The North Korean Ballistic Missile Threat
“THAAD: What It Can and Can’t Do”
Pyongyang possesses a substantial arsenal of short- and medium-range mobile ballistic missiles deployed throughout the country, including: 1) 500 Hwasong-5 (Scud-B), and Hwasong-6 (Scud-C) missiles with a range of 300-500 km; and 2) 200 Nodong systems with a range of 1,000 km. Each of these systems is capable of carrying nuclear as well as chemical and biological warheads, though most are fitted with conventional explosives warheads. Their primary role, other than those armed with nuclear weapons, would appear to be to disrupt or slow operations at airbases, military garrisons and port facilities, all critical to the defense of South Korea, given plans to flow outside forces onto the peninsula in case of a war.
The DPRK also has a small stockpile of about 100 KN-02 (Soviet-era SS-21 Tochka) missiles with a maximum range of between 90 and 120 km. Unlike the Scud-based missiles, the KN-02 is accurate enough to attack specific point targets, such as radars, command headquarters or critical infrastructure with consistency. It also appears to be capable of carrying a range of different warheads.
Pyongyang has showcased two longer-range ballistic missiles: the intermediate-range Musudan—which appears to be a modified version of the Soviet-era, submarine-launched ballistic missile, the R-27 (SS-N-6)—and the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Neither has been test flown and the maturity of the designs and development process is unknown. High-end projections forecast that North Korea could field roughly 24 of each missile by 2020, though performance reliability would be questionable without a full set of flight trials. Lastly, North Korea is actively developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile, though testing to date has been largely unsuccessful, as one might expect in the preliminary phases of a program.
Next section: Ballistic Missile Defense in South Korea