Jeffrey LewisReal Fake Missiles?

The other day I joked that I am the Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation program which means, lately, I am the Director of the North Korean Nonproliferation Program. Yeesh.

Many of you have noticed that Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker’s paper on the mockups garnered a significant amount of press attention, including a nice story in the New York Times by Choe Sang-hun with Bill Broad, who took a break from his battle with the Yoga-Industrial Complex.

I think most people agree that the missiles are mock-ups, but that raises a second question:  Are the mockups “complete fantasy missiles,” as Markus and Robert argue, or are they indicators of what’s to come?

I have to say, I lean toward the latter view.  The missiles are fakes, but they may be real fakes — that is to say genuine indications of North Korea’s technical path toward an ICBM.

Consider the title of Schiller and Schmucker”s article — “Dog and Pony Show.” This was a paradeOf course it was a dog-and-pony show.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from mockups.

The insular little community of open-source missile modelers is busy sending emails to-and-fro on the subject.  I can’t possibly provide a comprehensive account of everything that has clogged up my inbox.  Still, I wanted to share some of the more interesting observations.


It is normal to make mockups, sometimes called “missile simulators,” before building the real thing. This, for example, is a mockup of a Minuteman missile on a test-stand.

In 1994, the United States intelligence community spotted two “missile simulators” — you know, mockups.  Those two mockups were bestowed the names Taepodong 1 and 2.  As it turns out, those two missile simulators fairly represented the missiles that North Korea would test fire in 1998 and — after abandoning the 1999-2006 launch moratorium — in 2006, 2009, and 2012.

Here is how Barbara Starr described the Taepodong 2:

Last month US intelligence detected what is described as a new ‘missile simulator’ at the Sanum Dong R&D Facility. Reports of a simulator apparently refer to a hardware mock-up detected by intelligence satellites.

The missile has been given the provisional designation Taepo Dong-2 (TD-2). It is a two-stage missile. The mock-up was 32 m long, consisting of an 18 m by 2.4 m diameter first stage and a 14 m by 1.3 m second stage. The second stage appeared to be similar to a No Dong-1 missile with a rounded nosecone, while the fatter lower stage is around the size of a 1970s-vintage Chinese CSS-2/DF-3/ Dongfeng-3 IRBM propellant section.

The dimensions turned out to be revealing — although the 2.4 m first stage would house a cluster of Nodong engines, rather than a DF-3 as Starr reported, and North Korea would replace the Nodong-based second stage with an R-27  (SS-N-6).  But the missiles seen in 1994 (as depicted by Jane’s at left) are clearly forebears of the missiles depicted by the US intelligence community in 2008 (right). Ted Postol estimated the first stage of the Unha (better known as the TD-2) as 2.4 m in diameter and 16 m long.  The simulator wasn’t exactly right, but one could learn a lot about where the DPRK was headed from looking at it closely.

It is plausible, to me, that North Korea created the mockups on parade as part of a program to develop real missiles that look more or less exactly like them.  Many have observed that the missiles in the parade were numbered.  Perhaps it was a coincidence, but many of the instances of poor workmanship were more visible in the units with lower numbers. If the mockups were numbered sequentially, there is a hint of increasing realism that suggests these were more than just parade dummies.


Although North Korea has not flight-tested the Musudan IRBM, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center lists it as deployed, with fewer than 50 launchers.  That’s strange — the intelligence community has a special term for missiles that are flight-tested but not deployed (“initial threat availability”) but not the other way around.

One possibility is that North Korea has deployed the IRBM based solely on static engine tests on conducted on test stands.  South Korean press reports describe at least one static test of a long-range in November 2011 and another four in early 2012, while US officials regularly noted the continuation of static engine testing during North Korea’s 1999-2006 launch moratorium.

I am certain the United States would not settle for static tests alone, but perhaps the North Koreans see the situation differently.  Still, for those who doubt the existence of the new ICBM, it is difficult to static-test an engine that does not exist.


There is a huge discussion about what sort of technological path these ICBMs might represent, if any.  Allow me to articulate just one view, which I suspect is the view of at least some people in the intelligence community.  North Korea imported Scud missiles from Egypt, then proceeded to build an entire missile program on this technology.  North Korean enlarged the Scud into the Nodong, stuck a Scud on top of a Nodong (Taepodong 1) and then clustered some Nodong engines with another Nodong on top (Taepodong 2.)

Now, North Korea has imported the R-27 (SS-N-6) — a better baseline technology that uses more energetic propellants: unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4).

North Korea has apparently reconfigured the Taepodong 2, sticking an SS-N-6 on top of a cluster of Nodong engines, topped by a smaller SS-N-6-derived third stage (vernier engines only, it seems).  North Korea also enlarged the SS-N-6 much as it enlarged the Scud, creating the Musudan IRBM.  North Korea may try to replicate the approach it took to Scuds, just with a better technology.  So, North Korea may try to either cluster SS-N-6 engines or stack SS-N-6-derived stages on top of one another.  One of the big debates we are having now is about what North Korea might be able to squeeze into the 2 m first stage of the new ICBM.

You’re invited to participate, in the comments or offline at jeffrey [at]


  1. Captain Ned (History)

    Hasn’t each of the test launches using the RS-27 second stage failed at first/second stage staging?

    Dad did 3 years in a Titan II silo, so I’ve heard my share of stories about BFRCs.

    • David Watson (History)

      What’s a BFRC?

      The 2009 second stage succesfully detached and fired, and landed in the pre-announced landing zone. If that was a SS-N-6/R-27/Musudan, then it worked to expected standards.

      It was just the third stage in 2009 that failed to fire (but did succesfully detach). I guess that’s why the North Koreans were overconfident with the Unha 3 and its proven, presumably Iranian derived third stage.

    • joshua (History)

      Big F____ Red Cloud.

  2. AbeFroman (History)

    I don’t think any road-mobile system would use Dinitrogen tetroxide (N204) without a launch canister. N204 is really unstable at varying temperatures to be valuable in a mobile application. North Korea hasn’t shown us a canister system yet. Maybe they have one – but if so, I have a hunch we’d have seen it.

    It’s a safer bet that the North Korean road-mobile system would use Red Fuming Nitric Acid – a reliable, old Scud oxidizer – that packs less punch. They might give up some range. But this could be solved with a longer airframe and more propellant.

    • AbeFroman (History)

      Please do not take the above comment as an indication that I think the KN-08 uses ANY type or propellant. I don’t.

      I am firmly in the camp that this design is fraudulent…. laughably fraudulent. It’s not even way close to a next-gen North Korean missile.

      Even if the Norks has HTBP/Ammonium Perchlorate solid fuel capabilities, I don’t think a design like this makes sense. I still think the relative size of the stages is way off… and of course you’d have no reason for fuel ports on the side.

      I may try to model up a version of this fictitious missile later. If I can work out the kinks, I’ll try to post it. Otherwise, I’m pretty interested to hear what people say about this missile’s “staging”

    • Jeffrey (History)

      No one, so far as I can tell, uses pure N2O4, but many use MON.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I’m a little confused by suggestions that RFNA would be more stable or safe than MON in a road-mobile missile.

      For those who aren’t familiar, the RF in RFNA is Nitrogen Tetroxide, the same stuff that is MON (NO2 / N2O4 equilibrium balance depending on conditions). RFNA literally IS MON – or at least contains it – plus concentrated nitric acid. Which is corrosive and toxic as well, in different ways, some of which make some MON-safe materials not RFNA safe.

      The IRFNA variant gets even better, adding 0.5-1.0 % HF (hydrofluoric acid) to the mixture, which makes it more toxic and volatile, but less likely to eat holes in your tanks and propellant lines. The HF preferentially fluoridizes all the surfaces (even at such low percentages) forming a barrier that the nitric acid and tetroxide don’t dissolve or penetrate.

      Oxidizers … oxidize, and then some. LOX is cryogenic and causes anything organic and permeable to form an explosive mixture, often with explosive results. Hydrogen peroxide decays slowly on its own and can bulk detonate. Nitrous oxide can bulk detonate. MON is corrosive, toxic, and its fumes can form nitric acid inside your lungs and throat if you breathe them in. WFNA – plain white fuming nitric acid, without the MON or HF, produces toxic fumes and is horribly corrosive on many surfaces. HF dissolves your bones. RFNA and IRFNA combine all the advantages of the last few in one happy package. ClF5 is … don’t go there. It sets fire suppression materials on fire, and the approved way for handling it if it catches fire is to wait for it to finish burning whatever is on fire, and wait some more, and then put out any secondary fires. And it’s toxic. Liquid ozone is toxic and bulk detonates.

      Welcome to rocketry.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Cannisters make sense for missiles that are going to be transported fully-fuelled, regardless of the fuel. They just get in the way if the missile is going to be transported empty and fueled at the launch site – as was normally the case for the reliable old Scud, and for structural reasons is likely to be the case for the KN-08.

      And, to back up what Jeffrey and George have said, military liquid-fuel rocketry since the 1950s has pretty much always used some combination of nitrogen oxides as the oxidizers – NO, NO2, HNO3, N2O4, in various mixtures, and never any one in pure form. If you see “N2O4” or “Nitrogen Tetroxide” in a spec sheet, it just means the writer didn’t think the detailed mix was important – and indeed it usually isn’t. If you try to predict the system behavior by taking the material properties of pure NTO from your CRC handbook, you’ll get it wrong.

      All of the nitrogen-based oxidizers are hazardous in roughly the same ways (toxic, corrosive, and high vapor pressure), but they can be and have been used in field-deployed weapons systems – specifically including some of the mostly-N2O4 blends.

    • Otto (History)

      I recommend to the interested wonk looking to bone up on their knowledge of liquid rocket fuels, a copy of the book “Ignition!” by John D. Clark.

    • Captain Ned (History)

      Ignition! is a classic, especially in Clark’s description of chlorine trifluoride.

      To continue the BFRC discussion from above. Anything using MON as an oxidizer is susceptible to a BFRC. When you see it, you know you’ve got an oxidizer leak and you’d best be moving orthogonally to the leaking booster.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Nit, possibly significant: Anything using MON or IRFNA as an oxidizer is susceptible to BFRC events – remember what the “R” and the “F” stand for. People still use them. In particular, military forces that spent the first half of the twentieth century learning how to handle mustard gas and the like, saw IRFNA and MON as no big deal. We are just now starting to think this was maybe not such a wise choice; North Korea is half a century behind the curve.

    • Steeljaw Scribe (History)

      Good luck trying to find a copy of Ignition! for less than several hundred dollars – and the books on demand option appears to no longer be available.
      w/r, SJS

    • Otto (History)

      In re John Schilling: Indeed. In particular, there are lots of deployed systems using RFNA, a good example being the SA-2. One of the disposal challenges in Iraq was dealing with canisters of RFNA from such systems, many of which had been meddled with by scavengers (some of whom must have got a nasty surprise). North Korea has several hundred deployed SA-2s.

      Steeljaw Scribe: PDF copies are floating around the net. A quick search turns up this example:

      A more diligent investigation may be able to find better ones. I have a couple of copies myself, which differ in scan quality and their ability to crash various PDF viewers.

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      > ClF5 is … don’t go there. :

      “Teflon will burn in ClF5. So will asbestos.”

    • Captain Ned (History)

      From Ignition!, John Clark’s take on ClF3

      It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water — with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals — steel, copper, aluminum, etc. — because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminum keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.


    • Jeffrey (History)

      “For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.”

    • AbeFroman (History)

      George and John Schilling,

      I understand your point about MON3. I would argue that MON3 – and maybe even MON10 – still simply to volatile – especially in North Korea’s climate.
      Pure NTO has a freezing point of 12 degrees fahrenheit. MON3 has a freezing point around 5 degrees fahrenheit. MON 10 has a freezing point of about -9 degrees fahrenheit. Compare this with the linked graph of average low temperatures in Pyongyang:

      These are the temps for Pyongyang! Not nearly the coldest part of the country. In an average year, the average low in Pyongyang annually reaches -11. It’s not difficult to imagine that temps of -15 or even -20 are only a standard dev away from average lows in Pyongyang. And it’s going to be much colder in the mountainous North.

      It’s important to remember the use here: Road-Mobile. That means uncertain ambient temps. This is not a controlled Unha-3 launch. This propellant is going to be subjected to extreme temperatures in the field. Freezing propellant means flow blockage. Flow blockage of oxidizer means the DPRK invested $150m in paperweights.

      I would argue it makes no sense for the Norks to use any traditional NTO (read: MON) platform. You build road-mobile missile systems so they can be deployed anywhere with ease. In December, Jan, and Feb, this propellant would be useless except, perhaps in the Southern part of the country… where the Norks are probably most militarily vulnerable. Even if you could control the temp during transport by fueling trucks, it would take several hours to fuel each missile. By then, the missile would be ineffective. I just cannot imagine that the DPRK would invest $100s of millions in a missile system that is ineffective in 50% of your country for 25% of the year.

      To date, we have not seen a DPRK launch canister system. Until we do, I think its a safe bet that they are using Inhibited RFNA – which enjoys a much lower freezing point. In the Schiller/Schmucker “Addendum” they agree that IFRNA is “suitable for road-mobile use.” I agree fully.

    • AbeFroman (History)

      Upon further inspection of the Schiller/Schmucker Addendum, they also note the problems in summer.

      “The propellants, NTO and UDMH, are storable but suited only for use in conditioned environments – under standard conditions, the NTO oxidizer freezes at -11 °C (12 °F) and boils at +21 °C (70 °F). Using this propellant in a road-mobile missile risks local damage with catastrophic consequences, in winter as well as in summer. Even assuming that additives might move the boiling point to +30 °C, this is still far from the usual requirement of +50 °C for operational use of road-mobile missiles (as defined, for example, for the R-17/Scud B, the SS-21/Tochka, the SS-23/Oka, or the SS-26/Iskander missiles). And additives would also have a negative effect on performance.
      The Soviets never used NTO in an open, road-mobile missile design. There were good reasons not to do this. ”

      Again – I believe all these problems would be solved by use of a launch canister. But we just haven’t seen one from the North Koreans yet.

      I hope this settles this discussion. On to more awesome topics… Like engine submergence and other unrealistic/fictional rocket science the North Korean’s can’t possibly achieve.!!!

    • John Schilling (History)

      Abe: North Korean soldiers have a freezing point of 32 degrees fahrenheit; quite possibly the North Korean army has mastered one or more basic heating technologies. But if the -9 F freezing point of MON-10 is too inconvenient, that’s why we have MON-25 (-67 F) and MON-30 (-114 F). I presume you would consider those adequate for even the coldest areas of the North Korean peninsula, so why were they left off your list? Those blends were very specifically created to allow the use of MON in adverse environments.

      And “boiling point” is not a term you want to use in this discussion; it is ill-defined for a fluid mixture and in any event dependent on pressure. Rocket propellant tanks are generally pressurized to at least 25-50 psia even in pump-fed engines (to avoid pump-inlet cavitation), and MON is generally transported in pressurized tanks rather like LPG. For reasons already discussed, neither IRFNA nor MON are ever, ever exposed even briefly to the ambient environment, so boiling point at ambient pressure is irrelevant. IRFNA “boils”, loosely speaking, the moment you take it out of the freezer – that’s what the “F” means. Doesn’t stop people from using it.

      I work with MON/Hydrazine engines for a living, and I have seen them used successfully from Mercury to Saturn. I am pretty sure they can handle any environment this planet can offer. It would be nice if North Korea’s rocket scientists gave up as easily as you did, and/or were too stupid to figure out the techniques my colleagues and I have understood for decades, but I don’t think that’s the way to bet.

    • Pr (History)

      John Schilling, UDMH and IRFNA worked just fine in Soviet / Russian R-27 / SS-N-6 / SS-NX-13 they even stored them fueled in the submarines so I’m sure the North Koreans aren’t clueless if they actually got a hold off that system. If they actually did and have them it was probably successfully tested in the 2009 Unha-2 launch too. I see no reason why you would transport them fueled though, but they could definitively put together silo-based variants with storable fuel. Just like those Titan-II’s many including you perhaps worked on.

      But a true North Korean ICBM where DPRK can threaten or have a second strike capability on most of the world would also be much bigger then the KN-08 and about the same size as the Titan-II. If they really want to have a deterrent they should get their supposed R-27 copy on submarines not build derivative but different systems on expensive Chinese chassis/TELs. As you point out they are no stranger of the fuel they have used it for many years on their SA-2’s/S-75’s as is SA-5 which is clearly storable over a longer time. Those systems are also to some degree built domestically. I don’t think you have to worry about their systems reaching California and beyond. Potentially they can if they really knows how to build enlarged R-27 engines, but they really have no reason to do so or to deploy R-27-variants on subs if they don’t got any proper warheads, or any stockpile of nukes which would require that they in secret has successfully ran an uranium enrichment program for weapons. It’s a curious thing what North Korea has been hinting at, but they have never really developed a missile system they couldn’t also sell (remember they have made many billions in weapons sales, far more then any collaboration with South Korea, Japan, US etc which provides no incentives and no way for ordinary trade to make any significant contribution) and the client that might be willing is actually building long range solid-fuel systems already. Not even Israel financed their ICBMs alone South Africa under apartheid contributed there. India did to project power, but they also got GSLV’s already. Players like Iran I guess would only care about ready time and accuracy now. NK can’t project power without a real nuclear arsenal that is more then barely above reactor grade plutonium in low quantities.

  3. joshua (History)

    Interesting observation about the scaling-up process. One is reminded of North Korea’s approach to nuclear reactor development, first with gas-cooled reactors and now with light-water reactors. Not a connection I’d made before.

  4. Cthippo (History)

    The North Koreans have a bit of a habit of doing what they say they’re going to do, and the west has a habit of being surprised when they do.

    I tend to agree with Jeffery on this one, these are mockups of a missile in active development which might be flight tested in the foreseeable future. As was discussed in the long thread about the TELs, those WS51200’s the “missiles” are riding around on aren’t cheap and it seems unlikely to me that they would have spent the money on something with no basis in reality. After all, why not use a regular tractor trailer and make it look similar to the Chinese DF-31 TEL for a lot less money.

  5. Stephen Young (History)

    Interesting writeup from Israeli analyst in Defense News:

    “Given the meticulous detail of the missile and re-entry vehicle, I have concluded that the mock-up is based on a mature design that has already been tested in a wind tunnel.”

    And some background on the TEL I hadn’t seen, no idea of its accuracy: “Similar to those used by Russia for its Topol-M ICBM, these vehicles are specially modified Chinese heavy trucks, produced under license from Belarus. The engine and transmission are made in Germany.”

    But I’m way out of my area of expertise here.

    • joshua (History)

      The essay by Tal Inbar — who is a semi-regular commenter here at ACW — is of interest. But that particular paragraph about the TELs may not be completely accurate, based on what’s been published so far.

      Pictures of brochures from CASIC that you can find online claim that the engines are American and the transmissions German; where they’re actually made isn’t stated. Based on CASIC press releases, it appears that the TEL chassis were custom-designed. What they owe to Belarusian MAZ technology isn’t clear, although it’s been reported in Jane’s that there is a relationship between MAZ and CASIC’s Wanshan subsidiary, which made the chassis. Based on one press release, some components were imported through Russia, but we don’t know exactly where from.

    • P (History)

      These discussions are getting so long that we loose track of what has been reported before in the comments to earlier ACW posts. Here is some info posted earlier but of relevance here. The Chinese producer company (make your pick: CASIC, Wansjang, Sanjiang-Volat) says the WS51200 has a Cummins engine and a ZF transmission. The former is a US design the latter German. Both might be produced in China under licence, possibly with using US and German key components.


      Sanjiang-Volat special vehicle Co. ltd ( ), is a Joint Venture between Sanjiang (part of CASIC) and Belarusian MZKT-Volat (Not MAZ), which started in 1996.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Are either the engines or transmissions controlled?

    • joshua (History)

      Thanks for dregding up the details, P. I must have been in an awful hurry.

      It appears that Cummins produces engines in China:

      ZF, too has operations there, including a transmission plant in Shanghai:

      Whether the items in question were made in China can’t be assumed in either case, though.

      Whether it’s ironic or apt I’m not certain, but it turns out that ZF has quite a legacy in the field of strategic bombing — it’s none other than the corporate descendant of Zeppelin, of “Zeppelin raids” fame!

      Call it poetic.

      But according to the year-by-year history feature at the company website, ZF’s most direct experience with strategic bombing took place on the night of April 28, 1944, when Allied bombers destroyed 80% of the main plant. During the war, this feature explains, the company made “transmissions for tracked vehicles and military trucks” with the benefit of forced labor from abroad.

      Let me just say that I’m favorably impressed by ZF’s decision to put this feature online. It’s almost certainly not immune to criticism, but it compares very well to, for example, the polite fluff that the flacks at Mitsubishi put online:

      Cultural differences, perhaps.

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      > Sanjiang-Volat special vehicle Co. ltd ( ), is a Joint Venture between Sanjiang (part of CASIC) and Belarusian MZKT-Volat (Not MAZ), which started in 1996.

      Moved to curiosity, I checked out the Volat page and found this bit in their history write-up (interesting in itself). The English is somewhat shaky, but there’s a Russian version for comparison.

      “In order to enlarge export deliveries, according Customer’s demands all [MZKT] automobiles can be equipped with propulsors [силовые установки — i.e., engines], transmissions, gearboxes and other utilities of the leading world manufacturers.”

      “С целью расширения экспортных поставок по желанию заказчика на все автомобили могут устанавливаться силовые установки, трансмиссии, коробки передач и другие комплектующие изделия ведущих мировых производителей.”

    • P (History)

      Also the Sanjiang-Volat series of vehicles can be provided with engines of choice. The list of their products at indicates they use Caterpillar, Deutz and other brands for engines. Well, it did indicate, now I cannot access it anymore.

      All these engines and transmissions appear to be used for both civilian and military applications. Whether they are ‘controlled’ is often rather ambiguous. For example German made or designed Deutz or MTU engines and ZF transmissions are widely used in Chinese military vehicles, including tanks and armoured vehicles and submarines. I suspect, but do not have time to check, that Chinese TELs have Deutz engines and ZF transmissions. This despite the fact that there has been an EU embargo on the supply of ‘arms’ to China since 1989. The interpretation of the EU embargo is something which would be interesting to discuss in a different context.

      However, everything that is being used by N Korea for the production of major arms as defined for the purpose of the UN register of conventional arms (long range ballistic missiles are included) falls under the arms embargo against the country: All Member States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply (…) of all arms and related materiel (…) related to the (…), manufacture (…) use of such arms. I.e., regardless of what it says in the MTCR list. So, yeah, I guess Germany has a role to play in ensuring that ZF transmissions are not used in a North Korean missile programme.

      But this is a discussion which seems a bit besides the point in a discussion about whether the Nork missiles are really missiles. The original reason to bring the engines and transmission up was related to testing the accuracy of the Inbar analysis. In that context it just shows how easy it is for any of us to make what seems to be firm statements based on incomplete or inaccurate information.

    • P (History)

      Don’t know if this has been referred to here before, but here is an analysis supportive of the claim that China deliberatedly supplies TELs to N. Korea, which people may find interesting.

      Rather harsh words based on scanty evidence I would argue.

    • P (History)

      Mm, seems the Chinese have woken up and decided that all this negative interest in their heavy trucks requires proper action. The websites of Sanjiang Volat and seem no longer accessible.
      And when I google for Hubei Sanjiang Space Wanshan Special Vehicle CO.,LTD the link which pretends to be for brings me to a site related to quite different TELs than I expected…

  6. Otto (History)

    Very interesting analysis Jeffrey.

    Extrapolating the other designs in this way does kind of make the arguments against them using submerged engines as in the SS-N-6 seem fairly weak. You go with what you know, even if you’re not under one of the particular constraints of the original design (length), right? Thus the dismissal of the fueling ports and cable ducts also falls away somewhat.

    I’m also skeptical of arguments against the KN-08 being liquid fueled on the grounds of transportability or on-site fueling time & logistics. The Norks may have pre-staged fueling depots and/or simply an overconfident assessment of the vulnerability of well camouflaged launch sites. Just because missiles being fueled are easier to spot doesn’t mean an adversary would take the chance of missing one, so there would likely still be the desired deterrent effect.

  7. Anon2 (History)

    George W. Herbert:

    “ClF5 is … don’t go there. It sets fire suppression materials on fire, and the approved way for handling it if it catches fire is to wait for it to finish burning whatever is on fire, and wait some more, and then put out any secondary fires.”

    Classic ACW. My wife wanted to know why I was laughing.

  8. Ben (History)

    Schiller and Schmuckers article highlights the fact that the KN-08 looks like a solid fuel missile. It may be likely, that much like the the sea change in the nuclear program (from gas reactors to centrifuges and light wateer reactors) that any new mssile will be based on solid fuel as well. I expect them to draw heavily on the KN-2 Toksa and Iranian Sejil program for any future IRBM, not liquid fuel which they don’t seem to have success with anyway.

    The existance of the light water reactor is still perplexing though from a Pu production standpoint. On two counts; firstly, reactivating the gas cooled reactor at Yongbyon would have been quicker and yielded more Pu.
    Secondly, if you were going to build a reactor dedicated to Pu production, why not a heavy water reactor?

    Having said this, I remember reading somewhere that LWRs were considered for either Hanford or Savannah River in the planning stages. So maybe the choice does make sense?

    • John Schilling (History)

      The KN-08 does not in fact look much like a solid-fuel missile. Things like the fuel ports on the side make it look rather like a liquid-fuel missile. Schiller and Schmucker, if you read carefully, highlight the fact that the KN-08 looks like a three-stage missile and like a road-mobile missile. Nobody in their right mind, according to S&S, would make a three-stage liquid fuel missile or a road-mobile liquid-fuel missile.

      The North Koreans may or may not be in their right mind, but in this matter and for this decade they probably do not have a choice. Liquid and solid propellant rocketry are two different technologies, and North Korea’s expertise with the latter is limited to much smaller systems. A North Korean solid-fuel ICBM is about as plausible as a Cessna wide-body airliner.

  9. syntax (History)

    I imagine there are other ways of cooling or heating the propellant rather than encapsulating the weapon in a canister,the simplest would be an external hot or cold air hose/hoses plugged into the missile,another would be an in tank cooling or heating loops plugged into a heat exchanger on the tel,the easiest one would be to only fuel the weapon just before launch

  10. Magpie (History)

    As I said here earlier (horribly incoherently): however fake those missiles are, they’re heavy.

    Look at the picture of 218:

    Even keel. Every wheel of the TEL is an even distance from the chassis.

    Look at 216:

    Blatantly back-heavy. You can run proportions to check (compare wheel height vs distance from axle to vehicle body – 218 is steady, while 212 has rear-axles much closer to the body), but you can pretty much see it with the naked eye.

    Similarly back heavy, though harder to see, is 212:

    Causing the difference? Check the tip of the nose cone against the surrounding bar. 218 is dead centre, and the wheels are even. In 216 and 212, the missile (or whatever it is) is raised just a tiny bit from the horizontal – the nose tip is a little above the bar – and the result is a back-heavy TEL. It’s more apparent in 216 (check the front shot: ).

    For the weight distribution difference to be that dramatic from such a small change in angle would suggest that those things are heavy as hell.

    However poor their machining, I don’t think you can argue that we’re looking at a thin skin over a frame.

    We might also conclude that the TEL is capable of raising a missile to the vertical – though that’s a bit more of a stretch.

    • Magpie (History)

      Forgot to mention: though more subjective than the axle-to-body distance, this picture also shows a difference in tyre deformation for 216. Again, the rear tyres show significant deformation, while the front set are barely touching the ground.

      …and I should mention that 218’s warhead does not show the “stippled” surface that Schiller and Schmucker were talking about, and which is clearly visible in 212 and 216.

      If 218 has a heavy warhead, while 212 and 216 don’t, could that account for the difference in load distribution?

      I still think the angle is more relevant – particularly if some dope decicded to go with partially-fuelled, and we’re seeing some “slosh”…

      …how well did those things corner after the parade? 😛

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I can only speak for myself, but bringing a UDMH/NTO fueled road-mobile ICBM into a city in fueled condition, much less within a few kilometers of the Current Leader, would be a termination offense in most countries. Perhaps literally in NK.

      If those were mockups and full of water, sure. If they were real and fueled? Ahhhhhhhhhhh……… BFRC Pyonyang

  11. Magpie (History)

    Mmm, yes, well, “slosh” aside…

    …still heavy.