From its very first public appearance, the illusive “Musudan” (Hwasong-10) medium range ballistic missile (MRBM) was in the heart of a controversy among analysts around the globe. Far too many dismissed the chunky missile as being nothing more than a propaganda stunt, a mockup, and perhaps just a wishful thinking of Kim Jong Un. Then came the horrific sequence of launch failures – and the consensus shifted toward “a real missile, perhaps, but very far from being operational soon”. Then came the dual launch of June 22. Two missiles were successfully launched by the missile forces of North Korea. What can we learn about the missile itself, the launches, and the prospects for the future of the DPRK missile arsenal and its confidence?
The North’s propaganda apparatus was quick to release many pictures of the missile, and the preparations for the launch. It is a gold mine for OSINT and WEBBINT analysts – and indeed we could draw some new insights on the missile – some could help us track the engineering trail of the missile – from the parade of 2010, to the launches of 2016.
Propaganda wise – all that North Korea needed was a successful liftoff and a stable flight for a few seconds. Instead, we have learned that the first missile flew to a range of 150 km, and the second for a range of 400 km. But, and this is a huge “but”, the missile that hit the sea 400 km down range, reached an altitude of some 1400 km – which, although not an operational trajectory, means that the missile was tested to its full capacity – and calculating the range should the missile be fired with a lower apogee – is elementary.
Another point is to avoid passing over Japan. In future launches, the DPRK could use its Sohae launch site, but then it will be much more complicated to track the missile without telemetry ships. Even if the missile that reached a 150 km range failed, it was a “successful failure,” since the telemetry from the missile will bring a wealth of valuable data for the engineers – something that was desperately needed after the rapid chain of failures at liftoff.
The launch and the high quality pictures that followed it enable us to see a major modification that the North Koreans made – the eight grid fins at the missile base were not seen before, and they are a critical addition to the missile’s stability in the first phase of the flight – alongside the two Vernier engines. The grid fins are an indigenous DPRK design, and we don’t know when this feature was incorporated into the missile design. With North Korea having a solid-propelled Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM), one must wonder if the Hwasong-10 will be replaced in the future by a solid propelled version.
The successful launch is critical for the technical teams, as well as for the regime itself. Now, the hectic schedule could be eased, and the lessons from missiles five and six could be properly learned. The focus could be shifted now to the heavy beasts – the Hwasong-13 ICBM’s.
On a side note, many tend to “forget” that according to a secret U.S. cable that was published by Wikileaks Iran received at least 19 Musudan missiles and the dual launch was causing much joy in the Islamic Republic.
All in all, it is not a partial success. It is a huge leap forward for North Korea, and a grim look at the things to come – let’s not forget the two variants of the Hwasong-13 ICBM that still have to be flight tested – and could potentially (and reasonably) threaten the continental United States.
From its very first public appearance, the illusive “Musudan” (Hwasong-10) medium range ballistic missile (MRBM) was in the heart of a controversy among analysts around the globe. Far too many dismissed the chunky missile as being nothing more than a propaganda stunt, a mockup, and perhaps just a wishful thinking of Kim Jong Un. Then came the horrific sequence of launch failures – and the
Tal Inbar is head of the Space and UAV Research Center at Israel's Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies. He has followed North Korea's space and missile programs for many years, along with its international proliferation network and its military cooperation with Iran.