“A New ICBM for North Korea?”
On October 10, the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), North Korea threw a party, and we were all invited—invited to watch, at least, as the North paraded an array of impressive-looking missiles and other armaments. Most of these were nothing new, and not really all that impressive under their carefully painted skins. But the big attention-getter was an updated inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), similar in some respects to the missile paraded in 2012 and 2013. Similar, but not identical. We have been watching for years for signs of progress on this program; but is this what we have been looking for?
First, let’s deal with the obvious: These are not real missiles, because nobody puts real missiles on parade when they have perfectly good mock-ups they can use, and any real missile development program will accumulate plenty of mock-ups. So until the North Koreans manage to flight-test this missile, we can’t be sure how much of what we are seeing is real and how much is disinformation. But as the development of the missile proceeds, the value of disinformation at this scale diminishes. Our satellites will see the missile’s real form in pre-operational exercises, and we will be able to observe its performance in flight tests, well before it enters operational service. So while we should always acknowledge that the North may have a few more surprises in store, it is worth trying to understand the implications if this “new” missile really is what it appears to be.
Second, it’s not really a new missile. There are enough similarities to indicate that this is at least part of the same family as the 2012/2013 design. The missiles seem to share the designation Hwasong-13, but is now being called the Hwasong-14. For clarity, however, let’s fall back on Cold War tradition to call the old version the “KN-08 Mod 1” and the new version “KN-08 Mod 2.” North Korea probably considers the Mod 1 to be obsolete and intends Mod 2 for operational use, but that’s one more thing we can’t say with any certainty.
And a third curious detail: the DPRK only paraded four missiles this time, compared to six in previous years. They can presumably make as many mock-ups as they want, but they were only able to import six Chinese-made heavy-duty chassis. If they are having maintenance problems on the parade ground already, they may have difficulty deploying the missile in the field later.
A New ICBM for North Korea?
-  "Report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1874 (2009)," S/2013/337, United Nations Security Council (June 11, 2013), available from www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2013_337.pdf.