Jeffrey LewisHwaseong-13

Asahi has an interesting story sourced to someone in North Korea (北朝鮮関係筋).  The Strategic Rocket Museum (!) in Pyongyang may have an Unha-3 rocket, like the one launched in December, labeled the “Hwaseong-13.”




Interesting story, but I don’t think so.  Hwaseong-13 almost certainly refers to a different rocket.

Hwaseong (화성) would indicate the rocket is a bit of military hardware. While the US names North Korean missiles after a nearby place  — yielding nifty names like Nodong— the North Koreans themselves use Hwaseong, which means Mars.  (For export, strangely enough, the North Koreans appear to use “Scud,” which is a US name for the Soviet missile.)

If the Unha had a Hwaseong number, that might imply North Koreans thought of the Unha as a military item. Hence the story.

However, the best evidence would suggest a different rocket, the KN-08, is numbered Hwaseong-13.  High resolution photographs of the Transporter-Erector-Launchers that paraded through Kim Il Sung Square in April and translated by my colleague Hanah Rhee show the North Korean badges with the name and number of the type of missile.  (See above, or read the post, KN-08 Markings.)

Maybe something got lost in translation? Perhaps the Unha has a different Hwaseong number.  Perhaps the  museum is mistaken.  (I am prepared to accept that Pyongyang’s strategic rocket museum might not be up to Alex Wellerstein’s standards.) Or, perhaps, the whole story is baloney.  Hard to tell.

I am still amazed that reporters don’t check these stories out or at least google “Hwaseong -13” before publishing.


  1. John Schilling (History)

    Ashai Shimbun’s English-language “Asia & Japan Watch” site has a story describing the exhibit, in which a North Korean guide reportedly describes the rocket as being the same model as launched in April and December of last year, with a diameter of 2.4 meters and a height of 26 meters for the first two stages. The Ashai reporter does not confirm this by direct observation, stating that foreigners are generally not allowed into that pavilion, but if any of the guide’s statements are correct then the article on display is an Unha satellite launcher and not a KN-08 road-mobile missile. Or, for that matter, any other mobile missile.

    But the story also states that the object on display is clearly labeled “Hwaseong-13”, and that this the name of a long-range ballistic missile. It isn’t clear whether these assertions come from the same unnamed museum guide.
    And the guide could be completely wrong, of course.

  2. Cthippo (History)

    Couple of thoughts…

    There may not be a hard division between North Korea’s “civilian” and “military” rocket programs. They share the same technology and are likely built in the same facilities, so it makes a certain amount of sense that they might be numbered in the same series.

    Second, I’m reminded of the confusion around the Tupulev Tu-22 “Blinder” and Tu-22M “Backfire” bombers. Despite being completely different designs, they shared the same designator. Turns out the reason for this is that the Soviet bureaucracy wasn’t that hot on the new design, so it was sold to them as a modification of an existing design, despite being a totally new one. The point is that just because something doesn’t make sense to us here in the west doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for it.