North Korea's Ballistic Missile Program
CNS Resources on North Korea's Ballistic Missile Program
Overview of North Korea's Ballistic Missile Program
Rationale for Development
North Korea, in common with many developing countries, originally turned to missile forces to compensate for its air force's lack of a long-range strike capability. While this was originally the case, the demand for short- and medium-range missiles during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war demonstrated the profit potential of selling such systems. With North Korea becoming increasingly isolated with the worldwide collapse of communism, missile sales have become a valuable means of acquiring hard currency and desperately needed commodities such as oil.
Production and Deployment
After a period of limited production, full-scale production of the Scud-C ballistic missile began in 1991. There are conflicting reports on whether North Korea has deployed the 1,500km-range Nodong-1 ballistic missile. In September 1997, it did seem that North Korea had begun deploying military units with equipment designed to transport the Nodong. At that time, however, no missiles were sighted. Recent US intelligence reports suggest that North Korea has operationalized its Nodong missiles. However, since North Korea has exported some Nodong missiles to Iran and Pakistan, it may not have enough missiles to field a full brigade.
Command and Control
A number of factors indicate that North Korea's ballistic missiles are under air force, rather than army, command and control. The original purpose for missile development was to add a long-range strike capability to the Korean People's Army (KPA) to compensate for its weak and obsolescent air force. As the missiles were essentially assuming an air force mission, they may have been placed under the air force's command. In this regard, it is significant that General Cho Myong-rok, commander of the North Korean Air Force, led the North Korean delegation sent to Iran in February 1994 to discuss, among other things, testing of the Nodong-2 in Iran. It should also be noted that Iranian ballistic missiles fall under the command and control of the air wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). As Iran and North Korea have maintained close relations, especially concerning issues such as ballistic missiles, and have exchanged data on wartime missile use and deployment, it would not be surprising if North Korea mirrored the Iranian ballistic missile command-and-control structure.
North Korea purchased its first Scud-B from Egypt, reverse- engineered the missile, and then developed subsequent versions, which allowed it to gain expertise in the production and testing of missiles. North Korea has developed several longer-range versions by significantly modifying the basic Scud-B designs. Subsequent versions of the Scud-B had their ranges progressively extended. Also, the development time, from conception to testing, seems to be diminishing with each successive system. According to David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists, North Korea's development of the 1,500km Nodong marks the developmental limits of Scud technology.
Financial and Technical Assistance
All significant North Korean missile development successes have been achieved with outside financing and/or technological assistance. Iran is a good example of the former, while Russia is an example of the latter. Pakistan may have also been a funding source for the Nodong and Taepodong programs; Pakistan's Ghauri is suspected to be a Nodong purchased from Pyongyang.
The Iranian Factor
Several analysts believe that in the past, Iran was the primary financial supporter of North Korea's missile development program. The Iran-North Korea relationship dates from 1983 when Iran agreed to fund the reverse-engineering of the Scud-B missile in exchange for the option to purchase production models. There are two interesting aspects of the Iran-North Korea relationship: Iran's use of oil to purchase missiles, and the potential use of Iranian test-sites for North Korean missiles. North Korea has been in perpetual need for oil since the end of favorable pricing with China and the former Soviet Union. The restructuring of North Korea's debt to Iran in 1987 allowed it to pay in goods rather than cash. The May 1991 test-launch of the Scud-C missile in Qom in Iran opened a new phase in North Korea's relationship with Iran. In late-1993, North Korea appeared ready to use Iran's Lut Desert test-site for the Nodong-1. However, the test was cancelled, probably under international pressure. More recently, Iran may have shared test data from its 23 July 1998 launch of the Shahab-3 with North Korea. Russian assistance to Iran's missile program in areas of guidance and metallurgy may also indirectly benefit Pyongyang's own missile programs.
There is some evidence of a concerted North Korean effort to recruit Russian experts for their missile programs. The new technologies that North Korea will have to master in order to operationalize the Taepodong and subsequent series of missiles will increase the development time considerably. However, North Korea may be able to reduce development time with outside assistance. Although many Russian missile specialists have been stopped in transit on their way to North Korea, Russian authorities acknowledge that, given the number of people with missile development expertise, it is almost impossible to control their movements. The knowledge and experience of these Russian experts could reduce the time needed to develop the staging and re-entry technologies required for longer-range missile systems such as the Taepodong.
Nature of the Deliveries
Initial deliveries of North Korean missiles to customers in the Middle East in the 1980s consisted of complete missile systems. More recently, deliveries have been in the form of "knock-down" kits and associated production or assembly equipment. For example, North Korea may currently be transferring equipment, which will allow countries such as Iran and Pakistan to become indigenous producers of intermediate- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
Deliveries to Iran, Pakistan, and Syria have changed in two ways. First, as Western resistance to the deliveries has increased, shipments have begun to be made by air rather than by sea. In some instances, this has been accomplished with private-sector Russian assistance, thereby calling into question the Russian government's ability and/or willingness to control North Korea's missile proliferation. Second, instead of transferring complete missile systems, North Korea has resorted to selling missile components and missile production equipment to clients. These changes will allow more rapid shipping deliveries and interception of such shipments will become more difficult.