During Pyongyang’s massive military parade to honor the 100th birthday of Kim Il-Sung on April 15th, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) rolled out their shiniest new military hardware for the masses. Among them was the predicted debut of a new road-mobile ballistic missile:
The (South Korea designated) KN-08 appears to be a three stage missile, 18 meters (19.7 yards) in length and around 2 meters (2.2 yards) in diameter. These measurements are significantly smaller than the non-mobile Unha/Taepodong-2 rockets (32-35 meters/35-38.2 yards) , but 6 meters longer and .5 meters larger in diameter than the DPRK’s previous mobile missile system, the BM25 Musudan.
Post-parade reports lean toward the KN-08 being a liquid-fueled rocket, as North Korea has shown little indication of mastering solid fuel technology in any rocket designs. Various analyses have indicated fuel/oxidizer refueling hatches on the body of the rocket, adding credence to this theory. Hypothesizing the fuel type as similar to previous missile systems, and judging the rocket’s size, has produced the KN-08′s estimated the potential range of something in the ballpark of 5,000 to 6,000 kilometers (3,100-3,730 miles).
The carrier platform for the KN-o8 is linked to China, namely Hubei Sanjiang Space Wanshan Special Vehicle Co., Ltd’s WS51200 chassis. This Chinese connection, especially a company under the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), is worth some amount of worry, though North Korea’s antics are finally wearing on the Chinese. Hopefully China’s evolving North Korea stance will force the curbing of future facilitations, though the Chinese don’t have the inclination to stop the flow of weapons, technology, and information through their country between North Korea and the Middle East.
In regards to the Middle East, there is currently no strong link between the KN-08 and Iranian missile designs (as there is for the Taepodong-2), but with only pictures to go by, there’s no way to know if any research was shared on the project. Iranians probably had the opportunity to catch the parade.
The 18 meter KN-08 is likely the missile that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates eluded to in 2011 regarding North Korea’s ability to strike the United States with road-mobile platforms. Rumors persist about a potential 40 meter missile under development in North Korea, but a 40+ meter-long road-mobile platform is highly unlikely, as the carrier needed for missile of that size would be extremely cumbersome, especially in a country that lacks proper roads throughout much of the country for moving around its current crop of mobile missile systems. However, the size of the DPRK’s newest Sohae launch facility and capability for hosting rockets larger than the 32 meter Taepodong-2/Unha allows at least some validity to the rumors of a potentially new non-mobile design.
Until then, the KN-08 is the world’s new cause for worry, though with North Korea’s lack of testing, it’s not something I’d lose too much sleep over.
Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch