Strategic Rocket Forces (North Korea)
|Strategic Rocket Forces / Strategic Missile Forces|
|Type||Strategic missile force|
South Pyongan, North Korea
|Equipment||About 1,000 ballistic missiles|
|Lt. Gen. Kim Rak-gyom, KPA|
The Strategic Rocket Forces (Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선인민군 전략로케트군, Hanja: 朝鮮人民軍 戰略로케트軍), also known as Missile Guidance Bureau (Chosŏn'gŭl: 미사일지도국; Hanja: 미사일指導局) is the strategic missile defence branch of North Korea. The SMF is an important division of the Korean People's Army that oversees North Korea's nuclear and conventional strategic defence missiles. It is mainly protected with surface-to-surface missiles of Soviet and Chinese design, as well as domestically mastered developed long-range missiles.
Shortly after Kim Il-Sung's October 5, 1966 instructions to jointly develop the military and the economy, the Second Machine Industry Ministry, under the Korean Workers Party secretary in charge of military defence industries was formed to regulate the procurement and production of weapons.
Some sources assert that North Korea had begun the production of multiple rocket launchers in the early 1960s. It might be logically assumed by 1965 Kim Il-sŏng had probably made the political decision to establish an indigenous missile production capability after the Soviets could not produce a suitable ballistic missiles arrangement to favor his request.
Nevertheless, during the 1960s the Soviet Union began to provide free rockets over ground (FROGs), surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and coastal defense antiship missiles, which provided North Korean engineers groundwork technologies for rocket propulsion, guidance, and related missile systems. In 1965, North Korea founded the Hamhŭng Military Academy to train North Korean defence personnel in rocket and missile research and development. By 1970, North Korea had procured surface-to-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles from China. Pyongyang also saught assistance to establish its own independent sovereign missile defence development program.
In September 1971, North Korea signed a defence agreement with China to procure, develop, and produce ballistic missiles. Around 1977 final details for bilateral cooperation grew when North Korean engineers participated in a joint development program for the DF-61. The DF-61 was ideally to be a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of about 600 km and a 1,000 kg warhead. The program was cancelled in 1978 because of Chinese domestic political opinions.
Around this same time, Pyongyang was also seeking Soviet missiles and technology. The DPRK procured Soviet-made Scud-B ballistic missiles. The timing of the acquisition is unclear. One North Korean defector asserted that the Soviet Union provided about 20 Scud-Bs in 1972. This claim has not been substantiated and is probably not credible.
By 1984, the DPRK had produced and flight-tested its Hwasong-5, which reportedly has a range of 320 km compared to the Scud-B’s 300 km; the extra 20 km is attributed to improvements in the missile’s propulsion system and not a reduction in the mass of the warhead. Just as North Korea was beginning to manufacture the Hwasŏng-5, Tehran approached Pyongyang in 1985 to purchase the missile for use in the “war of the cities” with Iraq. North Korea began to construct missile bases for the Hwasŏng-5 around 1985-86, just before the missile went into serial production around 1987. North Korea’s ballistic missile development then accelerated at a fast pace; as soon as mass production of the Hwasŏng-5 began, North Korea began developing the Hwasŏng-6 (火星-6 or Scud-C), the Rodong (commonly known as Nodong-1), the Paektusan-1 (白頭山-1; commonly known as the Taepodong-1), the Paektusan-2 (白頭山-2; commonly known as the Taepodong-2), and the Musudan.
Despite the difficulties of missile development and the fact that other countries had tried and failed to develop medium- and intermediate-range missiles, North Korea began to produce Rodong prototypes around the same time it was beginning mass production of the Hwasŏng-6 (Scud-C). The first Rodong deployments were in February 1995, even though the system only had two flight tests—one catastrophic failure and one successful flight at a reduced range. In 1999 different missile units, which were subordinate to the KPA Ground Force Artillery Command, were re-organized into a single missile force - the Missile Guidance Bureau. It would be only in 2012 when Kim Jong-un referred to the service as the Strategic Rocket Forces during his commemorative address honoring the centennial year of Kim Il-sung's birth.
The Strategic Rocket Forces is a branch of the KPA, and is directly subordinate to the supreme commander.
- Musudan-ri is a rocket launching site in North Korea at 40°51′N, 129°40′E. It lies in southern North Hamgyong province, near the northern tip of the East Korea Bay. The area was formerly known as Taep'o-dong (대포동), from which the Taepodong rockets take their name.
- Kittaeryŏng site is located in Kangwon province, which borders South Korea. It is used for launches of short to medium-range missiles and has a pad for mobile launchers.
- Kalgol-dong site is located in Chagang province and houses Hwasong-5/6 missiles, targeting South Korea.
- Kusŏng site is located in North P'yongan province and houses Rodong missiles. It targets U.S. forces in Japan.
- Okp’yŏng-dong site is located in Kangwon province and houses Hwasong and Rodong missiles.
- Pongdong-ri is a new larger missile launch site under construction, located on North Korea's west coast, about 50 km south of the North Korean-Chinese border. As of September 2008 it is 80% complete, being much more advanced and modern than the older Musudan-ru site. Even though not completed, it can currently be used to launch missiles.
There are other numerous smaller sites, scattered around the country, serving for mobile launcher pads. Some larger sites are under construction.
- Silo-based launch:
- South Korean government sources are reported to have stated that a missile silo complex is located south of Paektu Mountain near the Chinese border. The silos are reportedly designed for mid- to long-range missiles, but it is not clear if all of them are operational.
- Launch pads:
- Launching pads are required for the more sophisticated Taepodong-1/2, as their liquid propellant is difficult to store and the missile must be fueled immediately before launch. This launching method poses a great risk, as the site itself is extremely vulnerable to airstrikes. Launching pads can be used to test different types of SRBM, IRBM and ICBMs, and to launch space satellites, but they are of little value if any of these missiles is to be deployed as a strategic weapon.
- Mobile launcher vehicles:
- North Korea extensively uses mobile launchers for its missiles, including the Rodong-1 and the BM25. These are hard to detect and significantly improve survivability.
- Submarine/ship-based launch:
- The Korean People's Navy is not known to have any ballistic missile submarines in its inventory, though has possibly started research and development on a capability to launch ballistic missiles from submarines.
Detailed listings of the equipment holdings of the Korean People's Army [KPA] are rather scarce in unclassified literature. North Korea operates the FROG-7, Hwasong-5 (NK built Scud-B), Hwasong-6 (NK built Scud-C), Rodong-1, SCUD-ER. The U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center reported in 2009 that the Rocket Forces had fewer than 100 launchers for Tochka and Hwasong-5/6 SRBMs, and fewer than 50 launchers for the Rodong-1. Academic research in 2015 suggested North Korea had about 1,000 ballistic missiles. Rather speculative estimates are given in the following table:
|FROG-7||artillery rocket||Soviet Union||70 km||24 launchers|
|KN-1||anti-ship cruise missile||North Korea||110–160 km – 180–300 km||?|
|KN-2 Toksa||Advanced SRBM||North Korea||≈70 km (500 kg payload) or 120–140 km||30 launchers|
|Hwasong-5||SRBM||North Korea||330 km||≈180|
|Hwasong-6||SRBM||North Korea||500 km||≈100 or 300–600|
|Scud-ER 1||SRBM||North Korea||700 km||small numbers|
|Rodong||MRBM||North Korea||900–1,500 km||<50 or >200|
|Taepodong-1||technology demonstrator||North Korea||2,500 km||zero (technology demonstrator)|
|Taepodong-2||technology demonstrator||North Korea||up to 10,000 km; 6,700 km average||not deployed|
|BM25 Musudan||IRBM (untested)||North Korea||2,500–4,000 km||?|
Additionally, there are two space booster variants:
- Paektusan – a Taepodong-1 missile with a third stage and satellite added. Launched in 1998 with a small satellite on board (see Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1). The satellite failed to reach orbit due to a malfunction in the additional third stage.
- Unha – a satellite launch vehicle partially based on Taepodong-2 with a solid-fueled third stage. The satellite once again failed to reach orbit after a launch in 2009 (see Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2), and two more attempts were made in 2012. The first, in April, ended when the rocket exploded in the first minute of flight. The second, in December, finally managed to deliver its satellite to orbit; see Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 and Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2.
North Korea test-fired a short-range missile off its eastern coast toward Japan on 1 May 2005. The missile, fired into the Sea of Japan (East Sea of Korea), appeared to have a range of between 100 to 120 kilometers. It is called by the North the KN-02 Toksa ("Viper"), an upgraded version of the Russian SS-21, with a longer range. The KN-02 nomenclature was disclosed by Kim Sung-il Kim Seong-il, chief information officer at Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a closed-door parliamentary session. The DPRK test-fired the same type of missile in April 2004, but the test failed. Another multiple test has taken place in 2006, and it was a success. According to most reports, the missile was deployed in 2007, and was seen on military parades.
North Korean missiles can serve to deliver various types of warheads, including WMD. It is possible that up to three Rodong-1 missiles are fitted with nuclear warheads. In a similar manner to the initial Chinese nuclear doctrine, nuclear weapons are being stored separately, and would only be mounted on missiles after an order of the supreme commander (Kim Jong-un). Despite the claims by numerous media that North Korea has not yet created nuclear warheads small enough to be fit in a missile, reports surfaced in April 2009, according to which North Korea has miniaturized warheads, capable of being mounted on its missiles. The most suitable nuclear weapons delivery system is the Rodong-1, which has been successfully tested many times.
Additionally, the DPRK possesses a large chemical weapons stockpile, including powerful agents such as tabun, sarin, soman, VX gas and others. Little is known about the biological weapons stockpiles. They are probably limited, as North Koreans consider them much more dangerous to handle, therefore posing a threat to their own soldiers apart from the enemy.
North Korea has yet to demonstrate the ability to produce a re-entry vehicle, without which North Korea cannot deliver a weapon accuratly from an ICBM. However a crude and highly-inaccurate blunt body reentry vehicle could be used in early missiles.
Doubts about the missiles
United Nations and independent experts say that North Korea does not operate missiles beyond the intermediate range, and that the long-range missiles shown at parades are mock-ups. There are doubts about the authenticity of the KN-08 missiles displayed on 16-wheel carrier trucks during a 2012 military parade, and Musudan missiles shown in 2010 were probably mock-ups. The experts who studied the most doubted KN-08 pictures have pointed out multiple problems. For example:
- Some parts of the missile look like it is liquid fueled, while others parts belong to solid fuel rockets.
- There are no actual separation lines between the warhead and the last stage of the rocket.
- There are visible loose bolts.
- The missile is not aligned straight on the vehicle.
- The surface of the missile above the warhead looks like a thin sheet of fabric over a frame. An actual missile would be built completely differently.
- None of the 6 ICBMs shown had identical markings.
- The white lines that represent the separation lines between the different missile stages were at noticeably different locations on some missiles. This exposed the fact that there's no real separation line.
Several countries, including Pakistan, Libya and Vietnam, have bought North Korean ballistic missiles or received assistance from North Korea to establish local missile production.
- North Korea and weapons of mass destruction
- North Korean missile tests
- List of states with nuclear weapons
National strategic missile forces:
- United States Strategic Command, USA
- Strategic Rocket Forces, Russia
- UK Trident programme, UK
- Force de dissuasion FR
- Second Artillery Corps, PRC
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