In 1999, the same year that the DPRK declared a moratorium on further rocket testing, a new branch of the Korean People’s Army was established specifically to oversee the missile program, still in its infancy. The Korean People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force’s creation foreshadowed almost two decades of steady missile development under the guidance of this branch. Prior to 1999, the DPRK had only tested a few Scud missiles from the USSR, and two missiles built in-country that seemed to be improved versions of the Scud missiles. However, these tests were not the birth of the national defence program which has created headlines over the last few years. Reports suggest these missiles were traded to Iran in exchange for access to oil. The most significant missile fired prior to 1999 was the Taepodong-1 rocket attempting to launch the Kwangmyongsong-1 satellite. Whilst the probe failed to reach orbit, the international community concluded that the launch was a testbed for future surface-surface missiles leading to Pyongyang declaring their moratorium on testing a year later in 1999.
Flag of the Korean People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force
The moratorium fell apart in 2005 following a short range missile launch into the East sea and since that test, missile testing has been relatively constant up until November 2017 which saw the final test of the missile program (at the time of writing) to make way for the new diplomatic overtures being made by the government.
Whilst the testing has stopped, the weapons arsenal maintained by the KPA Strategic Rocket Force remains significant. From small, short range missiles all the way up to the larger ICBMs developed under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, each different missile served an important purpose to the program and often made headlines. So let’s take a look at everything we know about the weapons available to Pyongyang should war ever break out again on the peninsula.
The missile arsenal of the DPRK as of 2018
An important fact to note before reading this is that each missile often has various different designations. Most missiles have different names inside the DPRK and outside since Pyongyang rarely released their names for the missiles immediately after their launches. For the purposes of this list, the official North Korean name will be used for each vehicle, and all other names will be mentioned as secondary designations.
Hwasong 5, 6, 7 & 9
The Hwasong missile program is the most significant and has produced the largest range series of missiles. Prior to the development of the Hwasong 5, the Hwasong 1 and 3 were artillery rockets developed from technology in the USSR. These 4 missiles are all variants of the soviet Scud missile series and have ranges between 340km(5) and 1,000-1,500km(7 & 9).
Rodong-1 (Hwasong 7)
Rodong-1M (Hwasong 9)
Scud-ER (Hwasong 9)
Hwasong 7 (Rodong-1) seen at a parade
The Hwasong 10 was first seen publicly at a 2010 parade and was reported to resemble a soviet-era submarine launched missile. The Hwasong 10 is an intermediate range ballistic missile with a range of 3,200km and for the first time put US pacific bases within reach of potential missile strike. Most notably Guan and Okinawa. The missile has been tested between 6 and 9 times with varying degrees of success. No test of the Hwasong 10 has been reported since February 2017.
Hwasong 10 (Musudan) seen on it’s Transporter-Erector-Launcher shortly before launch
The Hwasong 12 is a mobile intermediate range ballistic missile first seen in 2017. The missile saw extensive testing throughout 2017 with 6 tests between April and September of that year. The first three were reported to be failures, however the final 3 were notable successes with two being fired over northern Japan at the height of international tensions over the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs. Estimates of range fall between 3,700km and 6000km. If the highest estimate is accurate, that would qualify the Hwasong 12 as the first ICBM ever produced by the DPRK since the minimum range requirement for an ICBM is 5,500km.
Hwasong 12 during a test launch
The Hwasong 13 was an unsuccessful missile developed in 2016. Two test launches failed despite the regular appearance of these missiles during parades. For a time, analysts studying the missiles at the parades believed they were most likely the first real ICBMs in development in the DPRK. Some estimated a range between 7,500km and 9,000km. Despite experts fears, the missile never launched successfully and was cancelled.
The cancelled Hwasong 13 during one of its numerous parade appearances
The Hwasong 14 was the first proven ICBM to be built by the DPRK. Tested for the first time on the 4th of July 2017, the test further pushed tensions with Washington higher since the missile was likely purposefully tested on US independence day as a direct provocation. A second test less that a month later was also successful and whilst many analysts doubted the ability of the rocket to carry a nuclear warhead, experts warned that the missile capability was increasing rapidly and if Pyongyang had achieved warhead-miniaturisation and built suitable reentry protection for said warhead, there was a distinct possibility that the United States was now in range of nuclear weapons from the DPRK.
Hwasong 14 on the TEL shortly before launch
The Hwasong 15 is the largest missile currently believed to be in the KPA Strategic Rocket Force arsenal. Tested only once in November 2017, the missile was a stark improvement on it’s predecessor. Most experts agreed, based on flight data and video of the launch vehicle, that this ICBM put the entirety of the US mainland in range of a missile strike. Range was calculated to be around 13,000km and, despite some analysis concluding that the addition of a payload could dramatically reduce the overall range and that the reentry vehicle failed to reentry, Pyongyang praised this test as the ‘completion’ of their national nuclear force. Experts have recently made it clear, as nuclear negotiations are ongoing, that these issues could still be being worked on in secret since flight tests are not required for such work. The Hwasong 15 was notably different from the Hwasong 14, a new engine configuration and blunter nose cone could have been examples of new ablative technology for reentry. 38North analysis after seeing footage of the launch suggested that the missile could accommodate a 1000kg payload whilst maintaining a 13000km range.
A series of shots showing the Hwasong 15 during launch
Pukguksong 1 & 2
The Pukguksong-1 is the first submarine launched missile developed by the DPRK. Between 2014 and 2017, the missile experienced successes and failures during its testing however it is now considered to be operational. The Pukguksong-2 is a variant of the Pukguksong-1 missile operating as a medium range ballistic missile. The missile is larger and appears to be a two-stage variant of the Pukguksong-1. Two successful test flights mean it is likely already operational.
Pukguksong-1 emerging from the water during a test flight
The Unha series of rockets were developed from the short-lived Taepodong-2 rocket and have been used for satellite launch attempts. The rocket saw it’s first three launches fail, using the Unha-1, Unha-2 and Unha-3 respectively, however a second Unha-3 launch was successful in 2012, launching a Kwangmyongsong satellite. The most notable Unha launch was the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite launch in 2016 onboard the Unha-4 which was subject to great media attention domestically and abroad.
Moksong, Safir and Taepodong are all used to refer to relatives and derivatives of the Unha series
An Unha rocket lifts off from the pad