6 is kinda bottle-shaped. But really, I just thought the picture was rad.


  1. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Japan’s Asahi: US Analysis Finds DPRK Unveiled New IRBM at April Military Parade

    JPP20070513004002 Tokyo Asahi Shimbun (Internet version-WWW) in Japanese 1821 GMT 12 May 07

    [Unattributed report: “DPRK May Possess New Missile; Missile Unveiled at Military Parade Last Month”]

    It has been learned that North Korea unveiled a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) at a military parade in April. This has been revealed by the several sources concerned with the matter, including South Korean Government officials. It is presumed that the missile has a maximum range of 5,000km, but it has not been confirmed that the missile was test-fired. Thus, the missile’s specific capability is unknown. Given the fact that North Korea went ahead with its first nuclear test in October last year, the new missile’s payload capability and other things are drawing attention.

    According to the sources concerned, North Korea unveiled the new missile loaded on a trailer at the military parade held in Pyongyang on 25 April to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army. The number of the new missiles was about 12. At the parade, the North Korean authorities prohibited photographing and other things.

    According to the sources concerned in Japan and South Korea, the United States, which analyzed the parade, based on satellite photos, concluded that the missile is a new type and conveyed this information to the Japanese and South Korean governments. According to a US explanation, North Korea converted the “SSN-6” submarine-launched ballistic missile, which the former Soviet military deployed in late 1960s, into a land-based missile. The new missile is presumed to be single-staged and has a maximum range of approximately 5,000km. It is believed that places as far as Guam will fall within the range of the missile. The new missile is a different from Nodong and Taepo Dong missiles that were created based on the Scud missile.

    In July last year, North Korea fired a “Taepo Dong-2” long-range ballistic missile from a missile base in Musudan-ri in Hwadae County, North Hamgyo’ng Province. The new missile is also deployed at this base, and the US side reportedly named the missile “Musudan” [name as transliterated].

    Although US Department of Defense officials said that they “cannot comment on classified information,” Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Maples had stated at a meeting of the Senate Committee on Armed Services in February 2006, “North Korea is developing a new IRBM and a short-range solid-fuel ballistic missile.” Several Japanese Government sources are also assuming that “it is highly likely that [the new missile] is more modernized than Nodong and Taepo Dong missiles.”

  2. Allen Thomson (History)

    > “dozen single-stage, solid fuel missiles”

    If it’s solid fuel, it ain’t an SS-N-6 clone.

    If it isn’t a copy of the SS-N-6, then the chances of it working absent a testing program are small indeed. If it is an N-6 copy, then the chances of it working without a testing program are still pretty minimal.

    This whole story still smells pretty bogus to me.

  3. MTC (History)

    Color me somewhat skeptical.

    1) How do these sources know that the missiles purportedly (no photos, how convenient) seen on April 24 were functional solid fuel rocket boosters if they have no evidence of the DPRK testing any of them ?

    2) Does it strike you as more than a bit odd that South Korean officials and specialists leaked this information to a Japanese newspaper? That these persons with a story to tell could not leak it to the anti-Roh government Chosun Ilbo first? Could the story have been given to the Asahi be because Japanese would have a lower credulity hurdle—Japanese leaders being paranoia about strategic abandonment—that as long as DPRK missiles cannot hit U.S. territory, the U.S. might be willing to accept an interim deal capping the DPRK’s nuclear and missile development programs at their present levels, leaving Japan still within range of the DPRK regime’s Nodongs?

    This IRBM story (the missiles could hit Guam!) neatly fills the crack in the common Japan-U.S. facade.

    3. The original article, published on the front page of the Sunday morning edition, has MAKINO Yoshihiro, a member of the Asahi Shimbun’s Seoul bureau, as the reporter on this story. Makino has been working on DPRK-related stories for over a decade. Still, I cannot believe he has better contacts in Seoul than South Korean reporters.

  4. John Smith (History)

    IRBMs of this type (solid fuel) would be consistent with their desire to have a nuclear deterrent against Japan, China… Russia.

    Is there any chance the Chinese would wise up and realize the threat DPRK really is to them?

  5. Karl Schenzig

    Not to sound irreverent, but have any of these authors been to primary school? Just to address the technical aspect:The SS-N-6 (aka R-27, RSM-25) is a liquid, not solid-fuelled missile. Its range is no greater than 3200 km in its modified form (the SS-N-6 Mod 2, R-27U).The ‘BM-25’ designation is not very mysterious – its press stupidity at its best. Instead of writing ‘RSM-25’, the press decided that a SLBM was the same thing as a MRLS produced in 1947 – “essentially a KrAZ-214 (6×6) truck chassis with a large frame for the six 250mm rockets.”Before you ask, I was taught to recognise different MRLs and IRBMs in primary school.

  6. Laurent (History)

    If I recall correctly, there was a report some time ago (that I somehow dismissed) that the DPRK had transferred a SS-N-6 (or its technology) to Iran and that it formed the basis for the development of a new Iranian missile.

    If I recall correctly, this claim was made at the time by the BND (i.e. German intelligence). As this German report was then seized and played up by the Bush administration, I assumed it was not too credible. This was also due to the fact that it was not that clear that North Korea had indeed itself acquired those SS-N-6.

    In case, I would therefore be grateful if anyone has an authoritative view thereon or could point me towards a reliable (internet) source.

  7. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Re: solid fuel.

    I think Chris just made a mistake. It happens — the man is awesome, but he isn’t technical.

  8. Canary

    Source: AFPDate: Dec. 16, 2005

    Iran has bought 18 BM-25 missiles from North Korea which the Islamic Republic wants to transform to extend their range, the German press reported Dec. 16.”Iran has bought 18 disassembled BM-25 missiles from North Korea with a range of 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles),” Bild newspaper said, citing a report from the German secret services.It added that Iran’s ultra conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to have the range of the missiles “extended to 3,500 kilometers”.The newspaper said that until now Iran only had Shehab-3 missiles with a range of 1,300 kilometers.It further cited the secret service report as warning that “with a longer range, and the probability that (Tehran) would try to equip the missiles with nuclear warheads, there is the risk that Iran could strike at Israel and parts of central Europe.”It added that according to the German intelligence services, Iranian experts were already working on fitting the missiles with nuclear warheads.The report comes amid outrage at remarks by Ahmadinejad calling the Holocaust a “myth”, and a warning from Tehran on Friday that it would respond in a “swift and destructive” way if attacked by Israel.

  9. Allen Thomson (History)

    Is there any chance that the failed test last July 4/5 at Musudan-ri was of this putative SS-N-6 clone?