Jeffrey LewisDPRK ICBM Items

I am a little baffled that the media isn’t making a bigger deal out of the fact that North Korea paraded six road-mobile ICBMs through Pyongyang.  Six road-mobile ICBMs.  Hey!  Look!  ICBMs!  Road-mobile ICBMs! Just like Gates said!

As best I can tell, reporters don’t really understand that this isn’t the same missile as the Unha-3.

It’s not.  It’s different.  This is important.


One set of issues relates to whether the missiles were real, or simply aspirational mock-ups.  I am uploading a paper — “Dog and Pony Show” — by Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker that is strongly of the view that we are looking at mockups.  Some commenters may  disagree, especially about the little white straps.

(Schiller and Schmucker are skeptical that this will ever be a real missile, although I hasten to add that the United States saw a pair of “missile simulators” — better known as  mockups — in 1994 that gave us the TD-1 and -2 names we use today. See: Barbara Starr, “N Korea Casts a Longer Shadow with the TD-2,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, March 12, 1994.)


To the extent that this new missile has received any attention at all, it is the truck that seems to interest reporters.  I find that fascinating.  Normally, I’d be impressed, but stop ignoring the missile!

The TEL is an important part of the weapons system (unless you plan to strap the missile to a donkey) and North Korea is dependent on foreign suppliers for heavy-duty vehicle chassis (warning: wikileaks cable).

China appears to be the supplier, in violation of existing sanctions on North Korea.

There seems to be some confusion about the basis for stating that the export of  TEL is a violation of the Security Council Resolution.  UNSCR1718 and UNSCR 1874 are actually pretty clear about this. All member states are obligated to prevent the supply to the DPRK of a number of items, including:

(ii)  all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology as set out in the lists in documents S/2006/814 and S/2006/815, unless within 14 days of adoption of this resolution the Committee has amended or completed their provisions also taking into account the list in document S/2006/816, as well as other items, materials, equipment, goods and technology, determined by the Security Council or the Committee, which could contribute to DPRK’s nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes;

S/2006/815 defines ballistic missile programs list pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006).  It is identical to the MTCR Annex. Both list “Vehicles designed or modified for the transport, handling, control, activation and launching of the systems specified in 1.A” as controlled items.  Although such a vehicle is a less-sensitive Category II transfer under the MTCR, there is little doubt it violates the sanctions resolution. (UNSCR 1874 expanded these obligations and provided the opportunity for an updated statement of controlled items.  Short version: TELs still not okay to transfer.)

If China exported the trucks after 2006, this is a clear violation of sanctions. The resemblance between the DPRK TEL and two Chinese models — WS2600 and the WS51200 —  are obvious.

I think it is a WS51200.  The little face plate to hide the notch in the cab doesn’t fool me any more than the bright red paint  job.  That sucker is designed to carry very large missiles. There are a series of interesting Chinese announcements about initial production of the WS51200 (1|2) including one that has been taken down.

Why the rush boys?  Have an export order that needed to be filled before a parade?


  1. Juuso (History)

    North-Koreans aren’t only ones who have started to use new TEL’s.

    Any idea what type of missile that truck is carrying?

    • IB (History)

      As I remember, I have seen this image (and some more similar images) in a thread about DF-41 on chinese forum.

  2. Sam (History)

    So would this be a more serious MTCR violation than UK sending cruise missiles to Saudis?

    Does the relevant UNSCR say “calls on” nations to refrain from such exports to NK or does it say “decides” ? The “calls on” are kind of optional non-enforceable nice things that UNSC would like. e.g. UNSCR 487 also has some “calls on”.

    • joshua (History)

      Good question. China is not a member of the MTCR, but has undertaken its own, similar commitments in parallel to the MTCR. Which is in any case not binding in the manner of a Security Council resolution, but rather a voluntary commitment.

      Regardless, it’s not such a good development.

  3. George William Herbert (History)

    One note –

    I believe they have a real program here, even if the missiles are mockups.

    The TELs seem to have cost around $1 million each (30 million Yuan for 6, total US dollar value about $4.7 million at current exchange rates). The TELs are also bigger than we think they’d need to be for this missile (max weight rating 122 tons or so), which seems to indicate they intentionally overbuilt the TEL for performance reasons.

    That’s a lot of money to spend on a masrikova activity.

    It’s not that big in comparison with their total imports ($3.7 billion or so) or export ($2 billion or so), but it’s big enough in their total budget that it seems unlikely they’d do it just for show.

    • P (History)

      Don’t think the ‘cost much = real’ argument holds.

      ‘Careful spending’ and ‘show’ are two concepts which do not usually seem to be connected in North Korea. The massive military parade itself is an example in itself.
      Or this
      or this

    • Abefroman (History)

      I don’t the cost is an issue at all for the North Koreans. The potential exposure from media outlets running clips of the “possible ICBM” held by the North Koreans is much more valuable to the regime than $6 mil. I think the purchase of the TELs was actually cheap to the DPRK.

  4. John Hallam (History)

    Whether they are mockups or ‘real’ missiles, the obvious question is, after the last test – do we have any reason whatsoever to think they might work at all?

    All the evidence is to the contrary.

    John Hallam

  5. Cthippo (History)

    It’s pretty easy to guess what China would say if pressed.

    “We sold them trucks, what they do with them is their problem”

    As to whether the missiles are real, does it really matter? The fact that they might be real changes the calculus of deterrence and makes the decision to strike first that much harder. Mission accomplished.

    • Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

      Well if anything. It lets us know that the Chinese really think of the situation. This aside though, I think the real danger lies in a Mig-29 or Mig-21 making a mad dash suicide mission to Seoul.

  6. Tal Inbar (History)

    Since the NK parade was aired on TV, I started to work on the issues related to thes missiles. Untill I will release my report, here are some renderings of the warhead design.

    My thanks for a very small team of experts in CAD and 3D art for their help.

  7. JFC Fuller (History)

    Firstly, may thanks to Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, that is an excellent paper.

    My instinct on this is that somewhere behind the Musudan/KN-08 models is an actual missile programme that aims to leverage the technology behind the Unha SLV to create a longer range missile. The question is, how big is that missile going to be? Both the Musudan TEL and the KN-08 TELs are oversized for the mock-ups on them suggesting, perhaps, an ambition for a big missile.

    The other question that all this raises in my mind is this, what has happened to the Noddong family? Iran has taken that technology and run with it (by crazy Team America caricature country standards)through the Sejjil/Ashura project- Nodong development in NK seems to have stalled part from the mockups seen in 2010.

    • Abefroman (History)

      I agree with JFC. Almost everything Schiller/Schmucker report seems right. I find it implausible that the North Koreans have an indigenously-developed, road-mobile ICBM system at this time. This “ICBM” just seems so fanciful… its almost like a bad joke. Watching the DPRK trot this out as an actual ICBM has made me MORE skeptical about IRBM capabilities paraded out in public in October of 2010.

      But there is almost-certainly some (crude) missile program in North Korea. Based on the little we do know, it’s likely predicated upon known connection between the DPRK and the Makeyev Design Bureau.

    • David Watson (History)

      I’ve been thinking of the relative successes of Iran and North Korea’s missile programmes…apart from the differences in development doctrine already discussed on Arms Control Wonk, perhaps North Korea’s early relative advancement was its downfall?

      We know they got some SS-N-6 missile technology and knowhow back in the 90s after the fall of the Soviet Union, perhaps even a handfull of actual missiles. Realising that this missile offered much more potential than the Scud series they diverted most of their meagre resources towards the SS-N-6/Musudan, which as it turned out is just a bit beyond North Koreas industrial capacity, at least to construct and field in any consistant way.

      Meanwhile with the Nodong the Iranians had a missile that was well within their relatively more advanced economy and industrial level to build and play around with.

      Plus there is the world reaction to test flights – Iran tests flights rockets all the time and no one cares – they even launched a satellite in January and barely anyone noticed. The DPRK on the other hand gets heavy condemnation and sanctions every time they pop one off. The lack of a proper test flight programme may be a doctrinal issue, but on the other hand it’d be hard for the DPRK to survive the condemnation and sanctions and aid reduction that would result from a proper test flight programme.

  8. PD (History)

    I will try to give some ideas what massage the North Koreans may want to deliver to the experts:

    1: Those missiles are of course mock-ups of the real missile. Do you think we would parade such sensitive items on a public parade? We simply used the weight and design mock-ups we had in our warehouses. We have a few of those from the missile and TEL development.

    2: You know very well that we have the complete R-27 SLBM technology. Our Musudans already use that technology and now we have heavily modified it for the use in our ICBM program. You also know what high performance R-27 technology has and that it’s good enough for a rather compact, road-mobile ICBM.

    3: You may also be aware that there are serous rumors about advanced compact and light soviet nuclear warhead designs in our possession. We may got the 650kg RV design of the R-27. Therefore you may better assume that the complete RV section weights only something between 500-800kg, sidpite its large size. Looking at the size and tech of the missile as well as its light payload, you may realize that we can at least reach cities like New York, Chicago and Seattle.

    4. The first stage may remind you of a bigger Musudan, complete with engine inside tank technology (hint:cableduct). We have used the larger diameter for two R-27 main engines and together with the veniers we reach some 60 tons of thrust, enough for an ICBM first stage. We are pretty sure that this stage will function properly because it’s a modification of the proven Musudan.

    5. The second stage is a more conventional one as you may notice. It’s a Nodong engine, maybe with the proven jet vane system or with two veniers from the proven Safir upper stage. It’s creating 30-35 tons of thrust, which also fits the performance requirements of a ICBM. We are certain that this stage will work because its components are based on proven Nodong and Safir technology

    6. The third stage is technology tested in the proven Iranian Safir second stage, two or four R-27 venier engines. Therefore this stage produces something between 3-6 tons thrust, to power the missile to its necessary 10.000km+ range.

    7. All other details are also consistent with a liquid fuel: Retro-rocket on the first stage which kicks in after separation.
    After first stage separation a coast-phase is possible if necessary.
    The second stage has a new kind of ullage boosters built inside the engine area. After burn-out of the second stage, separation take place and the ullage boosters of the third stage kick in immediately. In this way we safe us retro rockets on the second stage.
    The Third stage is decelerated by its retro rockets after the RV is brought on course.

    8: Whether we have built a single R-27 retro rocket into the RV, behaving like a PBV for continuous maneuvering to evade ABM systems is up to your imagination. Certain is that there is enough space inside the RV section for such systems, otherwise we would have made it more compact. Interesting is also the RV shaping, wouldn’t it be insane to use such a high velocity design without any testing? We went for a rather high-drag design for the Musudans and are now using a rather low drag design for something much faster. Yes, it’s rather likely that we have got some help in this field, maybe from our R-27 source.

    8: Russian technology and the cooperation with Iran have really got us somewhere.


    Evil North Koreans

  9. Andy (History)

    The Chinese could always say the trucks are not missile launchers, but parade floats. Considering the “Dog and Pony Show” analysis, that might not be far from the truth.

    • ian (History)

      On a voluntary basis China adheres to the MTCR guidelines in the hope of someday gaining membership.

      Leaving aside why China wants to join the MTCR, the export of such TELs which would be controlled by the regime and are subject to UN sanction would reinforce the long-standing view that China is not yet ready to join.

  10. Steve Hildreth (History)

    The sanctions against North Korea are pretty restrictive of just about anything that could be used or adapted in any way by North Korea. If as credibly believed these were Chinese trucks it’s hard to imagine how they do not violate UN sanctions.

    On the matter of deterrence, the calculus is changed when the threat is credible. Both sides have to believe the threat is credible. I don’t know anyone who credibly believes that CONUS would be struck by a DPRK missile if war broke out tomorrow. DPRK regional missile threats are genuine, but a 9-10k km nuclear-armed missile just is not.

    On the other matter of whether this is an ICBM I think my views on this have been clear for awhile in my work that rhetoric or mock-ups or assertions of capability does not equate to capability — show me the money. When the DPRK can demonstrate a successful and complete test of an ICBM with a survivable warhead then I’ll credit them with a single successful test. Even so, that doesn’t mean they have an operational capability. I apply that very same reasoning to U.S. BMD programs — a successful test does not equate to operational capability. And there is sufficient data to show that even operationally realistic BMD test performance suffers (downward) in war. I would expect the same in any significant ballistic missile exchange.

    In my view, India demonstrated how to think about a successful ICBM test, even though it fell about 500 km short of what we typically ascribe to ICBM range. And India is now one of the few among the ICBM countries that developed its own indigenous carbon fiber re-entry vehicle; some of the current ICBM countries received considerable assistance from the others, as I recall. The DPRK program looks nothing like India’s. I also take note that India’s successful ICBM test occurred 32 years after their first successful space launch.

    As people here are more aware than I, rocket science is hard for a reason.

    • Pieter (History)

      The sanctions against North Korea are certainly pretty restrictive of just about anything that could be used or adapted in any way by North Korea, for carrying ballistic missiles but also for most types of major conventional weapons. Which basically means that no truck whatsoever could be supplied to North Korea, because almost any truck can be adapted as carrier of ballistic missiles or major conventional arms. But that is not really the intention of the UN sanctions on the country.
      I mentioned it before, in the case of Iran we have seen the same issue some years ago. In that case it German trucks were used and in reaction the German government tried to stop the export of relevant trucks.
      In at least one other UN sanction regime (Darfur) not related to nuclear programmes similar issues relating to dual-use/civilian vehicles used for military use have arisen.


  11. 3.1415 (History)

    Could the TELs be mockups too? They need to carry far less load. If China sells the real TELs to NK, it would be seen as accomplice for NK’s ICBM program, which aims at the US. Mockups would be different and give China the deniability without losing “strategic ambiguity”. But even if the TELs are mockups, it would certainly irate the US. Does it mean that China is on the path to make North Korea the Cuba of Asia? Some serious powwows are needed between Beijing and Washington.

  12. Peter Brown (History)

    Let me see if I get this straight. The China-Iran-Pakistan-North Korea missile club is providing substantial momentum to a broadening and serious deterioration of the MTCR’s effectiveness. Meanwhile, Russian bombers are more active over the western Pacific now than they were in the closing hours of the Soviet Union. And the U.S. seems willing to not only extend a pass to India on both the nuclear and missile front, but to reinforce Japan’s remilitarization as well. Seems to me that Asia is doomed to continue down this precarious path until it is too late to reverse course.

  13. Tal Inbar (History)

    In regards to Schiller and Schmucker’s paper, just a quick 2 comments:

    The white stripes on the missiles are part of the TEL – those are just stripes to support the missile to the TEL’s beam. To draw conclusions from their relative positions on various models of the missile is of no real value or importance.

    Second remark is to the claim they made against cable duct position – please check other missiles like the R-36 (SS-9), several examples of Shahab 3/Ghader that are liquid fueled and their cable ducts runs into the missile at the end of the stage (in case of R-36) or well into the instruments compartment.

    There are MORE issues to address but it would take more time to elaborate, so stay tuned…

    • joshua (History)

      Tal, I think you’re onto something important re: the cable ducts. S+S interpret them as a solid-fueled characteristic, but as you note, it ain’t necessarily so.

      In my last post, commenter “Kris” offered a comparison to this missile, which I notice has similar external characteristics:

      Again, that’s a liquid-fueled (UDMH-N04) ICBM with external cable ducts. It’s much larger than the missiles we’re contemplating here, but another demonstration that the characteristics S+S think should not be associated in a single device sometimes are associated in a single device.

  14. Abefroman (History)

    Warning! Utter speculation below:

    I wonder if Gates’ comments were based on the TEL purchase. US intelligence could have uncovered the sale of the WS51200 to North Korea. In retrospect, it may have been quite easy… the sales were announced on the internet.

    By comparison, it’s really hard to get accurate intel out of North Korea. It’s especially difficult to get good info from the inner circle charged with an ICBM program. We didn’t allegedly know about Kim Jong-Il’s death until the TV announcement. Maybe the US learned about the Chinese TEL transaction and extrapolated some logical conclusions about the size/use of these vehicles. Comparatively, finding out about static tests in North Korea is really really hard.

    If I’m spending everyday at a desk in Northern Virginia staring at the black box that is North Korea, I’d be pretty worried if good intel showed they were buying these TELs.*

    Whether there is more to Gates’ comments, we’ll never know. But its at least interesting to think about.

    *Ironically, now that I’ve seen the “missile”, I might be worried.

  15. Cthippo (History)

    Looking at the pictures got me thinking, “What else could those chassis be suitable for?”. The only other things I’ve seen on that type of chassis are large mobile cranes. I checked alibaba and while I can’t find any based on that chassis, there are lots of cranes built on similar and larger capacity commercial trucks. There may have been some nudge nudge wink wink Between the NKs and the Chinese, but I think you would have a hard time making the case that these trucks could only be used as TELs.

    As for a credible deterrence, this is where the dark mirror comes into play (thanks to Richard Rhodes for the concept). Stated simply, we don’t know what their capability is, so we assume the worst possible outcome, intention, or capability. This was the reasoning that brought us the missile and bomber gaps of the cold war era. We didn’t know what the other side was up to, but by taking a very few known data points and extrapolating forward to what they could have you end up with a very messy prediction (and a great argument for more funding). There is also the human tendency of “I don’t know for sure, so I’ll make the most dire prediction and everyone will be happy if I’m wrong”.

    I agree, North Korea probably, perhaps almost certainly, doesn’t have a functional nuclear armed ICBM capability. However, I would argue that the possibility, however slim, that they might have one, now or in the future, changes the strategic balance.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Mobile cranes, mobile drilling rigs, a couple of other construction roles. I see 6 and 8 axle vehicles of this general description once a month or so on the freeways around the San Francisco Bay Area (and know of equipment rental yards with several more, that I sometimes stop at or near).

    • Eve (History)

      So how many trucks are in business on the farm?

    • P (History)

      For all those who still do not believe that weird vehicles with many wheels are also used for civilian purposes, have a look at:×8-and-more-wheeled-rigid-vehicles-heavy.html

      The list includes:

      MAZ-79221, 1996, 16×16, from Minsk, Belarus, built under the brand MZKT Volat (Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant, since 1991).
      There are many 6×6, 8×8, 10×10, 12×12 models for markets. Used as TEL for Russian missiles, but
      ‘A number is now used in petroleum industry and for crane-platforms. Payload 80 t, total mass 120 t, 800 hp engine.’

      See also

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Neither the MTCR nor the sanctions have an exception for dual-use vehicles. The important word is “designed or modified.” The MTCR guidelines (and sanctions) are quite clear thst such items could be used in other applications.

      There is another phrase — “specially designed” — to describe goods for which there are no civilian applications.

      All of this discussion about possible civilian uses is interesting, but quite irrelevant from an MTCR perspective.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Jeffrey writes:

      Neither the MTCR nor the sanctions have an exception for dual-use vehicles. The important word is “designed or modified.” The MTCR guidelines (and sanctions) are quite clear thst such items could be used in other applications.
      There is another phrase — “specially designed” — to describe goods for which there are no civilian applications.
      All of this discussion about possible civilian uses is interesting, but quite irrelevant from an MTCR perspective.

      I think the point is whether the Chinese bear much culpability.

      For stuff I routinely see on US roads in a civilian capacity…

      I think it should be investigated, but if they thought they were going to be construction cranes that’s not obviously just a cover story.

      Caterpillar’s mining trucks could similarly be converted for TEL use. They don’t ask export customers about missile support end user conversions.

    • JFC Fuller (History)

      You can convert just about anything into a TEL if you really want, look at the vehicles the Iranians use for dragging missiles around, if that part of the sanctions/MTCR were to truly be abided by then the export of all heavy goods vehicles would have to be controlled.

    • P (History)

      The UNSC resolutions ‘decide’ that UN Member States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply of all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology as set out in the lists in the MTCR annex, which includes ‘vehicles designed or modified for the transport, handling, control, activation AND launching of the systems specified in 1.A.’
      However the WS2600 or WS51200 we know of are not such vehicles. They are chassis only without all the other bits which makes them TELs. Also note the use of ‘and’ not ‘or’, indicating that a vehicle which incorporates all the functions. (Unless we assume that the whole TEL had been delivered from China, but there is no indication for that whatsoever.)
      It can also be argued that if the missiles are real the vehicles should not have been delivered because the UN sanctions prohibit the supply to DPRK of ‘all arms and related materiel’.
      But as they are chassis only and seem to have civilian applications also this is not so straightforward. After all, many, many materiel of all sorts is ‘related to arms’. I’d say that if it was known or could be suspected based on available information about the end-user that they would be used for building a TEL or if the buyer was one of the DPRK entities that are under UN embargoes the delivery it would be a deliberate violation of the UN sanctions. Otherwise it is just something to learn from and to prevent in future and raises questions about how China makes assessments regarding exports of strategic goods.

      For me the whole point of this discussion is to counter anyone jumping the gun and suggesting that the Chinese government deliberately helped the DPRK with building an ICBM. Why potentially piss off the Chinese if the evidence is so weak? Based on the information we have the allegation is about as valid as claiming that in violation of UN sanctions Germany helped Iran with its Shahabs because the Shahabs are pulled around by Mercedes Benz Trucks or Sweden ‘violated’ its MTCR commitments because the AGNI-4 is pulled around by a Volvo truck. Important will be if China will investigate the matter, will provide full assistance to the the UN panel on the DPRK which is investigating the matter and if China and will take action to prevent future similar violations of the UN sanctions. If they don’t or if someone will come up with proper evidence that the Chinese government has deliberately and for reasons unclear to me supported the DPRK ICBM effort, we have reason tho complain and should really wonder what the Chinese are up to.

      But as someone here argued before, until then, the questions if these missiles are real is may be more important.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      This only makes sense if you don’t read the actual sanctions documents, which make clear that civilian applications are not an exception for goods “designed or modified” for certain purposes, like TELs. There is a special phrase, “specially designed”, that describes goods with no other purpose.

      The wording of the MTCR and the sanctions are very clear that the existence of civilian applications does not change the controlled nature of the item. There is even a nice example of titanium coating (I think; I am working from memory) provided to make this clear.

      I don’t know whether the transfer is deliberate or not, but I’d love to know what the civilian/defense ratio for WS52100 is. The company certainly knew that North Korea might use this equipment in a missile program. After all, the Chinese missile progr appears to be their primary customer.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I meant to add that the suspension alone — an off-road vehicle capable of carrying tens of tons — ought to meet the standard, to say nothing of other little details right down to the notch in the cab.

      Or is that purely stylistic? Or to carry very pointy cranes?

    • George William Herbert (History)


      I meant to add that the suspension alone — an off-road vehicle capable of carrying tens of tons — ought to meet the standard, to say nothing of other little details right down to the notch in the cab.
      Or is that purely stylistic? Or to carry very pointy cranes?

      You see both notched cabs and small, left-side-only cabs with the crane boom hanging over the front on US and international construction cranes. I would go link in a bunch of urls for photos but this is being typed on my iPhone…

    • George William Herbert (History)
    • rwendland (History)

      Have to say I googling around I could not find any photos of notched cab civilian cranes. For example this Chinese top of the range 9-axle “All Terrain Crane” looks very sleek and civilian:

      Also its total on the road weight is only 96t for a 1200t max lift crane, so seems not to need the capability of a heavy weight TEL chassis.

      I’d love to see a photo of a notched cab civilian crane to compare with if anyone has one. (I did see one Russian notched cab crane photo, but it was a military support vehicle.)

  16. IB (History)

    Can the engine of first stage be a cluster of four scud engine?

  17. RichardUrwin (History)

    Can’t we nul the politics out of this; and just sell everyone big screen TV’s? First sell them TV’s then you cademocracy?

  18. Justin (History)

    I think the question to find out from the Chinese is whether these sales are intentional.

  19. Markus Schiller (History)

    There seems to be some confusion on the liquid/solid issue, as well as on the cable ducts. Let me try to clarify this.

    Cable ducts are always external at a certain point, for both solid- and liquid-fueled missiles. It is the location of their endings that is important – these positions hint at the missile’s inner configuration. It is too risky (or impossible) to have the cables inside the combustion chamber (solid-fueled) or inside the tanks (liquid-fueled) for various reasons: A spark might ignite the propellants, the breach in the tank wall/chamber wall is a potential source for leakage, and so on. The cables are then routed back inside the airframe as soon as possible for several reasons – the cable covers are unnecessary extra mass, for example, as are the cables if you have them extending to the aft skirt and then leading back up again inside the missile.

    True, the cable ducts at the UR-200 (and the R-36) lead down to the very end of the aft skirt. But there is still more than 1 m of engines sticking out behind the aft skirt. The UR-200 and R-36 were developed for silo use – they did not have to be protected against dust and dirt and weather, allowing for an “open skirt” design with exposed engines. And at the UR-200’s upper stage, the cable is routed back into the missile at the end of the tank section (the conical section houses the propulsion unit).

    We forgot to add one other observation: North Korean rocket engineers certainly are not stupid, especially when they are designing and developing a road-mobile ICBM. In that case, they should know that a liquid-fueled ICBM is better designed as a two stage rocket, while a three stage design is great for a solid-fueled missile (simply look how many three stage liquid-fueled ICBMs there are, and how many solid ones).

    Things just don’t add up on the presented configuration.

    Nonetheless, everyone still sees the use of SS-N-6 technology as the likely reason for many of the KN08’s details. There are many technical and programmatic reasons why this is highly unlikely. We are currently writing an addendum to the preliminary analysis covering that issue, including a performance analysis of the KN-08 if it was SS-N-6-derived. We will share that addendum with you as soon as possible.

    • John Schilling (History)

      If the KN-08 is designed around Nodong rather than SS-N-6 technology, at least for the first stage, some of these features start to make more sense. The Nodong uses jet vanes for steering, which means wiring and/or plumbing has to run all the way to the base of the engine. Given that requirement, and a cable raceway running the rest of the stage length, it makes little difference whether the raceway is extended another couple meters down the exterior or the cables are passed through into the engine bay. Nobody else does this because nobody else uses jet vanes on ICBM engines.

      Also, I have a hard time making a two-stage Nodong-based ICBM fit into the KN-08 form factor. There isn’t room for more than two Nodong engines at the base, but there is room for about 44 tonnes of IRFNA/Kerosene in the rest of the “first stage”. Total launch weight would be about fifty-six tons, with no more than sixty tons of thrust. To get off the ground with engines the Norks actually have, the KN-08 needs a big empty volume somewhere in the middle of that two-meter cylindrical section.

      It wouldn’t be the world’s first three-stage liquid-fuel mobile ICBM, either – the R-29RM takes that honor. The KN-08, if real, would be unprecedented in several other respects. As you say, North Korean engineers are not stupid. When faced with the unprecedented challenge of developing an effective ICBM-class weapon with such a limited toolkit, I would expect unprecedented solutions.
      Or rather, unprecedented attempts at solutions, with a non-trivial probability of success.

  20. George William Herbert (History)

    This and related threads were picked up in an AP / Time magazine article (and thence to Atlantic Wire),8599,2113135,00.html

    I am a little concerned that the skepticism overrode things like the static test Gates reported and the back-and-forth we experts are having…

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I know, I am thinking about writing my own commentary — explaining that one doesn’t static engine test a fake missile and that at least some of Robert and Markus’s arguments are less persuasive than others.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      You know, I should use the comments thread to test drive some arguments. For example, Schmucker and Schiller argue that the DPRK has 6 different nosecones, implying they are not serious.

      I count one, not six. Here is my accounting.

      North Korea has a limited stockpile of plutonium and, if any, HEU. In all probability, all Frogs, Scuds and Toksas are conventionally-armed. That leaves us with three missiles — two the US IC claims are deployed (Nodong and new IRBM aka Musudan) and this new ICBM (KN08).

      Now, S&S claim they’ve seen the Nodong with both a conical and triconical warhead. Obviously the conical RV might be conventional, but I’ll go further: I have never seen a picture of a DPRK Nodong with anything other than a triconic RV. Actually, I count one public appearance of the Nodong, in 2010 at the parade: All the other pictures are of Ghauris and Shahabs. Drawings don’t count nor do any pictures of the ass-end of the thing. (Actually Nodongs before, oh, about 2006 wouldn’t count either, since North Korea probably didn’t have any weaponizable nuclear devices.)

      Of course, the same parade showed off the Musudan:

      And now we have the KN08:

      I haven’t really sucked it up to see if the RVs are radically different sizes, but overall this is hardly ridiculous. They all look roughly the same to me. Certainly close enough that S&S shouldn’t dismiss them without modeling them first.

      Far from being some sort of joke, the North Koreans tried to test a nuclear weapon in 2006 that might have been small enough for a missile but were disappointed. Then in 2009 they did better. A year later, the Nodong and Musudan appear with triconic RVs, followed in 2012 by a similar triconic RV for the KN08. That seems rather plausible to me.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      On the NK triconics, will be modeling that. I’m still working on the ICBM.

      Analogy – in Iran, they (apparently) did the 2003 R265 test, which leaked a bit at the time but not the name (and dimensions…). They subsequently started rolling out generally size compatible triconic RVs that in retrospect may not specifically been designed for that but were big enough to be adapted. When we saw those and modeled them it was obvious they were far bigger than a modern Pu warhead and more than big enough for a modern HEU warhead. Observing that it was a bit too big was, in retrospect, a R265 tipoff. I think i wondered about that out loud.

      We can model the NK triconic. It doesn’t look smaller than the Iran triconic on first look (detailed models pending…).

  21. craig britton (History)

    it should be noted that one of the reasons the soviets had so many different types of missiles and weapons was that they would design for what they wre able to buy or build from their tool and technology kit. One can accurately launch missiles from sewer pipes suspended in water so a country does not need high tech mobile launchers. But the US never had a successful minuteman launch of an operational missile. We take them to vandenburg to be tested after a good examination. So the liknlihood of the koreans getting anything to work and strike us in an actual conflict driven launch is near negligible and would not deter me.

  22. James N. Gibson (History)

    I was concerned that the information that the items seem in the Parade were fakes was something close to the British scientist declaring the Recon photo of a V-2 was anything but a missile. However, the pictures in the Article “Dog and Phony Show” pretty much makes the point that what were seen at the parade were fakes. But the article also makes the point that something real may still be in the works. Those TELs were not cheap to buy so they will be carrying something soon. And being published on early US Nuclear delivery systems I know how the CIA was predicting when the USSR would have the atomic bomb about the time the USSR detonated their first Hydrogen Bomb.