Missile Last updated: March, 2014
North Korea possesses significant ballistic missile capabilities, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been one of the most active exporters of complete ballistic missile systems, components, and technology. Pyongyang received foreign assistance over the years, most notably from the Former Soviet Union and China, but the complete details of all foreign assistance remain vague. Considering North Korea's long-standing interest in advancing its missile capabilities, its missile program is notable in that there have been relatively few flight tests. U.S. sources estimate that North Korea has deployed over 600 Scud missile variants, about 200 Nodong (Rodong is also an accepted spelling) missiles, and fewer than 50 Musudan and Taepodong missiles, while South Korean sources estimate even fewer. 
Design Characteristics Table
North Korea sees missile development as both an investment in its security and a means of generating cash. It is neither a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) nor the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). However, North Korea claimed membership in the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space in advance of the launch of the Unha SLV in an attempt to "contribute to promoting international confidence."  Nonetheless, the UN Security Council condemned the launch, as many saw it as a veiled test of North Korea's illicit ICBM efforts. 
North Korea first entered the field of rockets and missiles in the early 1960s with the production of multiple rocket launchers.  By 1965, Kim Il Sung made the political decision to seek an indigenous ballistic missile production capability. That year marked the establishment of the Hamhung Military Academy, where North Korean personnel began to receive training in missile development.  In general, the 1960s marked the procurement of rockets, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), anti-ship missiles, and the initial development of human resources to support a missile program. By 1967-71, DPRK’s military budget increased to about 30 percent of its state budget. 
There were a number of factors that likely motivated the North Korean leadership to acquire and develop ballistic missile capabilities. First, Kim Il Sung viewed ballistic missiles as weapons to deter or defeat U.S. military forces in a subsequent conflict. Second, rocky alliance relationships with both the Soviet Union and China caused Kim to question the credibility of Moscow's and Beijing's commitments to aid Pyongyang in the event of another war. 
Early Ballistic Missile Developments
During the late 1960s, Pyongyang acquired surface-to-ship missiles and FROG-5/7 rockets from Moscow,  and by 1970, Beijing was delivering surface-to-ship missiles, SAMs, and technical assistance.  Although North Korea sought to acquire Soviet ballistic missiles as early as the mid-1960s, Moscow declined, at least initially, so Pyongyang turned to Beijing for help to produce ballistic missiles. In September 1971, North Korea signed an agreement with China to acquire, develop, and produce ballistic missiles and other weapon systems. However, substantial cooperation did not begin until about 1977, when Korean engineers were able to participate in a joint program to develop China's DF-61. 
The development of North Korean human resources was necessary, but not sufficient for the relatively rapid progress in Pyongyang's missile development program. North Korea has relied upon the transfer of hardware and technology from more advanced producers. North Korea obtained Soviet-made Scud-B missiles to begin a reverse-engineering program, but the timing and source of the procurement are still unclear— possibly as early as 1972 from the USSR.  However, the general view is that Egypt provided the first Scud-Bs to North Korea in 1976, or at some time between 1979 and 1981. 
By 1984, North Korea had produced and flight-tested the Hwasong-5, an indigenous version of the Scud-B, and in 1985 Pyongyang reached an agreement with Tehran to obtain financial assistance for missile development and production in exchange for Iran's option to purchase North Korean missiles in the future.  Iran's ballistic missile "war of the cities" with Iraq created an opportunity for North Korea to earn foreign exchange and increase scale economies in production. Furthermore, Tehran's use of the Hwasong-5 provided Pyongyang with performance data that would otherwise have required extensive indigenous flight-testing.
From 1985 to 1986, North Korea began to construct missile bases for the Hwasong-5, which entered serial production by 1987. It is believed production rate peaked at eight to ten missiles per month during 1987 to 1988.  As soon as or shortly after mass production of the Hwasong-5 began, North Korea began development of the Hwasong-6 (Scud-C), before rapidly starting the Nodong development program around the 1987 to 1989 timeframe.  This prompt sequence of development is remarkable, and historically unprecedented for a small developing country. Late-industrializing countries can reduce the time required for industrialization, and the same is true in the area of missiles. However, accelerated development is generally a function of foreign technology transfers, so Pyongyang's extremely rapid progress in missile development suggests a high level of foreign technical assistance.
By the late 1980s, North Korea began construction of intermediate-range missiles that were still under development. Around 1990 to 1991, serial production of the Hwasong-6 began, at about the same time the first Nodong prototypes were built.  Meanwhile, Pyongyang began to provide technology transfers, and even turnkey Scud factories, to countries in the Middle East.
Intermediate-Range Missile Development
In the late 1980s, North Korea's Second Natural Science Institute began development of the so-called "Nodong" intermediate-range ballistic missile. U.S. reconnaissance satellites detected a Nodong missile on the launch pad at the Musudan-ri missile test site in May 1990, but subsequent imagery revealed burn marks on the pad, which indicated a probable test failure.  Nevertheless, North Korea reportedly was able to obtain Nodong sales contracts with Libya, Iran, and possibly Syria and Pakistan before the Nodong was successfully flight-tested in late May 1993.  Although the Nodong was later flight-tested in Iran and Pakistan, the 1993 flight test is still Pyongyang's only indigenous test. It is worth noting that North Korea was unable to test the Nodong to its full intended range for geographic reasons. Nevertheless, Pyongyang began to deploy the Nodong in 1995. 
As North Korea was nearing completion of the Nodong's development, engineers were also working on the Taepodong-1. The Taepodong-1 does not have a new airframe or engine design, but is a two-stage missile with a Nodong as the first stage and Hwasong (Scud) variant as the second stage.  The Taepodong-1 was flight-tested in a space launch configuration on 31 August 1998, but did not place a small satellite named Kwangmyongsong-1 into earth orbit due to the failure of its third stage. 
North Korea's missile exports have represented a significant source of hard currency for Pyongyang. On 10 December 2002, Spanish and U.S. naval ships intercepted the North Korean ship So San en route to Yemen. The So San cargo included 15 Scud missiles, conventional warheads, and 85 drums of "inhibited red fuming nitric acid," which is used as an oxidizer for Scud missile fuel. North Korea declared the interception of the So San an "act of piracy" and demanded "compensation for the losses and personal trauma experienced by the crew members." The So San was ultimately permitted to deliver the Scuds, which were purchased by the Yemeni army for its own defensive use and therefore did not break international law at that time. 
In 2003, U.S. satellite imagery showed a new ballistic missile under development known as the Musudan that appears to be based upon the Soviet R-27 (SS-N-6). The R-27 is a liquid-fueled submarine-launched ballistic missile with a range of at least 2,500km. The land-based Musudan is 12 meters long and 1.5 meters in diameter with a range of 2,500-4,000km, although it has never been flight tested in North Korea.  The Musudan was displayed for the first time in 2007, though no images were shared by Pyongyang. It later made its debut in front of Western press (alongside Kim Jong Un, who also made his own international press-debut) in October 2010. The 10 October parade was also notable for unveiling a new Nodong variant, about which little is known. The variant has a triconic nose-cone which greatly resembles Iran's Ghader-1 missile, perhaps hinting at further cooperation. 
Intercontinental Missile Development
In the mid-1990s, North Korea began design and development of the three-stage Taepodong-2. The first stage may use four Nodong engines, while the second stage could be based on a Nodong design as well.  Despite the lack of success in its flight testing, U.S. intelligence sources (ranging from the 2001 National Intelligence Estimate to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' January 2011 statement) have consistently asserted that a functional Taepodong-2 could deliver a small payload to the western part of the continental United States. 
On 5 July 2006, North Korea flight-tested several ballistic missiles, including the long-range Taepodong-2. The Taepodong-2 failed at about 40-42 seconds. The North Korean Foreign Ministry referred to the 5 July launches as "regular military drills to strengthen self-defense," and said it had a legal right to "continue with missile launch drills."  However, on 15 July 2006, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 1695, which demands that North Korea suspend all missile-related activities and requires all UN member states to prevent the transfer of missile-related materials and technologies to North Korea. 
On 5 April 2009, at 11:20 am local time, North Korea launched an Unha-2 space launch vehicle—which is a modified version of the Taepodong-2.  Although North Korean media immediately claimed that the satellite had been placed into orbit, no orbit was detected by outside observers. Launch of the three-stage rocket was seen as a technical failure with the first stage splashing down in the water between the Korean peninsula and Japan, and the remaining stages, along with the payload, falling into the Pacific Ocean. 
The United States and North Korea pursued talks in February 2012, which culminated in North Korea's announcement that it would suspend long-range missile tests, along with uranium enrichment and nuclear tests.  However, at 7:39am local time on 12 April 2012 North Korea attempted to launch a satellite into orbit to mark the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth using an Unha-3 rocket. The launch failed in seconds.  Because of the dual-use nature of missile technology, the United States considered this space launch a violation of North Korea's pledge that it would not test long-range missiles, and withdrew its offer of food aid. Three days later, Pyongyang held a parade in honor of its founding father Kim Il Sung, which purported to display a new missile system known externally as the KN-08. The missiles are most likely only mock-ups.  The KN-08s were displayed on 6 trucks of Chinese origin which had been converted to transporter-erector-launchers. 
On 12 December 2012, North Korea re-tested its Unha-3 rocket from the Sohae launch facility, successfully putting a satellite into orbit.  While North Korea refers to its rocket as a space launch vehicle, the technology is very similar to that of a long-range missile. With minor changes to allow for re-entry, Pyongyang could deliver a WMD payload. In February 2013, North Korea declared it had miniaturized a nuclear warhead, although it has not been definitively demonstrated to the outside world. 
Recent Developments and Current Status
In 2011, North Korea completed a 10-year construction project at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.  The new base included a movable launch pad and a gantry tower wich exceeds the needs of North Korea's largest ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles. The base is comprised of several missile assembly and testing structures, a launch warehouse, an observation tower, and a rocket engine test pad.  The site far outpaces North Korea's Toghae facility near Musudan-ri, where it has tested short-range, medium-range, and intercontinental missiles.
In August 2013, satellite imagery detected six construction projects at Sohae Satellite Launching Station.  This development coincides with the abrupt halt of construction at the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground. The main new construction project consists of a possible launch pad, a bypass road, and a new radar tracking station. The new concrete pad located 100 meters west of the first launching pad is not confirmed as a secondary launch site; however it could facilitate ballistic missile launches from TELs. In February 2014, satellite imagery detected that an eleventh level was added to the gantry tower. This could allow DPRK to launch rockets up to 50 meters in length, though no such rocket is known to exist in North Korea's arsenal. 
 "Strategic Weapon System, Korea, North," Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment, 20 January 2011.
 "KCNA Report on DPRK's Accession to International Space Treaty and Convention," KCNA, 12 March 2009, www.kcna.co.jp.
 UN Security Council "Statement by the President of the Security Council S/PRST/2009/7," 13 April 2009, www.un.org.
 Christopher F. Foss, editor, Jane's Armour and Artillery 1991-92 (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane's Information Group, 1991), p. 719.
 Yun Deok-min, "미-북 미사일 협상의 현황과 전망 (Current and future of US-NK Missile negotiation)," ROK IFANS policy paper, 22 November 2000, p. 2; Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999, p. 2; Testimony of Ko Yong-hwan, former North Korean Foreign Ministry official, before the US Senate, 21 October 1997.
 “통일부 (Ministry of Unification),” 2004 북한개요 (2004 North Korea Summary), Seoul, South Korea: Ministry of Unification, 2003, p. 198.
 The Second Machine Industry Ministry, under the party secretary in charge of military industries, was established shortly after Kim's declaration. The Second Machine Industry Ministry was renamed the "Second Economic Committee" in 1971. The Second Economic Committee is responsible for the production of all armaments. See Joseph S. Bermudez, The Armed Forces of North Korea (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001), pp. 45-46; "민생 희생 위 군수산업 번창 (Military Industry prosperity on public's dedication)," Hankyoreh Shinmun, 31 March 1997, p. 6, www.kinds.or.kr; Kim Gwang-in, "돼지공장' 선 미사일 생산 (Producing Missiles in 'Pig Factory')," Chosun Ilbo, 11 February 2001, www.chosun.com.
 Jang Jun-ik, 북한핵 미사일 전쟁 (North Korea Nuclear Missile War) Seoul: Seomundang, May 1999, pp. 246-247; Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999, pp. 4-5; Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "The North Korean 'Scud B' Program," Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review, May 1989, pp. 203-207; Christopher F. Foss, editor, Jane's Armour and Artillery 1991-92 (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane's Information Group, 1991), p. 749.
 Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "The North Korean 'Scud B' Program," Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review, May 1989, pp. 203-207; Christopher F. Foss, editor, Jane's Armour and Artillery 1991-92 (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane's Information Group, 1991), p. 749; Gordon Jacobs and Tim McCarthy, "China's Missile Sales—Few Changes for the Future," Jane's Intelligence Review, December 1992, p. 560.
 The DF-61 was designed to be a liquid-propelled ballistic missile with a range of about 600km while delivering a 1,000kg warhead. The program was cancelled because of Chinese domestic political reasons in 1978. See Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999, p. 3; Hua Di, "One Superpower Worse that Two," Asia-Pacific Defense Reporter, September 1991, pp. 14-15; John Wilson Lewis and Hua Di, "Beijing's Defense Establishment: Solving the Arms Export Enigma," International Security, Fall 1992, pp. 5-40; Jang Jun-ik, 북한핵 미사일 전쟁 (North Korea Nuclear Missile War) (Seoul: Seomundang, May 1999), pp. 248-249.
 A high-level North Korean defector claims that Pyongyang leveraged its capture of the USS Pueblo and the hardware on board to bargain with Moscow and get a contract for the delivery of 20 Scud-B missiles. This report and any details about an agreement for subsequent deliveries or technology transfers have not been substantiated. Interview with North Korean defector by CNS senior research associate Daniel A. Pinkston, 1 November 2000, Seoul.
 ROK Ministry of Unification, Information Analysis Bureau, "북한 미사일 문제 관련 참고자료 (References about NK missile problem)," Press Release, 3 November 2000, p. 1; Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999, p. 10; Jang Jun-ik, 북한핵 미사일 전쟁 (North Korea Nuclear Missile War), Seoul: Seomundang, May 1999, pp. 249, 266; Lee Jeong-hun, "프로그에서 대포동 까지: 북한 미사일 게임 (From FROG to Taepodong: North Korea's Missile Game)," Shindonga, August 1999, p. 202; Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "Ballistic Ambitions Ascendant," Jane's Defence Weekly, 10 April 1993, pp. 20, 22; Jang Jun-ik, 북한핵 미사일 전쟁 (North Korea Nuclear Missile War), Seoul: Seomundang, May 1999), pp. 249-250, 257, 266; Lee Jeong-hun, 프로그에서 대포동 까지: 북한 미사일 게임 (From FROG to Taepodong: North Korea's Missile Game)," Shindonga, August 1999, p. 202; Hajime Ozu, Missile 2000: Reference Guide to World Missile Systems (Tokyo: Shinkigensha, 2000), p. 95; "Ballistic Missile Threat Evolves," International Defense Review, Vol. 33, No. 10, 1 October 2000, in Lexis-Nexis, www.lexis-nexis.com.
 Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999; Lee Jeong-hun, "프로그에서 대포동 까지: 북한 미사일 게임 (From FROG to Taepodong: North Korea's Missile Game)," Shindonga, August 1999, p. 202.
 Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999, p. 12-15.
 Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999, p. 16.
 Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999, p. 11.
 "Defense Ministry: May Nodong-1 Test Successful," Yonhap News Agency, 24 June 1993.
 Steven Emerson, "The Postwar Scud Boom," Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p. A12; "DPRK Reportedly to Build New Scud Missile," Yonhap News Agency, 3 June 1991; Bill Gertz, "Libya May Buy N. Korean Missiles," Washington Times, 4 June 1991, p. 4; Bill Gertz, "China, N. Korea Secretly Deliver Missiles to Mideast via Cyprus," Washington Times, 2 July 1991, p. A4; Leslie Susser, "How to Control the Arms Race and Stay on Top," The Jerusalem Report, 13 June 1991, p. 27, in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, http://web.lexis-nexis.com; Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK," Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, November 1999, p. 23.
 "Musudan (BM-25)," Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems, 20 July 2010.
 "Taepo Dong 1," Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems, 20 July 2010.
 Joseph Bermudez, "North Koreans Test Two-Stage IRBM over Japan," Jane's Defence Weekly, 9 September 1998.
 However, since the So San incident the passage of UN Security Council Resolutions 1695, 1718, and 1874, and 2087 prevents UN member states from engaging in similar trade. Brian Knowlton, "Ship Allowed to take North Korea Scuds on to Yemeni Port: U.S. Frees Freighter Carrying Missiles," New York Times, 12 December 2002, www.nytimes.com.
 "Musudan (BM-25)," Jane's Strategic Weapons Systems, 20 July 2010.
 Catherine Boye, Melissa Hanham, Seungho Lee, "Missiles, Maneuvers and Mysteries: Review of Recent Developments in North Korea," CNS Feature Stories, 2 November 2010, http://cns.miis.edu.
 "Taepo Dong 2," Federation of American Scientists, www.fas.org.
 National Intelligence Council, "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat through 2015: Unclassified Summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, December 2001, www.dni.gov; Elizabeth Bumiller and David Sanger, "Gates Warns of North Korea Missile Threat to U.S.," The New York Times, 11 January 2011, www. nytimes.com; David Wright, "Secretary Gates and the North Korean Missile Threat," 38 North, 27 January 2011, http://38north.org.
 Stockman, Farah, "Defiant North Korea Tests Missiles; Launching Stirs Diplomatic Furor," Boston Globe, 5 July 2006, in Lexis-Nexis, http://web.lexis-nexis.com; "Taepo Dong 2," Jane's Strategic Weapons Systems, 20 July 2010.
 "N Korea Vows More Missile Tests," BBC News, 6 July 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk.
 United Nations Security Council, "Resolution 1695 (2006)," adopted by the Security Council at its 5490th meeting on 15 July 2006, www.un.org.
 "Taepo Dong 2," Jane's Strategic Weapons Systems, 20 July 2010.
 Jae-soon Chang and Kelly Olsen, "Analysts: Rocket Gives N. Korea New Bargaining Chip," Associated Press, 6 April 2009.
 Steven Lee Myers and Choe Sang-hun, “North Koreans Agree to Freeze Nuclear Work; U.S. to Give Aid,” New York Times, 29 February 2012, www.nytimes.com.
 Evan Ramstad and Laura Meckler, "North Korean Launch Fails," The Wall Street Journal, 13 April 2012, http://online.wsj.com.
 Jeffrey Lewis, "Real Fake Missiles?," Arms Control Wonk, 1 May 2012, http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com.
 Melissa Hanham, "North Korea's Procurement Network Strikes Again: Examining How Chinese Missile Hardware Ended Up in Pyongyang," NTI Issue Brief, 31 July 2012, www.nti.org.
 Kim Eun-jung, "S. Korea, U.S. Assess N. Korea's Rocket Launch as Success," Yonhap, 12 December 2012, http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr.
 "제3차 지하핵시험을 성공적으로 진행 [Third Uunderground Nuclear Test Conducted Successfully]," KCNA, 12 February 2013, www.kcna.kp.
 James Hardy, "Concerns Raised over North Korean Nuclear Programme," Jane's Defense Weekly, 22 February 2011.
 "North Korea Seen Finishing New Missile Launch Tower," Global Security Newswire, 16 February 2011.
 Nick Hansen, "Major Construction at the Sohae Rocket Test Site," 38 North, 30 August 2013, http://38north.org; Nick Hansen, "North Korea Halts Construction of New Long-Range Rocket Launch Facilities," 38 North, 23 July 2013, http://38north.org.
 Nick Hansen, “News Alert: North Korea Nears Completion of Larger Rocket Launch Pad,” 38 North, 6 February 2014, http://38north.org.
This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.
Get the Facts on North Korea
- Conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013
- Not party to the CWC and believed to possess 2,500-5,000 metric tons of chemical weapons
- Active exporter of ballistic missile components, technology, and design data
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