North Korea is known for its aggressive pursuit of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons development, which it sees as essential for its national security and prestige. The country’s missile programme dates back to the 1980s, but it has accelerated in recent years, with numerous tests and advancements.
However, these advancements have troubled North Korea’s neighbouring countries – South Korea and Japan – and, indeed, the international community.
What are North Korean ballistic missiles?
North Korea has a ballistic missile programme which is believed to be part of its broader efforts to develop a nuclear weapons programme.
The country, often referred to as a pariah country, has developed a range of ballistic missiles, including short-range missiles, medium-range missiles, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Short-range missiles have a range of up to 1,000 kilometres, while medium-range missiles can travel up to 3,000 kilometres. The ICBMs are believed to have a range of up to 10,000 kilometres, which would put parts of the United States within range.
North Korea has conducted numerous missile tests, including several successful launches of ICBMs. The country’s most recent ICBM test took place in March 2023 and was believed to have a range capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The regime has also conducted nuclear tests, with its most recent test also taking place in March 2023.
The international community has responded to North Korea’s missile programme with a range of sanctions and diplomatic efforts aimed at convincing the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Despite these efforts, North Korea has continued to develop its missile programme, and the situation remains a major source of tension in the region.
Range of North Korean ballistic missiles
North Korea has developed a range of ballistic missiles, with varying ranges. Here is a general breakdown of their ballistic missiles by range:
- Short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs): These missiles have a range of up to 1,000 kilometres (620 miles). They are designed for use against targets in South Korea and Japan. Some examples of North Korean SRBMs include the KN-02, KN-15, and KN-23.
- Medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs): These missiles have a range of up to 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles). They are capable of reaching U.S. military bases in Guam, as well as parts of Japan and Southeast Asia. North Korea’s main MRBM is the Hwasong-10 (also known as the Musudan).
- Intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs): These missiles have a range of up to 5,500 kilometres (3,417 miles). They can reach targets throughout Asia, including parts of India and Russia. North Korea’s main IRBM is the Hwasong-12.
- Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs): These missiles have a range of more than 5,500 kilometres (3,417 miles), and are capable of reaching the continental United States. North Korea has two main ICBMs: the Hwasong-14 and the Hwasong-15.
It is important to note that the exact ranges of North Korea’s missiles are not always clear, as the regime often makes exaggerated claims about their capabilities. Additionally, missile ranges can vary depending on factors such as the weight of the payload, the altitude of the trajectory, and other technical factors.
North Korean ballistic missiles tests
A range of ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic missiles have been tested by North Korea. To avoid being detected by radar, hypersonic missiles travel at speeds that are several times faster than sound and at low altitudes.
The “pariah country” has conducted numerous ballistic missile tests over the years. Here are some of the key tests in recent years:
North Korea launches a long-range rocket, which it claims is for peaceful satellite purposes, but is widely believed to be a test of ballistic missile technology.
North Korea launches a ballistic missile from a submarine. This test shows that North Korea has developed the capability to launch missiles from submarines, which makes them more difficult to detect and defend against.
North Korea launches a Hwasong-12 missile, which is an intermediate-range ballistic missile. The missile travels for 30 minutes and reaches an altitude of 2,111 kilometres (1,312 miles), which is higher than any other North Korean missile at the time.
North Korea launches its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-14. The missile travels for 39 minutes and reaches an altitude of 2,802 kilometres (1,741 miles), which is believed to be capable of reaching Alaska, in the US.
North Korea launches its second ICBM, the Hwasong-15. The missile reaches an altitude of 4,475 kilometres (2,780 miles) and travels for 53 minutes, demonstrating the capability to reach the continental United States.
A lot is unknown about the missile. The greatest missile range while carrying a large warhead may be less than 13,000 km if the missile was equipped with a dummy warhead to extend its range. Several experts speculate that North Korea may now be able to horizontally fuel missiles, reducing the time between when a missile becomes visible and when it may be launched. It is thought that the rocket disintegrated upon re-entering the atmosphere.
In the vicinity of Wonsan, North Korea conducts a test launch of a new type of SLBM. The Pukguksong-3 missile, according to the Republic of Korea Military Forces, was an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a maximum altitude of 910 kilometres and a flight distance of around 450 kilometres. Off Shimane Prefecture, it entered Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The launch, according to North Korea, was successful.
Two unidentified projectiles were test-launched by North Korea from the Wonsan area on the east coast in an easterly direction over the water. The operational range of projectiles is 240 kilometres, and they can fly at a height of 35 kilometres.
North Korea fires an unidentified cruise missile at Kusong city on January 22, 2021. At the time, this missile—later dubbed “KN-27″—was classified as an anti-ship cruise missile.
In 2022, North Korea conducted a record number of missile tests, some of which tested missiles that may reach American land.
On February 18, North Korea conducts its first missile test of 2023, launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that travelled 989 kilometres (615 miles) at a “lofted angle” before splashing down in the ocean west of Japan. As a result, naval drills were conducted nearby by the US and South Korea. On February 20, two more ICBM launches by North Korea came as a result of these training sessions.
North Korea tests an ICBM, which moves toward the Korean Peninsula’s eastern waters after being launched from North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.
North Korea has conducted many other missile tests as well, including multiple tests of short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles. The international world has reacted to these tests with broad condemnation and sanctions as well as diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes.