Korean People's Army Strategic Force

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Strategic Rocket Forces / Strategic Missile Forces
Founded 1999; 18 years ago (1999)
Country  North Korea
Allegiance Kim Jong-un[1]
Branch Independent
Type Strategic missile force
Role Strategic deterrence
Size Unknown
Garrison/HQ Sŏngch'ŏn-kun
South Pyongan, North Korea
Commander Lt. Gen. Kim Rak-gyom

The Strategic Rocket Forces (Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선인민군 전략로케트군, Hanja: 朝鮮人民軍 戰略로케트軍),[2] 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 armed with surface-to-surface missiles of Soviet and Chinese design, as well as domestically developed long-range missiles.


Shortly after Kim Il-Sung's 5 October 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 sought assistance to establish its own independent sovereign missile defence development program.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]


The Strategic Rocket Forces is a branch of the KPA, and is directly subordinate to the supreme commander.


Location of the Musudan-ri launch facility

There are other numerous smaller sites, scattered around the country, serving for mobile launcher pads. Some larger sites are under construction.

Launching capabilities[edit]

  • 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.[4]
  • 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 Hwasong-10. 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.[5]

Active missiles[edit]

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), Hwasong-6 ER (a.k.a. Scud-ER) and Hwasong-7 (mislabeled as Rodong-1 [6])[7] 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 Hwasong-7.[8] Academic research in 2015 suggested North Korea had about 1,000 ballistic missiles:[9] 600 Hwasong-series; 100 KN-02s;[10] and 300 Hwasong-7s.[11] Rather speculative estimates are given in the following table:

Missile Type Origin Range Inventory
Hwasong-2 artillery rocket  USSR  North Korea < 100 km 24 units launchers
Hwasong-1 artillery rocket  USSR  North Korea < 50 km 24 units launchers
P-15 KN-1 anti-ship cruise missile  North Korea  USSR  Russia 110[12]–160 km[13][14][15] – 180–300 km[16]  ?
Silkworm KN-1 anti-ship cruise missile  North Korea  China 110[12]–160 km[13][14][15] – 180–300 km[16]  ?
Hwasong-3 SRBM  North Korea  USSR  Russia ≈70 km (500 kg payload)[7] or 120–140 km[17] 30 launchers
Hwasong-5 SRBM  North Korea 330 km ≈180
Hwasong-6 SRBM  North Korea 500 km[7] ≈100[7] or 300–600[18]
Scud-ER SRBM  North Korea  USSR 700 km small numbers[7]
Rodong(Hwasong-7) [19] MRBM  North Korea 900[7]–1,500 km[9] <50[7] or >200[20]
Hwasong-10 IRBM  North Korea 2,500–4,000 km[21]  ?[22] Successfully tested on 22 June 2016.
KN-08 and KN-14 IRBM/ICBM (untested)  North Korea 2000 – 12000 km  ?
KN-11 SLBM (tested)  North Korea 2000 km Successfully tested on 24 Aug 2016 with lofted trajectory with about 500 km and similar distance apogee.
Pukguksong-2 IRBM  North Korea 3000 km[23] Successfully tested on 12 February 2017.[24]
Hwasong-12 IRBM/ICBM  North Korea 5000-6000km[25] Successfully tested on 14 May 2017[26]
Estimated maximum range of some North Korean missile types in 2013. The missiles with a range exceeding that of the Rodong are not known to be operationally deployed.

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 and 120 kilometers. It is called by the North the Hwasong-3(?)/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.

In 2014 North Korea tested what it describes as an "ultra precision" tactical missile, perhaps an enhanced version of the Tochka, at a range of 220 kilometres (140 mi).[27][28]


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.[29] 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.[30] 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 accurately from an ICBM.[22] However a crude and highly-inaccurate blunt body reentry vehicle could be used in early missiles.[9]

Doubts about the missiles[edit]

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.[7][31][32][33] 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 suggested there is no real separation line.


Several countries, including Pakistan, Libya, Angola and Vietnam, have bought North Korean ballistic missiles or received assistance from North Korea to establish local missile production.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "North Korean military takes oath of loyalty". 
  2. ^ "Kim Jong-un Makes 1st Public Speech". 
  3. ^ a b c d e Pinkston, Daniel A. (February 2008). The North Korean Ballistic Missile Program (PDF). Strategic Studies Institute, US Army. 
  4. ^ "North digs silos for missiles in Mt. Paektu area". JoongAng daily. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  5. ^ Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. (28 October 2014). "North Korea: Test Stand for Vertical Launch of Sea-Based Ballistic Missiles Spotted". 38 North. U.S.-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  6. ^ https://mobile.twitter.com/stoa1984/status/866708035430789120?p=v
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Markus Schiller (2012). Characterizing the North Korean Nuclear Missile Threat (Report). RAND Corporation. ISBN 978-0-8330-7621-2. TR-1268-TSF. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  8. ^ Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat (PDF). National Air and Space Intelligence Center (Report). Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency. April 2009. NASIC-1031-0985-09. Retrieved 20 February 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c John Schilling, Henry (Long) Kan (2015). The Future of North Korean Nuclear Delivery Systems (PDF) (Report). US-Korea Institute at SAIS. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  10. ^ N. Korea has 100 KN-02 missiles with extended range - Yonhapnews.co.kr, 5 March 2014
  11. ^ Around 70% of N.K. missiles target S. Korea - Koreaherald.com, 4 March 2013
  12. ^ a b KN-01 Anti-Ship Cruise Missile, globalsecurity.org
  13. ^ a b North Korea test-fires short-range barrage, AP, July 2, 2009
  14. ^ a b North Korea fires four missiles, Jerusalem Post, July 2, 2009
  15. ^ a b North Korea Missile Chronology 2008/9, NTI.org
  16. ^ a b N.Korea Extends Range of Anti-Ship Missiles – Chosun.com, 22 November 2013
  17. ^ North Korea to Deploy New Missile, U.S. Says, NTI.org, July 9, 2007
  18. ^ Bermudez, Joseph S. (1999). "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK: Longer Range Designs, 1989-Present". James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Retrieved 2008-02-14. 
  19. ^ https://mobile.twitter.com/stoa1984/status/866708035430789120?p=v
  20. ^ "In N. Korea, Missiles Herald A Defiant 4th", Washington Post, July 4, 2009
  21. ^ "Facts about North Korea's Musudan missile". AFP. GlobalPost. 8 April 2013. Archived from the original on 9 April 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (PDF) (Report). U.S. Department of Defense. 2012. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  23. ^ Julian Ryall, Tokyo. "North Korea's 'game changing' new missile is more stable, more efficient -and harder to detect". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-02-13. 
  24. ^ Sang-hun, Choe; Sanger, David E. (13 February 2017). "North Korea Claims Progress on Long-Range Goal With Missile Test" – via NYTimes.com. 
  25. ^ http://www.yonhapnews.co.kr/nk/2017/05/15/4807080000AKR20170515010854014.HTML?template=2085
  26. ^ "US believes North Korea launched KN-17 missile". ABC News. 2017-05-15. Retrieved 2017-05-15. 
  27. ^ Jeffrey Lewis (3 November 2014). "Don't Know Where Waldo Went, But Kim Jong Un Was in Wonsan: Geolocating North Korea's June 26 and August 14 Missile Launches". 38 North. U.S.-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  28. ^ John G. Grisafi (16 August 2014). "Recent launches revealed as surface-to-surface missile". NK News. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  29. ^ "The North Korean Plutonium Stock Mid-2006" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  30. ^ "North Korea is fully fledged nuclear power, experts agree". The Times. London. April 24, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  31. ^ Marcus, Jonathan (2012-04-27). "BBC News - New ICBM missiles at North Korea parade 'fake'". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  32. ^ "U.N. Report Suggest N. Korean Parade Missiles Possibly Fakes | Defense News". defensenews.com. 2012-10-05. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  33. ^ The Associated Press (2012-04-26). "North Korean missiles dismissed as fakes - World - CBC News". Cbc.ca. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 


  • Reuters - A look at North Korea's missile arsenal
  • Bermudez, Joseph S. (2001). Shield of the Great Leader. The Armed Forces of North Korea, The Armed Forces of Asia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1864485825.
  • Homer T. Hodge, North Korea’s Military Strategy, Parameters (journal), Spring 2003, pp. 68–81
  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) (2007). The Military Balance 2007. Abingdon: Routledge Journals. ISBN 9781857434378.
  • Bermudez, Joseph S. (1999). "A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK: First Ballistic Missiles, 1979-1989".
  • James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
  • Zaloga, Steven; Illustrated by Jim Laurier and Lee Ray (2006). Scud Ballistic Missile Launch Systems 1955-2005. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-947-9.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]