Joshua PollackWhere Is North Korea's IRBM?

The U.S., South Korea, and Japan all should have a pretty good idea of what kind of missiles North Korea is shooting into the Sea of Japan at any given time, what with all the radars and imaging systems available to them and the information shared between the U.S. and each of its treaty allies. So we can probably trust the claims in the South Korean press about what types of theater ballistic missiles were fired on July 4. To wit: more or less the same batch that North Korea launched three years previously.

That leads to the question in the title of this post. Why not flight-test the Musudan, North Korea’s SS-N-6 clone, for the first time?

It’s certainly curious. David Wright and Ted Postol see the second stage of recently flown Iranian and North Korean SLVs as derived from the SS-N-6. If that’s correct, why hasn’t it been flight-tested separately?

The allies just don’t have their story straight on this one:

  • On March 19 of this year, General Walter Sharp, the commander of U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK), went further, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that “North Korea is now fielding a new intermediate range ballistic missile capable of striking Okinawa, Guam and Alaska.”
  • In February, according to Chosun Ilbo, the newly released South Korean Defense White paper stated outright that the new IRBMs had been deployed in 2007.

(As of this writing, the website of the South Korean Ministry of National Defense is down. Must be those pesky DDOS attacks.)

Perhaps it’s a matter of interpretation, and some analysts are waiting for a flight test before calling the missile deployed. If so, they must have been disappointed on July 4.

X-posted, with cosmetic adjustments, from


  1. Jochen Schischka (History)

    Excellent point, Mr. Pollack!

    Apart from rumors and a second stage of the Eunha/Taepodong-B-missile with a diameter of about 1.5 meters (but i doubt that this can be called a SS-N-6 – as an upper-stage it has to be at least heavily modified and thus is at best only vaguely based on that type of missile – and it possibly uses some different type of engine, propellant and TVC concept), we still don’t have positive confirmation of a R-27/SS-N-6/Serb in North Korea.

    Especially, i have not yet seen any evidence of the 4D10 closed-cycle main engine of the SS-N-6/Serb in the DPRK!

    Without that type of high-efficient engine, a Serb-clone with e.g. a Nodong-engine will not offer significantly better performance than a Nodong – so why design a new missile for the same purpose?

    But another interesting point to discuss is in fact if the Eunha/Taepodong-B offers the possibility of basing a complete family of missiles on that launcher – since the technology for manufacturing the individual stages is apparently available in North Korea, new missiles can now potentially be “cobbled together” modularly from available components on short notice (e.g. Eunha 1.stage + 2.stage, 1.stage + 3.stage, single-stage missile based on Eunha 1.stage etc.)…

    (BTW, i think the north-korean/syrian “700km-Scud” should be properly called Scud-ER or ER-Scud; the SS-1e/Scud-D designator definitely refers to a cancelled soviet R-17/SS-1c/Scud-B upgrade-version with an electro-optically guided MaRV with HE-payload called R-17VTO, while the syrian/north-korean device seems to be something more like an evolved iraqi Al-Abbas based on Scud-C instead of Scud-B…)

  2. Azr@el (History)

    The reason one does not see a DPRK SS-N-6 is because there is none. There is however an endemic belief amongst older analyst that North Koreans and Iranians are incapable of anything technologically indigenous bordering on racialism. This belief, when uncritically integrated into the gestalt of the mainstream, creates a blind spot for proliferation and strategic technological surprise.

  3. Jochen Schischka (History)


    You might notice that it is in fact hard to believe in a country indigenously designing and manufacturing perfectly working missiles (which they also export in considerable numbers – see Scud-B/Shahab-1, Scud-C/Shahab-2 or Nodong-A/Ghauri-I/Shahab-3) with purely coincidentally identical dimensions and proportions to old soviet ones without a credible flight-test program (that does not apply to the Eunha/Taepodong-B – accidents and failures are telltale signs of a real development effort), if that said country is obviously not even capable of doing the same with aircraft, ships, cars, consumer electronics etc.!

    (BTW, i am aware of the Iranians producing their own copies of e.g. Peugeot 405s or obsolete Mercedes-trucks, and that they are working on designing their own aircraft based on the old Northrop F-5E Tiger II, although this latter effort seems to me like it’s not too successful, but i wouldn’t dare to call all this truely indigenous, since it has more the character of legal or illegal “license” production of foreign equipment – and experience tells us that this rarely succeeds without considerable support from the original manufacturer!)

  4. Azr@el (History)

    My dear Schischka, by your rather stringent requisites for indigenous design of a rocket, the PRC should have been incapable of Long March’s indigenous development since they lacked the capability, in the same time period, of doing the same with aircraft, ships, cars, consumer electronics etc.! Herr Schischka are you perchance suggesting the east was not red?

    Likewise the Indian republic’s SLV would also not have been possibly indigenously developed, since they also in their respective time frame, lacked the capability of doing the same with aircraft, ships, cars, consumer electronics etc.!

    I put forward the bold hypothesis that missile development, being a crucial strategic technology, may be deemed so important by the leaders of third world/developing nations, those lacking in tempering by an outside superpower, as to distort their technological base. Under such conditions it may actually be the case that the first goal of a recently developing nation with strategic wiggle room will be missiles as opposed to aircraft, ships, cars, consumer electronics etc.!

  5. Jochen Schischka (History)

    Dear Azr@el,

    I think it is time to talk about the chinese missile program!

    The first missile in chinese service was the soviet R-2/SS-2/Sibling (aka Dong Feng 1)! Hardly indigenous, isn’t it? (BTW, that missile was a stretched, range-extended version of the R-1/SS-1a/Scunner which in itself was a russian-produced german Aggregat-4/V-2…this is how the Russians assimilated the missile technology – they simply got the german missile production equipment as “war trophy” and started playing around with it – and i entertain the suspicion that at least part of that german production equipment finally ended up in modified form in China -> see DF-2A)

    Their second missile type was the soviet R-5M/SS-3/Shyster (DF-2); that was apparently the first chinese-(license-)produced missile, and it had to be modified (different fins, new payload section, other radio-correction gear, differing MEL etc.), because the Russians obviously refused to deliver the full package (especially the original nuclear warhead). The resulting missile was the DF-2A/CSS-1 (note that this was the first missile to get a “CSS”-designator!).

    Only after that (plus years of chinese students at soviet engineering schools/universities) were they able to design their first own missile, the DF-3/CSS-2 – mostly because the soviets refused to export the R-12/SS-4/Sandal or the R-14/SS-5/Skean; That one still leaned heavily on soviet engineering solutions (especially considering the engines), but was in fact self-designed…and particularly not without a lengthy flight-testing program (although the western media completely ignored that – or rather, the chinese media suppressed that…)!

    So the missile technology hardly fell from the sky in China (well, only the missiles themselves…after burn-out…) – and the red in the east was more a russian than a chinese one!

    To say that the PRC started their missile program with “Long March’s indigenous development” (i guess you were referring to the LM-1, which was a modified DF-4/CSS-3 with an added solid kick-stage) is ignoring the previous lengthy and laborous years of slow soviet missile technology assimilation (bordering on criminal negligence, if you ask me – since this is perhaps an excellent model for what might be happening at the moment in the DPRK)!

    And you desperately need a broad industrial base for missile development/manufacturing – otherwise you have neither the neccessary production know-how nor the tools nor the technicians nor the basic materials available (not to speak of the theoretical aspects of the missile technology itself – but even only one brilliant genius can cover that area, in contrast to all the other things) – imagine a missile being assembled by unskilled workers who don’t know what they are doing (think Stan Laurel/Oliver Hardy…) with their bare hands (“Welding? What is that? Never heard of this…nah, lets just tape this together…”) from imported parts (BTW, nobody noticed that half the parts in that shipment was scrap metal from old cars and the rest is unusable by now due to warping and corrosion…“How should we know how to identify, transport or store them? We never had the same problems with our potatoes or bananas…”) – and, oh well, we forgot about the screws (“Chewing gum, anybody? Or some pack-thread?”)…

    The indian SLV is in fact some sort of puzzle (if you’re inclined to accept the official indian dimensions and development history of that device) – but i find the semblance in general appearance and proportions to the Scout launcher quite intriguing (plus the fact that the U.S. and France etc. might have had a strategic reason to build-up a counter-player for China at that time, which had been built-up by the USSR)…

  6. Andy (History)

    Well, the line between what is a copy and what is “indigenous” can be rather large. A good illustration is the Exocet anti-ship missile has many aunts and uncles around the world. Which ones are “indigenous” and which ones are “copies?” Hard to say for sure and it’s rather like trying to determine which cars are “American” and which are not.

    One should also consider that not “reinventing the wheel” isn’t necessarily a sign of technical backwardness. The Chinese certainly have excellent technical skills, but they still see the advantage of absconding and modifying an existing design, which saves development time and money.

  7. raghar (History)

    Well considering the goal of Iran’s aircraft program was to make something that could carry bombs and has some stealth attributes, both theirs programs were successes.

    Azr@el It’s not racism, it’s colonialism. Some people from the west are unwilling to accept an indigenous research from non western countries, because they would be forced to accept the possibility of low salaries in said projects and theirs own salaries would be in danger.

  8. Jochen Schischka (History)

    I find it noteworthy to observe that everytime somebody suggests that countries like North Korea or Iran are anything but fully self-reliant in their weapons programs (be that missiles, nuclear, aircraft, tanks, whatever), words like “racism” and “colonialism” are starting to get tossed around…

    I think Andy has made an interesting point: It’s definitely not stupid to start with an imported product, then acquire a production license (and the neccessary production equipment) and only later on, when you have first-hand experience in operations and production, start with modifications in the license-manufactured product – before you try designing something completely indigenous with your by now accumulated expertise and capability. There is a lot more to designing and producing missiles (or most other things) than meets the eye on first sight!

    In fact, i suppose trying it the other way around would be foolish: You’d be damned to make all the same costly mistakes the others were learning from all over again!

  9. Pedro

    @Jochen Schischka

    Iran and North Korea are countries which have a doctrine in which its said that almost everything has to be produced locally to be accepted by the military.

    They proove this by showing large numbers of their products.

    Thats why there is still a difference between those “third world countries”.

  10. Azr@el (History)

    Let’s clarify a major point, I said “racialism” not “racism”. The distinction is I don’t assume that analyst have a negative opinion of North Koreans nor Iranians, merely that they tend to adopt silly stereotypes that consumers or generals hold; such as all Japanese cars are good, all American cars are junk, all Russian weapons are primitive, all American weapons are advanced. These beliefs are not necessarily negative towards the people who manufacture these products merely they exhibit a fallacy that some ethnic/cultural groups are more “gifted” when it comes to certain endeavors than others. This short cut for the brain may be an efficient way for the consumer to decide his next car or cellphone but this mental laziness can lead to strategic miscalculation. The Japanese make good cars because of underlying poli-economic reasons, America has been making bad cars for the last 30 years or so because of a captive market and cheap energy, not because Americans don’t produce fine engineers. Americans prefer advanced weapons because the high cost of labour precludes large armies and the military industrial complex favours expensive research projects, the Ruskies tend to favour cheaper weapons because mass warfare with quickly raised levies using simple easy to maintain weapons is more in line with their historical recipe for battlefield. Yet some fanboys will persist in their juvenile and ridiculous belief that American weapons are more advanced because Russian engineering or science lags ours failing to into account that the Russians have developed advanced weapons on par with our best. And as far as colonialism, neither Iran nor North Korea experienced colonization by a Far West Eurasian state, perhaps in some small part explaining their hesitance to heed our “advice” for their capitulation.

    As to my alleged “criminal negligence”, I’m no more ignoring China’s long march to longmarch-1 any more more than I’m ignoring the DPRK’s or the IRI long crawl towards missile self sufficiency. I accept the debt of the Chinese program to the Soviet program as I do the Soviet program to the Nazi missile program. But as a Tawainese friend of mine oft says,“Where we get it, not important, just as long as they don’t sue us where we market it”. And in this case it seems more important if they’re able to produce it in house as opposed to whence the arrived at their insights.

    My only worry is that certain analyst are attempting to shoehorn every DPRK or IRI achievement into a Russian or Chinese import. They take a look at the stack of missile and began devolving the various pieces into preexisting Russian or Chinese components. This sort of exercise, while very “energy efficient” for the mind and highly conducive with powerpoint may rob us of a truer understanding of these programs.

  11. Jochen Schischka (History)


    “They proove this by showing large numbers of their products”

    Really? Can you show me examples? Do you have one single photo of a Hwasong-6/Scud-C (there are photos of a single Shahab-2/Scud-C procured via the DPRK available, but nothing from North Korea itself – at least, not open-source and/or conclusive!) or a Moksong/Nodong-A (again, photos of iranian Shahab-3 are available, but even during parades, i know of no incident in which more than 6 missiles were presented at the same time – and at least half of them were clearly only mock-ups!)?

    The fact that these countries claim to be doing this (or certainly would like to be able to do this) does not automatically mean it is true…

  12. Jochen Schischka (History)


    Could you please explain to me how the North Koreans do this with a GDP in the range of only 40 billion $ (and this is already corrected for purchasing power!) and a starving population???

    And why their “indigenously developed” missiles look exactly and perform exactly like old soviet/russian ones (e.g. R-17/Scud-B, 9M77/Scud-C, R-15/Nodong-A, 9K79 Tochka/Scarab, P-15 Termit/Styx) and even are marked in kyrillic (i’m not talking about the Eunha – which obviously uses “components of the shelf” of soviet/russian provenience like e.g. the Nodong-engine!)???

    And why they work perfectly even without a flight-testing program (again, i’m not talking about the Eunha)???

    And why the iranian Safir apparently uses engine technology that has previously been used exclusively in Russia (corrugated steel with IRFNA/Kerosene or reactively plus film-cooled copper with NTO/UDMH)???

    Which country do you expect next to conjure up a multi-stage “satellite-launcher” (which “by coincidence” shares so many similarities with certain aspects of russian missiles) “without outside help” – Uruguay (about the same GDP…)??? Cote d’Ivoire (similar per capita GDP)???

    You know what – i’d be extremely surprised if even fully developed first-world states like Austria or Belgium (with a demonstrably much broader industrial base and about ten times the GDP!!!) could pull off something like this without any outside help!

    To be frank (and maybe not as diplomatic as would be appropriate – i hope nobody feels personally offended by this, since that is not really my intention), as far as i see, somebody stubbornly refusing to even consider the possibility of these states to not do everything without help (by somebody whose product line-up bears striking resemblance) has to be either quite naive (aka has not even the slightest bit of insight into industrial production/design processes) or has a political agenda (like “Suppress all nascent suspicion about the Russians blatantly breaking all non-proliferation-treaties they ever signed…”)!

    In one thing i agree with you – we should not blindly assume that everything that shows up in North Korea or Iran (or Pakistan or anywhere else) is of russian or chinese origin (unless we have clear indication for this, which, as far as i see, is at least in respect to a large part of their weapons programs the case – other parts, like the Eunha, the Safir or the Ghadr seem to be already first indigenous advancements…the ghost seems to be slipping out of the bottle at the moment); But the same holds true in the opposite direction: we should not automatically negate at all costs the possibility of these states not re-inventing the wheel all over again without any outside help (especially if that wheel “by coincidence” bears striking resemblance to a soviet/russian one)!

  13. Pedro

    @Jochen Schischka

    NK has proven its production capacities by displaying their Tochka variant on their own TELs in large numbers during the parade one or two years ago. They also displayed large numbers of SCUDs during that occasion. They might not produce the SCUD-C in larger numbers because their main target Seoul is already well in range.

    Iran showed those 6 Shahab-3’s during one parade. It’s unlikely that they would gather all Shahab-3 TELs stationed all around that mountainous and large country for the annual parade. Iran never displayed massive numbers of equipment during its parades, only examples, Soviet style NK shows large numbers. Iran also displays mostly only mock-up missiles during its parades, take a look on the other missiles displayed during those parades, they are either training round or mock-ups.

    As for flight tests: They likely have already mastered INS/Sensor controlled (adaptive) guidance and navigation systems(thanks to modern solid-state technology). They likely also make good use of modern engineering software for missile body designing process including their empirical knowledge via Shahab-3 testing’s.
    Thus the bottle-neck should be new engine technologies they use and for that they have static testing facilities. That all should be a huge difference to what other countries did more than 30 years ago.

    But I don’t deny intensive help via China and maybe also Russia.

  14. Jochen Schischka (History)


    “NK has proven its production capacities by displaying their Tochka variant on their own TELs in large numbers”

    Well, again, eight hardly is a large number (at least that’s the number i am counting/extrapolating based on the available open-source material – i guess you were referring to the Pyongyang-parade on April 25., 2007) – and you know what? On closer examination, a modified TEL (without the cross-country mobility of the original one!) does not mean they are able to produce the belonging missile – and particularly neither the 9B64 three-axis gyroscopic platform nor the solid-rocket engine of that missile (but i also explicitly don’t want to exclude this possibility – as a sort of license production with heavy involvement of foreign specialists – definitely not “rev-eng”)!

    “It’s unlikely that they would gather all Shahab-3 TELs stationed all around that mountainous and large country for the annual parade”

    Unlikely? I’m not so sure about that – have you ever looked more closely at these six MELs? They all differ significantly from each other (and thus can easily be identified over and over again at different events), like in an experimental or improvised program. All in all, i’m counting nine such unique specimens so far (the MELs of the Safir and the Sejil included) – and this is rather an indicator against a large and/or professional series production operation (typically characterized by a high level of uniformity!) in my eyes…

    “They likely have already mastered INS/Sensor controlled (adaptive) guidance and navigation systems (thanks to modern solid-state technology).”

    I do not think that this is likely! Most of what these countries have demonstrated so far can be easily achieved even with a “primitive” Horizont/Vertikant guidance system, and the rest (like Tochka/Scarab) uses with high probability a three-axis gyroscopic platform (like that of the Tochka or the R-27/SS-N-6/Serb) – neither need nor evidence for a fully computerized, acceleration-sensor-based solid-state strap-down system (Do you have any idea how complicated these beasts are???)! If they’d be using something like this, then why do we still see hatches of similar dimensions and layout like that of the Scud on their missiles? Nostalgia?

    “But I don’t deny intensive help via China and maybe also Russia.”

    We can agree on that – except that it’s rather the other way around in my opinion: i see Russia (and/or formerly soviet states like Belarus or Ukraine) clearly as the main proliferator (since we’re talking almost exclusively about russian/soviet technology); Possibly also China has a hand in this (albeit rather secondary)…and i don’t want to exclude “western” nations like Japan, France or Germany neither (as smaller and more remote, possibly even unconscious contributors of “dual-use”-technology)!

  15. Pedro

    @Jochen Schischka

    Well 8 or 10 TELs at one parade shows mass production capability imo. Their TEL isn’t a cross-country design but this likely only show that they use the technology is available in large numbers for mass production.

    Those six Iranian TELs were all of the same type. There are quite a few Shahab-3 TELs yes, but those six were identical to each other, hinting to operational mass production units.
    There are several Shahab-3 TEL designs built in Iran, some of them are prototypes, others likely built by different factories around Iran, some even with different capabilities.

    I said that a modern strap-down INS system is likely for Iran, for two reasons. All of the different medium range missiles use the same RV design in different configurations and there are more configurations there than known to most people.
    Secondly Iran has showed its laser accelerometer based INS system first for aircrafts later for “general purposes” during some exhibitions.

    These are very complex systems, but well within the capability of the Iranian electronic industry imo. What’s really hard to master are mass production suited production systems and the mechanical engineering in general (turbo pumps, motors).

    But my opinions are based on the capabilities of the Iranian industry in general I have seen; some have seen more but most likely less.
    I see no direct Russian connection expect Soviet scientists that have come to Iran, but with China they have open projects and even more so with NK.

  16. Jochen Schischka (History)


    “Their TEL isn’t a cross-country design”

    So we agree that the north korean ‘Toksa’-system is definitely less capable than the original soviet/russian ‘Tochka’?

    And we still don’t know for sure that they are able to manufacture the belonging missiles, do we? Only that they are able to convert commercial trucks.

    “Those six Iranian TELs…were identical to each other”

    WHAT??? Didn’t you notice that there are 2-axle-, 3-axle- and 4-axle-types (technically speaking, Mobile Erector/Launcher, not Transporter/Erector/Launcher, is the correct term, since these are tractor/trailor-combinations, BTW pulled by commercial Mercedes-trucks…so i wouldn’t expect too excellent cross-country capability of these things, either)? And that the 3-axle-MELs come in at least 5 different variations (different frame, different tow-bar, different superstructures etc.)?

    “All of the different medium range missiles use the same RV design”

    Let’s look at the iranian missile types:
    Shahab-1/R-17/Scud-B: non-separating conical 987kg HE-warhead;
    Shahab-2/9M77/Scud-C: non?-separating conical ~700kg HE-warhead;
    Shahab-3/R-15/Nodong-A: separating conical ~1300kg (or up to 2100kg?) HE-warhead;
    Ghadr-1/Nodong-B?: separating tri-conic ~650kg warhead (i think that one is the Project-111 RV for a nuclear payload – anything else does not make sense to me considering the small volume of only ~350l of that device);
    Sejil: separating tri-conic ~650kg warhead (the same as on the Ghadr-1);

    Shahab-1, Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 use Horizont/Vertikant systems (most likely even more or less the same 1SB11 inertia platform); since the Ghadr-1 is nothing but a modified Shahab-3, i’d say that chances are good that the Ghadr-1 also uses Horizont/Vertikant (plus: similar dimensions of the guidance section to Scud-B and characteristic layout with four hatches); So i interpret the identical RV rather as an indication for the Sejil to also use Horizont/Vertikant (plus: again, similar guidance compartment dimensions and four rectangular hatches, not e.g. a single round one)…

    “I see no direct Russian connection expect Soviet scientists that have come to Iran, but with China they have open projects and even more so with NK.”

    Can you please back up your claim with an example? See above for several examples of soviet/russian missile types in iranian service (Makeev R-17/SS-1c/Scud-B, Makeev 9M77/SS-1d/Scud-C, Yangel-Makeev R-15/Nodong-A – o.k., all of them apparently procured via the DPRK, but definitely of soviet/russian provenience!). Additionally, the engines of both Safir-stages are of an Isayev-type (Nodong-engine plus R-27/SS-N-6/Serb-two-chamber-vernier-engine) – and the body of that missile is nothing but a stretched 1.25m fuselage (characteristic of the R-13/SS-N-4/Sark, R-15/Nodong-A, R-21/SS-N-5 line of soviet/russian missiles). Where exactly do you see a chinese influence (as i wrote before, i don’t want to exclude this possibility – but if this is in fact the case, their contribution is obviously rather secondary…)?

  17. Azr@el (History)

    The Nodong A is the Yangel-Makeev R-15? This is exactly what I mean when I say there is an irrational hesitancy to accept that the North Koreans or the Iranians could have developed anything without a sinister Russian presence holding their hands. The R-15, to which you refer, was a paper design for a submarine launched ballistic missile of ~1000km and a CEP of 2-3 kms, this thing never left the draft table. The Nodong-A/Shahab-3 is a flight proven roadable MRBM of range ~1500 kms and a cep of <200m. Various attempts have been made to claim that that the NoDong engine is derived from either the SS-N-5 or the SS-N-4 but since neither of these beasties have the slightest similarities in performance or design to the NoDong engine it’s now time to trot out the concept idea of R-15, a never realized paper exercise, in an attempt to place false paternity upon a Russian missile.

  18. Pedro

    @Jochen Schischka

    “So we agree that the north korean ‘Toksa’-system is definitely less capable than the original soviet/russian ‘Tochka’?”

    Yes, at least for the TEL, but this means nothing without considering their launch doctrine and their mass-production capability. They simply have not a similar vehicle they can get in numbers.

    “WHAT??? Didn’t you notice that there are 2-axle-, 3-axle- and 4-axle-types “

    Aren’t we talking about the Parade at which six Shahab-3A’s were displayed? At that occasion the six MEL’s were identical.

    “considering the small volume of only ~350l of that device”

    I once made a CAD reconstruction and came to a different volume for the warhead section of the RV.

    If it’s not a strap-on INS guidance system, then they have at least software systems based on the empirical knowledge of that INS system which allows them to quickly test different configurations of the system. Otherwise they would be able to test at least four known variants of the tri-conic RV. This leads me to one conclusion; the guidance system is mastered, that’s why it seems to be not the reason for occasional malfunctions.

    The example for the direct Chinese cooperation are the short range ballistic missile projects from the 90’s (one of them was a solid fuel HQ-2 IIRC).

    Russia is just the source for technology which is reverse engineered by North Koreans, Iranians and Chinese.

  19. Jochen Schischka (History)


    And when exactly has a Nodong-A/Moksong/Ghauri/Shahab-3 ever been tested to a range of over 1000km? (As far as i know, there was only one try at this in Iran in 1998 – and that missile exploded after 99 seconds…sounds very much like excess RPM of the turbopump due to run-out of a propellant component to me!) Do not mix up Nodong-A and its iranian enhancement Ghadr-1 (which i guess is the real Nodong-B, since, as this thread initially was all about, an SS-N-6-based irrationally-named “Nodong-B” has never surfaced, while the Ghadr-1, which is without doubt a variation of the Nodong-A, was coincidentally unveiled at about the same time of first rumors about “Nodong-B” in the west)!

    CEP of <200m? On which facts do you base that assumption? (Actually, i’d consider 2-3km as somewhat optimistic!) If you have any evidence for this – you are highly welcome to share that! (Nationalistic media outlet does not count – otherwise the Soviets would rule over the world since the early 60ies because of their “superior ideology and technology”, as they never got tired of boasting about…)

    And of course, the Nodong-engine is not derived from neither the SS-N-4 nor the SS-N-5-engine – if you haven’t noticed by now, the whole R-15-project (and yes, the USSR never fully developed that missile, so some engineering work must have been done on it before fielding it – especially considering a rework for road-mobility and a conventional warhead) was a blow-up of the R-17/SS-1c/Scud-B, as is the engine (undeniable resemblance with the Isayev 9D21 – only larger)!

    The fact that Scud and Nodong use the same propellants (compare the rocket exhaust of both missiles!) alone should be a telltale sign!

  20. Jochen Schischka (History)


    “Aren’t we talking about the Parade at which six Shahab-3A’s were displayed? At that occasion the six MEL’s were identical.”

    Yes, we are talking about the Teheran-parade from September 22., 2003. Check out this video:

    In this video alone (was the best i could find on-the-fly on the ‘net), first we see the 4-axle-MEL (with the different warhead hoop guard characteristic of that type), then unfortunately only two of the four paraded 3-axle-trailers (these two could have been identical, although i can’t say for sure – nonetheless, the lack of e.g. handholds on the erecting frames let me come to the conclusion that these MELs were at that time unfinished at best…); If i recall this correctly, then the other two 3-axle-ones had a different type of frame (and differed in their superstructures), but i haven’t found conclusive graphic material yet (still searching). Last, we see a Shahab-3-MEL with only two axles (and a different trellised erecting arm). So from this video alone we can say that the six MELs clearly were NOT identical (and the 3-axle-MELs were of at least two different kinds, although that does not get clear from that particular video)!

    “I once made a CAD reconstruction and came to a different volume for the warhead section of the RV.”

    O.k., i should have written usable internal volume (and i’ve been CAD-modeling, too)…

    “at least four known variants of the tri-conic RV”

    And what types would these be? Forget about B- and C-weapons (too low density and too heat-sensitive!) and HE-types (too little area of effect!)…(BTW, what is a “strap-on” INS guidance system? I guess you meant “strap-down”…)

    “The example for the direct Chinese cooperation are the short range ballistic missile projects from the 90’s (one of them was a solid fuel HQ-2 IIRC).”

    The HQ-2 is a chinese license-production SA-2b/Guideline mod.1 from the Soviet Union, and it is not solid-fueled. Well, sort of, in part. Double-base booster (~3sec t-burn) plus IRFNA/Tonka/Isopropyl Nitrate sustainer (~40sec t-burn + reserves). The SA-2 (and many of the other early soviet SAM types) was designed from the start to be capable of a secondary surface-to-surface-mode – but everybody who tried using it that way (like the Iraqis or the Serbs – and probably the Chinese and Iranians, too) discovered that this didn’t work as advertised (way too much deviation for the 195kg fragmentation warhead).

    “Russia is just the source for technology which is reverse engineered by North Koreans, Iranians and Chinese.”

    Let me tell you a little secret: the mythical “reverse engineering” does not work in the real world!

    Either you have the same or a higher level of industrial sophistication than the one you’re trying to copy (and then you’d design your own things, not copy somebody else, because your engineers will favor different solutions they are familiar with and fit your industrial culture and production capability better) or your “rev-eng” copy is of lesser quality (e.g. has a higher empty weight, worse overall performance, higher fuel consumption, less reliability etc.) – to the point of total loss of functionality.

    Look for example at the american missile program: The U.S. had at least the same level of sophistication than the Germans in 1945 – that’s why they left the production equipment for the Aggregat-4/V-2 behind at Mittelbau; Thus, the first american missile, the Redstone, had completely different dimensions than the Aggregat-4 measured in inches, not in millimeters. And they needed additional help for this to succeed: the creme de la creme of german rocket scientists around Wernher von Braun…

    The Russians had a lesser level of sophistication than wartime-Germany – that’s why they had to reduce the number of different alloys and materials on their copy of the Aggregat-4, the R-1/SS-1a/Scunner, from originally 173 down to 80 at the cost of higher dry weight and less performance, and they still had to secretly import e.g. special types of sealing rings from East Germany, although they had the complete Nordhausen-missile-production-plant (which soon was relocated to the USSR) plus all of their own industry at their hands! And that missile, plus the further developments R-2/SS-2/Sibling and R-5M/SS-3/Shyster still used the same body diameter of 1651mm and LOX/Alcohol as fuel!

    Let’s look at another classical “rev-eng” example, the Tupolev-4/Bull – higher empty weight (although e.g. the B-29’s crawling tunnel through the bomb bays got deleted), engines with higher SFC, reduced bomb load and generally lesser performance…

    Wouldn’t you have a bad feeling, too, if you’d be flying in a Boeing- or Airbus-airliner that you’d know to be maintained with faked “rev-eng” parts (e.g. from China or Turkey)?

    “Reverse engineering” only “works” if you have the right production equipment (preferably the original one), full documentation of what you’re producing, capable engineers who are familiar with that special type of technology, skilled factory workers (who, too, have to be familiar with that type of technology), access to the right raw materials and, last but not least, specialists from the original manufacturer to supervise the whole process until production is running sufficiently (aka “license production“)!

    And even license production can be problematic – look for example at the difficulties of the german (hey, Germany isn’t particularly underdeveloped or third-world, isn’t it?) production of the F-104G Starfighter or the Hawk-SAM…if an utopic North Korea WONDERLAND can really pull something like this off without previous experience on that sector, heavy outside help or even a credible flight testing program, their engineers, factory workers etc. have to be a lot better than anybody else on this planet (now let’s talk about “racism” and (inverted) “colonialism”, raghar…)!

  21. Pedro

    @Jochen Schischka

    I have seen a video of the parade at which six MELs were displayed, it was 2005 IIRC. I don’t think it was the parade in the video and I’m confident that the six were identical. Since I can’t present any material, count it just as a claim by me.

    “The HQ-2 is a chinese license-production SA-2b/Guideline mod.1 from the Soviet Union, and it is not solid-fueled.”

    Yes but reports are claiming a project of a solid fueled SSM variant, while there are no claims of any SSM related project with the Russians.

    As for reverse engineering. You are of course right with most of what you said. BUT the point is that SCUD or SS-N-6 technology is pretty old by now and production systems and available materials have greatly improved ever since. North Korea to copy the SCUD in the mid-80’s, means that they could make use of new production systems and maybe even materials. Thus they might have been able to build their measured parts with even tighter tolerances than the original Soviet SCUD-B. Reverse engineering also means that you are years behind the original manufacturer and production systems also improve. Just a basic example to point out what I mean: A skilled German worker fabricates a V-2 part with very tight tolerances using a were precise conventional milling machine. In 1990 a North Korean poorly trained worker lets a CNC milling machine produce the same part according to a CNC program, programmed by one skilled engineer. The North Korean machine is of lot less quality than the conventional German one but its cutting materials allow faster cutting speeds and the CNC program prevents the unskilled worker to do produce parts outside the tolerance. The result is a part of at least the same quality made with a poor workforce and a less precise machine, the part is also cheaper.

    It’s not coincidence that countries like those three often only copy systems that are at least 20 years old. If they can’t copy something according to the necessary tolerances of the original part they either give up, or go on knowing that the systems will be inferior to the original one or move more to other directions such as composite materials e.g.

  22. Azr@el (History)

    Dear Jochen, I think this R-15 obsession is becoming like the BM-25 issue. Let me reiterate, the R-15 never flew, the R-15 never had a production line, the R-15 was a paper exercise that lasted 8 months and that was 1958! You would have us assume that the DPRK and IRI with access to modern technology have chosen to forgo the last 40 years of scientific and engineering advancement to complete a paper design from 1958. Seriously?

    The NoDong engine is related to the open cycle scud engine, probably because it used working functional scud engines as learning tools not because they are buying mythical Russian R-15 engines.

    And with respect to reverse engineering, your argument fails to take into account that the planet is tumbling thru time as well as space. For example the troubled attempt of the BRD to license produce the HAWK SAM in the 70’s should be contrasted to the Iranian reverse engineering of the HAWK SAM in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The advancement of the information revolution allowed a more modest Iranian team to achieve in isolation what the BRD could not do without U.S. help not more than 2 decades beforehand.

    And before you say that the Iranian HAWK is non-existent and the Iranians are merely managing to keep functional existing stocks, I would opine, if that were the case then of the ~160 IHAWKs delivered to Iran before the revolution, satellite imagery seems to suggest some ~456 seemed to have survived the war. In fact their production volume of IHAWKs is such that they have created a long range over the horizon air to air missile based on the IHAWK. As to their version being inferior, every bit of info that comes out seems to suggest they’ve improved the range of both the motor and sensor head and have realized advancements to the intercept algorithms. Their version is no match for Raytheon’s MIM-23L/M but they are significantly improved over the original MIM-23A/B.

  23. Jochen Schischka (History)


    “I have seen a video of the parade at which six MELs were displayed, it was 2005 IIRC.”

    Nope, the parade with the six MELs was definitely in 2003. In 2005 only two 3-axle MELs (quite similar in appearance, but differing from each other in little details) were shown – one carrying a Ghadr-1, the other a Shahab-3 (plus a second Shahab-3 on a transport trailer). Unfortunately, i still haven’t found a better video clearly showing all four three-axle MELs from 2003, though (although i clearly remember once seeing something like that – and it explicitly catched my eye back then that it were at least two different kinds of 3-axle-MELs)…

    “Yes but reports are claiming a project of a solid fueled SSM variant, while there are no claims of any SSM related project with the Russians.”

    1.) Reports can be wrong (or misguided or misunderstood). And we should keep in mind that the lack of claims may be an indication, but no evidence.

    2.) That would of course not be with the Russians directly, but via North Korea. Appearances have to be kept up.

    3.) As i wrote before, the SA-2 has an intrinsic ability to be used as a SSM (but it sucks in that role); I’d be astonished if the chinese license-produced SA-2, the HQ-2, would not possess that attribute, too (and is then called CSS-8). BTW, you can read “solid-fueled SA-2” over and over again on the ‘net (i guess there’s a lot of “experts” out there who have never seen that thing in action – or even on paper)…

    4.) The Sahab-1/Scud-B, Shahab-2/Scud-C, Shahab-3/Nodong-A, the Ghadr-1/Nodong-B (?) and the first stage of the Safir IRILV all use the same propellants (compare the rocket exhausts of all these types – they are all very similar!): AK-27I/TM-185 (aka IRFNA/Kerosene). How much experience do the Chinese have with that type of technology (in their self-designed missiles, they exclusively use “NTO”/“UDMH” – i suppose IRFNA with high NTO-share and AZ-11 would be a more fitting description)?

    “they could make use of new production systems and maybe even materials…or move more to other directions such as composite materials e.g.”

    Then failure would be guaranteed! Without expertise on that sector (or other, comparable sectors), how should the engineers know how to dimension e.g. the tank walls (provided that they know the exact properties of the original material – aka have the full documentation from the original manufacturer at hand…)? Too thin, and the missile will break up around q-max for sure (this is unacceptable, isn’t it?); Too thick and the dry weight goes up – and the all-over performance down the drain (nonetheless, if you don’t know exactly the original specifications or don’t have access to exactly the right material, this is the only way possible). Or during e.g. welding, your material gets too hot locally – and later fails because of that. Or due to milling in the wrong direction or because of the wrong sequence of production steps or because of missing chemical resistance or because the wrong filler was used for brazing or because of an insufficiently isolated cable or because a screw was tightened with the wrong torque etc., etc. etc. (i could go on with this indefinitely!)

    Oh, and did i mention QA? More art than science…

    My point is: we are talking about rocket science in this context; Most people only see the completed missile and have no idea how much know-how and effort it took to manufacture that thing alone, not to speak of designing it! Or what arcane types of things can go wrong! You’ll have to know exactly what you’re doing before trying (or you miserably fail – “learning by doing” involves a lot of expensive, frustrating and embarrassing backlash – and this is particularly incompatible with a tight budget, high-flying ambitions and an unscrupulous employer…). Or before modifying either the missile or the production process (which amounts to the same). “Modern methods” or machines don’t help you in that department – first you’ll have to know how to use these properly, too.
    And we’re still only talking about the simple things (not e.g. thrust chambers, turbopumps, gyroscopes or jet vanes)…

    You might have a point with the 20+ years old technology; I think the crux is that the Russians stopped production of all these systems (Scud, Nodong – which was never in series-production in the USSR, Styx and Tochka; probably also components of Serb and Skean or perhaps even Stiletto) – so the obsolete production-line tooling (plus the production manuals and possibly even highly specialized experts for these systems) was apparently expendable to them. Very much like that of the R-5M/SS-3/Shyster back in 1959 (which went to the PRC)…

  24. Jochen Schischka (History)

    A little addition to my last comment:

    Pedro, in case you were referring to the Fateh-110 (and a possible, frequently suggested connection to the chinese DF-11/CSS-7): that type of missile obviously represents a guided version of the 610mm-solid-fueled Zelzal-3 and is steered by air vanes (as is the HQ-2/SA-2b/CSS-8, too), not jet vanes – so a connection to the DF-11 or the Shahab-3 or Ghadr-1 is highly unlikely due to a completely different steering concept (and different diameters and different propellants);

    Considering the “6-MEL-Parade” – surprising as that may seem, that was under the “moderate reformer” Chatami, not Ahmedinejad…

  25. Pedro

    @ Jochen Schischka

    I don’t know your level of knowledge on the Iranian industry but I think you underestimate it.

    They started from the RPG-7 rocket in the early 80’s and are where they are today. 30 years intensive attempts to acquire technology and thus 30 years of experience in that field.

    Give me some necessary testing equipment and I will tell you the properties of the materials and then calculate which material I have to use to remain under the q-max of the original material and I need no full documentation for that. I may ask some experts on composite materials if they can get me something lighter with the same properties to improve the performance. All this is well within the capabilities of a rather small but “elite” part of the Iranian industry.

    And yes we are talking about rocket science and they use rev-eng, because the most critical area for them is most likely the basic design. All the mechanical solutions used and the calculation for kinetic mechanics, rev-eng saves them from this process, they just have to get production systems able to copy the 20 years old technology using 5 year old production technology. That’s why they sometimes even manage to improve the performance over the original system.

    As for the Chinese cooperation: They would just need the guidance technology, the INS and its production line to have another problem solved in their SSM programs. Whether steered by fins or jet vanes doesn’t matter here, such minor modifications are well within the capabilities of Iranian engineers. What’s important are the components they would now be able to mass produce for guidance systems.

    As for the MEL, I’m sure the parade was not in 2003 and I’m sure six of the operational systems were identical, but unfortunately I can’t prove something like this by tipping into the keyboard. I can just recommend you to look at it again if you like to.

  26. Jochen Schischka (History)


    Then why can drawings of an astonishingly similar-dimensioned Nodong-like thrust-chamber be found in 40 year old soviet text-books about rocket engine manufacturing?

    And, to repeat this again (although i’m quite confident that you will ignore this argument yet again), how did the North Koreans do this without any former expertise on that sector or a lengthy, visible testing program with many, many experiments (simple upscaling won’t do the trick – recall that this is rocket science!)?

    Another interesting fact: the R-1/SS-1a/Scunner used a LOX/Alcohol-engine with about 27t thrust – exactly the thrust level of the IRFNA/Kerosene Nodong-engine (so this was perhaps initially intended for some sort of alternative R-1 with storable propellants…the much smaller and less complicated pressure-fed R-11/SS-1b/Scud-A, based on the german Wasserfall-SAM, later filled that slot nicely, although it lost the range-compatibility with the addition of the nuclear warhead – thus later the development of R-17/SS-1c/Scud-B)!
    I think there was a lot more development time and money spent on this project than the “official” 8 months in 1958 (this is probably only the time when the D-3-system was used as a low-tech-backup-option to the at that time rather ambitious high-risk D-4-system with R-21/SS-N-5)! How can the Project 639 submarine be in design from 1955 on without the belonging D-3 missile complex (compare this to the development of e.g. the D-2 missile complex and the accompaning Project 658 submarine)? Plus, as i mentioned above, the engine itself might have even older roots…
    (BTW, the fact that 15 is a lower number than 17 tells me that the Scud-B is a later development than the R-15, aka a miniaturized, evolved version of that missile compatible to the 8U218-TEL of the R-11. Compare several features of the Shahab-3/Ghauri/Nodong-A like e.g. the volume of the guidance compartment or the expansion ratio of the engine’s nozzle aka the presumptive chamber pressure to that of the R-17 – and you will notice indications for exactly such a course of action!)

    And i don’t see a point in this technology being 40 years old: The Scud-B and Scud-C are (almost) that old, too! Even Tochka (which is obviously intended to replace the DPRK’s decomposing FROG-7s) can’t really be called fresh anymore. And the Russians nowadays still frequently use a variation of the R-7 to launch their “Sputniks”…

    In fact, this can even be interpreted as an indicator for the DPRK not having access to modern technology – otherwise they without doubt wouldn’t bother with reproducing these ancient foreign designs, but do something completely different from the ground up like anybody else (again, example: Aggregat-4/V-2 -> Redstone)!

    Considering the Hawk-SAM:

    Have you noticed that the Hawk is, by coincidence, neither produced nor in service in Germany anymore? Wonderously, the Iranians nowadays claim to manufacture exactly that type of missile by mythical “reverse engineering” (of course, without any outside help thanks to synthetication by their Star-Trek-like ultra-advanced replicator technology…)!

    Draw your own conclusions…

  27. Azr@el (History)

    For Pete’s sake Jochen, are you now implying that Raytheon’s german operation sits in Teheran popping out IHAWKS? Are we also to assume all of the Western kit being produced in Iran, from antitank missiles, helicopters, Missile Corvettes, fighter jets, etc are all courtesy of Western production lines hunting the source of cheapest farsi speaking labour?

    As far as the NoDong-A, the DPRK flight tested from 1990 ‘til 1993 before they had a successful flight. And recall this was not their first time dabbling in rocket science, the DPRK had started their missile prgram back in 1965! They had worked on project DF-61 in the mid 1970’s and had assembled a scud clone before the 1980’s began, during the 1980’s they made improvements to the scud and finally felt they were ready to breakout with their low risk super scud; this took a generation and God and the Commissars only know the number of engineers, scientist and technicians who devoted their lives to these projects.

    North Korean industry is nowhere near as sophisticated as Russia or the U.S., let alone South Korea, but it has proved equal to the challenge of producing Submarines, attack boats, nuclear reactors and of course a few missiles here and there.

  28. Josh (History)


    I’m familiar with the successful flight-test of the Nodong in 1993, but hadn’t heard about previous attempts. Can you point me to a source?

  29. Azr@el (History)

    This is a fairly good, if perhaps understated by deficiencies of technical collection, accounting of the NoDong type engine’s flight record.

  30. Jochen Schischka (History)


    And i think you grossly underestimate the difficulties of all this!

    What has the RPG-7 (or the BM-12 or the BM-21 etc.) in common with Scud or Nodong? Liquid propellants? No, wait, i know: the guidance compartment; Or the jet vanes? Or the diameter? Or generally any construction principles? Apples and oranges!
    This is like inferring that somebody who just managed to fry an egg is automatically also able to perfectly roast a turkey, cook a soup and bake a cake…

    “Give me some necessary testing equipment and I will tell you the properties of the materials and then calculate which material I have to use to remain under the q-max of the original material and I need no full documentation for that.”

    Obviously, you have never ever tried to do exactly that. (BTW, q-max refers to maximum ram air pressure during flight, not any material properties; I must apologize for presupposing the volubleness of that abbreviation; I should have explained that better.)
    Let me suggest that you first try to “rev-eng” something simple from everyday life, preferentially over 20 years old in design, like a spark plug. We’ll talk again when you’ve succeeded in producing a single one that works even anywhere near the original one. (Since a spark plug is arguably much simpler than a Scud-like missile, you shouldn’t have problems doing this with the equipment available in the modern average household…)
    Oh, and if you don’t have the options to try this – simply ask anybody with first-hand experience in material analysis, production processing or composite materials. I’m rather confident that that person’s answers on this matter will sound rather similar to mine…

    “Whether steered by fins or jet vanes doesn’t matter here”

    It may not matter to you, but this is again an apples and oranges case. This is like saying: “It’s irrelevant if that aircraft is steered by aerodynamic control surfaces or thrust vectoring” – the hair of every aircraft designer even only half worth his pay will certainly stand on end seeing such a declaration.

    Considering the “6-MEL-parade”:

    After some search, i’ve found an old article from 2005 indeed speaking of “six TELs”; But from the photographic material available to me, i can only retrace two 3-axle-MELs, both of a different type than the ones paraded in 2003 or 2004 (and slightly differing from each other in little details, albeit of similar general type) – one carrying a Shahab-3, the other a Ghadr-1. Additionally, at least two different Shahab-3s (marked NL30022 and TK30013) on transport trailers were present at that parade, too. And i can’t exclude the possibility of the press confusing “MELs” (actually, they even used the incorrect term “TEL” – not really confidence-inspiring, if you ask me…) with simple transport trailers…

  31. Pedro

    @Jochen Schischka

    The example with the RPG-7 was just to show where they started and when they first set up production lines for weapon systems, to show the evolution.

    I know what q-max means. I just need to see what pressure the surface area is able to take before breaking/collapsing and then I will have my data. You should not forget the destructing testing methods.

    As for the steering method: I think that the important point here is the INS and guidance system. Whether the signals are sent to fins or jet vanes doesn’t matter. Why? Because I can use the data from the INS and transform it to signals used by either of the systems. I would say a static test stand, some empirical knowledge and a good simulation program would be enough to build a translation computer with software that solves the problem.

    As for the MEL, the best thing you can do is to get your hands on the video. I have seen it and I have pointed out what I have seen.

  32. Jochen Schischka (History)


    Excellent work with the reference to that globalsecurity-chart!

    This illustrates exactly the point i’m trying to make all the time: Three flight-tests in the DPRK, two of them failures (the first missile obviously even exploded on the table!), and the third only to a range of ~500km before exporting that missile to Pakistan, where it apparently works perfectly (although i’m not sure how plausible the pakistani claims are…they were tinkering around with their Ghauri-missiles, too: Ghauri-II obviously has a warhead with a CoG more “down by the stern” than the Ghauri-I!), even at ranges in excess of 500km (but less than 1000km…), and Iran (the iranian Shahab-tests have to be disregarded in this context, since we don’t know for sure how many of their flight tests were development-shots of modified Shahab-3s for the Ghadr-1-program; i suppose it’s at least half of them; the rest is certainly required for minimum levels of troop training and evaluation…).

    Compare this to another (in this case truely independent – there were no predecessors!) missile program: the german Aggregat-4/V-2!

    – 3 flight-tests till the first “successful” (the guidance didn’t work 100% properly) one (interesting analogy to the Nodong-A…);

    – over 30 tests until the system didn’t malfunction erratically;

    – over 500 tests (for development, evaluation and troop training) until the missile was “ready” for actual use (and a missile with a CEP in the range of ~12km and a maximum deviation of ~40km with only a 738kg-Amatol-payload has a doubtful military value at best; apparently, inflicting aimed damage wasn’t a requirement);

    Even nowadays, missile-programs characteristically need ~5-6 flight tests for development and ~30 shots until they can be considered operational (check out the histories of american, french, british, russian, chinese or indian missile programs for comparison)…

    BTW, not even one single example of the north-korean/chinese DF-61 (which should have been primarily some kind of “rev-eng” R-13/SS-N-4/Sark for a chinese Golf-class; most likely with a single IRFNA/AZ-11-25t-engine from the DF-3 plus four small vernier-chambers; all-in-all some sort of sea-level DF-4-upper-stage engine) has ever been produced!

  33. Jochen Schischka (History)


    “Evolution” is a word i’d normally associate with a line of developments that are based on each other; To cite the RPG-7 in this context is, in my opinion, like saying: “first, this company produced screws, which was the stepping-stone to the development of their recent line of computer-chips” – clearly no evolution, rather a complete change-over, isn’t it?

    “…and then I will have my data.”

    Nope, you won’t have anywhere near all neccessary data. What about chemical resistance? What about temperature-resistance? What about elastic modulus? What about heat-treatment of that material? What about the type of welding and the quality of that seam? What about the neccessary torque for that screw? How much pressure inside of the tanks during flight? Etc. etc. etc.
    Again, you’re grossly underestimating the complexities of all this.
    Even if you could gather all that additional information, too, then you still have only the data of one single specimen; What was the quality of that specimen? Was it on the low or the high end of acceptable tolerances? Even if you’re analyzing several missiles that (expensive and elaborate) way, there’s still a lot of uncertainty left.
    Apart from that, it is rather unlikely that your own industry will be able to provide exactly the same materials – and replacing a material with another one will result in a) unreliability (because you almost certainly weren’t able to collect all neccessary information on the original this way) – a status that has to be cured by a lot of flight-testing and b) lesser system performance because of an added margin of safety (this is indispensable, unless you’re satisfied with a missile that breaks up at Mach 1 or leaks half the nitric acid during transport) and c) a visibly different product! (BTW, please stop writing about “replacing…with composites”; that is clearly not the case with neither north korean nor iranian nor pakistani Nodongs or Scuds – composites don’t have weld-seams and typically aren’t riveted, either…)

    “I would say a static test stand, some empirical knowledge and a good simulation program would be enough to build a translation computer with software that solves the problem.”

    And to what extent would this help with manufacturing heat-resistent jet vanes? Or the associated actuator mechanisms? Or the neccessary structural modifications? Or the different aerodynamics? Or the fact that the trajectory will have a completely different form because air vanes won’t work at over 50km height?
    Oh, and by the way, a simulation is only as good as the empirical knowledge it’s based on (and the programmer); and that is only as good as the static test data from which that empirical knowledge was gained from; and the representativeness of that static-testing data depends on your previous understanding of all this. No insurmountable problem for somebody with sufficient theoretical knowledge and first-hand experience (and the budget for a lot of live-fire testing) to begin with, but hardly the way to go for someone without that!

    Considering the “6-MEL”-case:

    The point is: From the available material, i can not exclude the media not wrongly reporting “six identical TELs” (or that these “experts” with a journalistic background did not mistake transport trailers for “TELs”!). And i remember that i had the same problems in 2005 with the video-material shortly available then (at least with what i have seen back then – if you succeed in digging up conclusive 2005-material, i’d be highly interested!).
    Let’s just assume for a moment that there really were six MELs at that parade and that they were actually identical (despite being loaded with two different types of missiles); That doesn’t change the fact that there are at least three, possibly even four different other types of iranian 3-axle-MELs (compare e.g. the 3-axle-MELs paraded in 2003, 2004 or 2007) plus a 2-axle-type plus a 4-axle-type! Hardly a unified series-production, isn’t it? This definitely looks more like the Iranians making do with what type of commercial truck trailer they can procure for their MEL-conversion program to me…

  34. Azr@el (History)

    Jochen consider that the DPRK and IRI programs may be less akin to the A-4 and various other projects at the dawn of the ballistic missile era than to the commercial space carriers. Take for example the Falcon 1 program, four launches ‘till they made orbit using a previously untested engine. How long will they wait before commercial offering? 30 launches? I think not. Now the NoDong engine by comparison has had numerous static tests and has been flight tested dozens of times.

    As to the progress of the DF-61 before it’s cancellation all we can really say is that it was further along, in terms of resources allocated and tooling, than the R-21.

  35. Pedro

    @Jochen Schischka

    Whether my example on the evolution of military mass-production is well suited here or not. My point is that they almost always started with reverse engineering and then set up their own self-made production lines. So I hardly would call reverse-engineering a myth.

    For mechanical purposes (especially e-modulus) one just needs information which can be gained by destructing testing. For this, knowing things like heat treatment is unimportant; I just need a material which is up to the task, this material might be a completely different one than the original. Again, in 20 years new materials might have become available or economic.
    I might be able to use a material which was very expensive at the time the original missile went to production, then add a good safety factor and begin testing. It might well be possible that my copy is more expensive (material costs) than the original one, but having a higher performance because lower weights.

    China is a country which very likely has a row of procedures and testing machines which are only designed for reverse engineering.

    But I agree that having several examples of the object is much better, otherwise the testing phase would be longer lasting.

    As for jet vanes vs. fins. That wasn’t our discussion. The point is that an INS system from a Chinese short range SSM could find use in a SCUD like missile and whether fins are used or jet vanes is unimportant. The necessary information on jet vanes could come from the SCUD program and therefore only my mentioned translation computer would be needed.

    As for the 2005 video: I want able to find it anywhere on the net, but let me tell you that also the missiles were the same, Shahab-3A’s. An seventh MEL was carrieng a singe Ghadr.

    As for the different MELs. Some are prototypes, used just in parades, others are for different terrain conditions and others are simply built by different factories using their own solutions. There should be 3 different Shahab-3 MELs in service.

  36. Jochen Schischka (History)

    Azr@el, you seem to be missing the fact that space launchers typically aren’t fired under field conditions (aka have to work under any possible kind of weather and an outside temperature ranging from -30°C to +50°C!) and that their payload usually doesn’t have to reenter the atmosphere intact – and then land in close vicinity to specific coordinates! (BTW, transporting a live payload with the first development shot is definitely not a good idea, even in space launchers, despite the “laboratory conditions”: see for example Ariane V88, or the mentioned Falcon 1-program…)

    This plus the fact that ballistic missiles require an “artilleristic shooting table” (assessing CEP requires several series of shots at different ranges and preferably also in different directions and from different latitudes…one shot, not even to full range, will not help you in figuring out an average probability!) as part of the evaluation process makes all these additional flight-tests neccessary; And don’t forget about acceptance by the military (those guys usually insist in meeting their minimum requirements…), QA-live-fire-testings (indispensable if you’re trying series-production!) and troop training!
    Why does the US regularly test the Minuteman and the Trident? Purely for fun or what? (This is exactly why i wrote about comparison with missile programs of other countries!!! And of course, i meant surface-to-surface ones – comparing apples and oranges is meaningless!)

    If the DPRK really would be able to pull something like the Nodong off without outside help or a missile-design already more or less finished by somebody else, their missile scientists and production specialists have to be of far superior quality than even the american or russian ones (or anybody elses!), who both have arguably considerably more first-hand experience!

    Considering the DF-61:

    What were the chinese liquid propellants of choice at the time of the DF-61-program? What type of engine-technology were they employing back then? What are the propellants of the Nodong (let me advise again on a comparison of the rocket exhaust with that of the Scud-B or -C and/or the DF-3/DF-4…)?
    How much proficiency do the Chinese have with IRFNA/Kerosene? Do they have any at all (This is a rethorical question!)?
    BTW, in contrast to the DF-61, the R-21/SS-N-5 not only left the drawing board, but also was produced in large numbers – and even was in actual military service from 1963-1989! (I guess your intention was to refer to the R-15? In this case -> see propellants!; Also, the DF-61 apparently was planned to be steered by four vernier-chambers, not jet vanes with intriguing similarity to upscaled Scud-ones!)

  37. Azr@el (History)

    Yes my intention was to reference the R-15 not the R-21.

    As far as the field conditions you describe, they are the parameters in which soyuz space carriers have lofted payloads into orbit from Kazakstan, plus the dust storms and rain.

  38. Jochen Schischka (History)

    Azr@el, may i remind you that the Soyuz launcher is nothing but a modification of the R-7/SS-6/Sapwood intercontinental ballistic missile;

    And the good old Semyorka had 26 test shots in 1957-59, not counting the Sputnik-launches or several aborted launch attempts in those three years alone (or further development/qualification-shots for the evolved R-7A-variant), see e.g. here:

  39. Azr@el (History)

    As you’ll note, there were not 26 test shots before the ruskies attempted sputnik. There were just 4 flight tests, with a 50% success rate, after which the Soviets had sufficient confidence to attempt a space shot.

  40. Jochen Schischka (History)

    Well, hooray, Azr@el, now you’ve found out that Sputnik-1 was a high-risk/high-gain-operation

    Korolev gambled! And he won (at 50% probability…not too bad a bet, i’d say); If the launch had gone awry, well, no big deal, then the official version would have been that this was R-7-ICBM-test-flight no. 5…

    (BTW, i personally tend to count the launches/launch-attempts of Sputnik 1-3 as Semyorka-tests 27, 28, 29 and 30, since the missile was basically identical – only with less payload under a shorter shroud plus a modified trajectory – and those flights demonstrated successful launch preparations, full- or almost full-duration burns, booster- and payload-separation plus general guidance system function of the R-7…)

    After writing this, i can’t help but ask myself: Now, where exactly lies the relevance of an experimental satellite-launch in respect to typical surface-to-surface-missile testing programs again?

  41. George William Herbert (History)

    I’m going to stay outside the primary debate here, but to throw some chum in the water…

    There are now several US startup rocket companies which have manufactured new-concept, new-design regeneratively cooled rocket engines (for the most part pressure fed, but some of them using pumps) which are mid-high performance but fully reusable. None of them has taken as many as 10 people working on the project for more than 5 years, and 50 total man-years is a significant overstatement of the effort involved in the motors.

    These people have access to the most modern IT and design technologies – they’re chosing not to use the most expensive analysis tools, as those cost more than testing prototypes – and they have the full depth of US published research to draw on.

    This was not available to NK in 1980s, but is available now to essentially everyone.

    The barrier to entry isn’t that tall.