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A Partial Success for the Musudan: Addendum

28 June 2016

North Korea has just released an image of Kim Jong Un posing in front of a Musudan missile (Hwasong-10) with the reentry vehicle removed. In addition to showing the grid fins in their stowed configuration, this view shows us the missile’s guidance package. The resolution is not high enough to positively identify specific components or assemblies, but it clearly isn’t the guidance system from a 1960s-vintage Russian R-27 missile. In the original Russian design, the rather bulkier guidance system was fit into a depressed cavity at the top of the propellant tank; the North Koreans have instead fit the electronics into the narrow space atop a normal tank dome. This means they have rebuilt the tank dome as well as the guidance system, though this comes as no surprise given that the missile’s propellant tanks have been stretched by almost 2.5 meters to increase its range.

(Photo: KCTV/Yonhap)

(Photo: KCTV/Yonhap)

Even if North Korea obtained complete R-27 missiles from Russia in the 1990s, it is unlikely they would trust 40-year-old electronics to control it. And we know that North Korea has the ability to build their own guidance systems, whether for shorter-ranged Nodong missiles or for Unha satellite launch vehicles. We know from recovered Unha wreckage that they are willing to use modern imported commercial-grade electronics in their missiles, which would explain why their guidance system is smaller than the Russian original.

What we don’t know is how well it performs. Precision components like missile-grade mechanical or laser gyroscopes are difficult to build and difficult to import without it being obvious that one is importing missile parts. Possibly the North Koreans have found a supplier that doesn’t care, or possibly their own technicians have mastered the art of building these systems. At a minimum, the Musudan is capable of completing a flight without tumbling out of control, at least some of the time, and even if it is no more precise than North Korea’s other missiles, it is still almost certainly accurate enough to hit, for example, the island of Guam. Although, hitting specific targets on Guam, like the airbase or port facilities, will likely require additional testing for calibration even if the design is sound and accurate.

For the full assessment of the June 2016 Musudan tests, see “A Partial Success for the Musudan.”

Reader Feedback

12 Responses to “A Partial Success for the Musudan: Addendum”

  1. Henri Kenhmann says:

    Respectfully Disagree with the title, as this latest test just demonstrates in my opinion, a Total Success for the Hwasong-10 system as a WMD deterrent.

    Indeed, why should a minor military power like the DPRK, being engaged in an asymmetric warfare with the only superpower even try to hit the opponent’s civilian targets, with a known high probability of interception before it can reach its destination?

    Even in the hypothesis of one warhead surviving the flight to Guam, this would be far from securing a major victory for North Korea.

    The Korean Strategic Forces know where the weakness lies in the U.S. Colossus with Feet of Clay, and will exploit this to their own advantage.

    Launching a salvo of several dozens of TEL Hwasong-10 to its maximum apogee would allow to hit Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO) U.S. space assets as well. Future Hwasong-15/16/17 could possibly extend the range to Inclined/Geosynchronous Orbit (GSO/IGSO).

    The use of EMP optimized nuclear warheads should effectively destroy enough of the U.S. 20,000 military satellites and render the whole system dysfunctional, as the spacing and geometry in space formation is known to be utterly critical. No need to add that this would result in the end of 70 years of Pax Americana.

  2. Keve says:

    There are enough risks shown by North Korea to not take any chance of nuclear conflict. No one is going to dare and find out, thus a nuclear deterrent. US has to beef up missile defense and keep a closer contact with north, instead of isolationism which only keeps NoKorea more nuclear capable in the near future. Time is not on US nor South Korean side, and sanctions are blessing for pro- nuclear hardliners in NoKorea. Treat South Korea like how North Korea is treated with sanction, and South Korea will go nuclear as well. There is no secret on how to keep nuclear threats at bay; nations will choose to go nuclear.

  3. Andrew B says:

    Haven’t had a chance to catch up on developments past few days.

    Stepping back and looking overall at the material that North Korea is presenting there are simply I suggest there are too many inconsistencies in the available material. A missile is shown to ignite its first stage and then one takes off – same missile? A missile flies along a certain trajectory as the one we saw fire its main engines – same missile? The missile lands where its owners want it to land – does it? Payload weight (or any payload at all)? Photos of guidance systems are not useful really for threat assessments when, in truth, although the system is interesting to those who specialise in such things, all we’d like to know (because this equates to the threat) is if the missile can launch successfully, stay on course and hit its target area (however defined).

    So why show your guidance system? When was the last time (in the unclassified world) anyone saw anybody else’s guidance system at this stage of missile development?

    North Korea is putting together a great show, and to suggest Dr. Schilling may be incorrect I know is a big, big step … but I am beginning to wonder about just how far North Korea really has come with development of its missile.

  4. Clay Ramsey says:

    J. Kies:

    Wouldn’t stretching an R27 increase its stability since the oxidizer tank is forward (that is assuming the IMU rates are sufficiently adjusted to account for the new location). I imagine the FCS rules wouldn’t even need to be modified. Structural integrity would be lessened though.


    There is also the 0% and 100% comparison. With the last shot being CCCP NOS, and the first five being studio versions of the last one, that’s what you’d get. But the 0% isn’t really fair, since they did do what they were supposed to (for most people anyway).

  5. Max says:

    So, is the success rate 16.7% (one out of the six fired) or 100% (only counting the last one fired)? The answer depends on whether the missiles tested were from the current product line or from NOS. If you’ve tested 2007 Mustangs for head collision lately and found five out of the six tested gave the dummy driver a bad head injury, would you say it is safe or would you send out a recall notice? What would you do if you are the GM?

  6. Clay Ramsey says:


  7. Clay Ramsey says:

    If everything is an assumption, and if the reported high altitude figure is actually true, I’m just going to assume it was done using genuine Russian NOS hardware. It doesn’t matter at all where it came from, Iran, Russia or wherever, just with the understanding that it was not produced in DPRK. A few modifications here and there does not qualify as ‘Made in Korea’.

  8. J_kies says:

    Dr Schilling; Its a bad design regardless of the more ‘up-to-date’ electronics parts. Stretching the R-27 Zydb resulted in a loss of stability; adding the drag of the grid-fins probably doubled the Cd*area product and the lofted shot likely had zero or near zero payload.

    Guam at ~3400km range presents a ~50km wide by ~19km object requires ~5mR type angle error and velocity errors < ~ 20 m/s for the burnout state vector. Commercial GPS aided aircraft INS systems are not adaptable for missile use, 'hand-rolling' an IMU and inertial instruments are a much harder problem than mere propulsion.

    The electronics packaging and cabling shown is 1980s vintage techniques and would likely be subject to a lot of quality assurance failures due to imperfectly repeated assemblies that never achieve testing prior to flight.

    Yes the DPRK program is very reasonably considered to be a hoax as the hypergolic propellant 'mobile' missiles are flat out dumb. If they wish to message us that the missiles are 'credible' they need to announce an aimpoint pre-launch and achieve errors to that aimpoint within nuclear package lethal radius.

  9. Clay Ramsey says:

    They obviously want us to believe these missiles are real, but proving it to us would be so easy if they are. Their satellite launch vehicle *is* real, and there is plenty of video, radar and photographic evidence to show so (a lot of it released by DPRK themselves). To me, the release of these kinds of images proves nothing. It makes me wonder why they released images at all since it only provides argument (and often times outright evidence) that the programs are fake. There’s nothing here I couldn’t have put together myself, I could have created an image like this with a moderate budget too. Still waiting for the good stuff, but not holding my breath.

    Btw hacking my phone was kind of a rude thing to do, I know now it wasn’t so benign after all. Curiosity is one thing, but destructiveness is another. I did occur to me though, it’s possible that the ones monitoring these posts (and hacking stuff) have never even seen a musudan, or KN-08 or SLBM anything ever in their lives and know nothing about it at all. My posts may genuinely seem like nothing more than spitefulness to them (since they have no reason to doubt the missiles existence). Hardly, imho the missile programs are deceptions and I based that solely on the photos *they* themselves released. I mean, that launch photo just looks to me as an all solid launch, but the engines mysteriously are hypergolic. If you don’t know anything about propulsion, you won’t even know what I’m talking about but don’t just assume my assessment is irrational, it’s not. The lighting is wrong, everything is wrong. Is it impossible for it to be real, maybe not, carbonized material in the exhaust jet could produce that effect, but I’m sure not going to jump to that conclusion since it just looks so photoshopped. *That’s* the kind of thing I’m talking about! You’re shooting your own foot off and getting pissed at me for doing it.

  10. John Schilling says:

    The North Koreans are fairly explicit about their nuclear arsenal as being a deterrent. And you can’t deter anyone with a secret weapon – they have to know about it, and they have to know that it works. So it does matter, and it is probably because it matters that they are showing us the details.

    Outside of North Korea, there is a persistent minority opinion that the entire North Korean missile program is basically a hoax. And even those of us who take the matter seriously, have called out North Korea for carefully editing and even photoshopping their launch imagery so as to exaggerate their capabilities. So earlier this year, they started showing us technical details like this along with hard-to-fake closeup images of ground test activities.

    Apparently, they don’t care if we find out exactly how they lay out the various black boxes that make up a guidance package, but they do care that we understand these are actual DPRK-built ballistic missiles that actually work (sometimes).

  11. Kostadinov says:

    Obviously this weapon only value is as nuclear deterrent.
    This is explicitly highlighted in the official statement: “The real foe our nuclear force has to confront is a nuclear war itself…”

  12. Rudiger Frank says:

    Can anybody tell me why the NKs are showing off such technical detail? Is it because they know that we know anyway so it doesn’t matter? Or is it a deliberate provocation? Misinformation? Stupidity? Or proof that they indeed see the primary value of these weapons in deterrence, not actual use?

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Credit for photo of young North Korean girl: T.M. All rights reserved, used with permission.