Tag Archives: North Korea Missile capabilities

International Strategic Review: March 2017

International Strategic Review, Vol.4, Issue.3, March 2017

To read the complete report click here

February 2017 was a busy month for Space related activities in China, North Korea, Iran and India. But the real highlight in February was India setting a new record by launching 104 satellites on single rocket. The ISRO has been consistently in the news making great strides with the most cost effective Mars mission in the world and its indigenously built cryogenic engine. Besides, the eleventh edition of Aero India was held at Air Force Station, Bengaluru from 14 to 18 Feb 2017, making way for new international collaborations for India. One of the most significant announcements at Aero India was the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL)’s proposal to revive three aircraft programmes- Saras aircraft, 70 seater aircraft programme and the NM5-100.

Interview: Planned North Korean Satellite Launch

Busan FM Radio, February 5, 2016

Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies

BusanFMDr. Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, ISSSP, NIAS was interviewed by Busan FM, South Korea for their live morning show “Morning Wave In Busan” on February 5, 2016. The interview dwelt on the planned North Korea’s missile and launch vehicle capabilities and on the planned  launch of an Earth Observation (EO) satellite and its implications for DPRK’s long-range missile capabilities.

The entire interview can be heard here

North Korea’s 2016 Nuclear Test: An Analysis

North Korea’s 2016 Nuclear Test: An Analysis

Authors: Arun Vishwanathan, S. Chandrashekar, L.V. Krishnan and Lalitha Sundaresan

To read the complete report click here

To cite: Arun Vishwanathan, S. Chandrashekar, L.V. Krishnan and Lalitha Sundaresan. North Korea’s 2016 Nuclear Test: An Analysis. ISSSP Report No. 1-2016. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, January 10, 2016 available at http://isssp.in/north-koreas-2016-nuclear-test-an-analysis/


DPRK Nuclear Test Report CoverOn January 6, 2016, two days short of Kim JongUn’s birthday, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted its fourth nuclear test. The test took place at 10:30 AM Local Time (01:30:00 UTC). An analysis of the seismic data from the test, clearly points to the fact that the earthquake (with a magnitude of 4.85 on the Richter scale) was the result of a nuclear test and not due to a natural earthquake. North Korea released a statement following the test which claimed that it had conducted a nuclear test and had exploded its first H-bomb.

North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016. the first test in October 2006 with a yield of ~1kT was a fizzle. This was followed by the second test in May 2009. Though there are differences over the exact yield of the test with estimates ranging from 2.4 kT to 5 kT it is considered to be a success. The third test in February 2013 had a yield around 10 kT.

It has been estimated that the four North Korean tests were conducted in the same area. Thus, it can safely be assumed that the overall geology in the area will be similar. This is an important fact which will allow for the comparison of the seismic signals of this test with those of the earlier tests.

Given the similarities in the seismic signatures of the 2013 and 2016 tests, it would be logical to conclude that the yield of the 2013 and the 2016 nuclear tests will be close to each other. While seismic data confirms that a nuclear device was tested, additional evidence is needed to confirm that it was a thermonuclear device.

While expert opinion around the world seems to be veering towards the view that the 2016 test was indeed that of a fission device, from a purely technical point of view one cannot rule out the possibility that the test was that of a small thermonuclear device. Radionuclide Monitoring is the smoking gun which establishes beyond all doubt that a nuclear weapon was tested and enables an analysis of the nature of the weapon tested.

Can North Korean missiles reach the United States?

Regardless of the type of the nuclear device tested, the very fact that North Korea conducted a successful nuclear test is dangerous. With four nuclear tests, Pyongyang is moving towards the capability to successfully miniaturize a nuclear warhead which would be deliverable by long-range nuclear missiles. If so, can North Korea target their main perceived enemy, the United States?

In this context it is important to take a closer look at the North Korea’s successful launch of a remote sensing satellite and placing it in a sun-synchronous orbit on December 12, 2012 on the Unha launch vehicle.

Though the North Korean Unha is designed as a space launcher, it can be suitably modified into a ballistic missile. Trajectory analysis using the NIAS trajectory modelling software – Quo Vadis – shows that a due North East launch of the Unha from a suitable location with a 1000kg payload (sufficient to carry a nuclear warhead) can reach all of Alaska and some parts of northern Canada. 

Click here to download KMZ file for 1000kg payload and Azimuth of 25 degrees.

Based on NIAS Quo Vadis Trajectory Simulation for 1000kg Payload, Azimuth 25 degrees

Based on NIAS Quo Vadis Trajectory Simulation Software for 1000kg Payload, Azimuth 25 degrees

With further reduction of the mass of the payload to say 800kg and launching at an Azimuth of 40 degrees, a North Korean ballistic missile will just be able to reach parts of western coast of the continental United States including the states of Washington, Oregon and northern parts of California.

Click here to download KMZ file for 800kg payload and Azimuth of 40 degrees.

Quo Vadis Trajectory Simulation for 800kg Payload, Azimuth 40 degrees

Based on NIAS Quo Vadis Trajectory Simulation Software for 800kg Payload, Azimuth 40 degrees

International Implications of the North Korean Test

The test is an indicator that Beijing does not have complete control over the actions of its North Korean ally. China would also be obviously concerned about a nuclear neighbor whose behavior is difficult to manage. Given this situation China would have doubts about North Korea’s role as a friendly buffer state between China and US dominated South Korea. This development would strengthen the US position vis-à-vis the China-Korea-US dynamic.

Implications of the North Korean Test for India

Though North Korea is geographically far away from India its growing nuclear weapon capabilities are of direct concern. This arises largely because of the close coupling of the Pakistani and North Korean missile and nuclear weapons programmes. There is no doubt that the Ghauri missile is a copy of the North Korean Nodong missile.

There is also evidence that Pakistani nuclear scientists have visited North Korea and had discussions with them.

Pakistan had tested nuclear devices in 1998. All of them were Uranium based devices which are more difficult to miniaturize. Though Pakistan has a major Plutonium based weapons development programme for miniaturization, the fact that it has not tested a Plutonium based device does not lend credibility to its miniaturization claims.

In light of the links between North Korea and Pakistan it is likely that the North Korean Plutonium based tests serve as surrogate tests for the Pakistani miniaturization drive. This has direct security implications for India.


About the Authors

Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at arun_summerhll[at]yahoo.com

S. Chandrashekar is is JRD Tata Chair Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at chandrashekar.schandra[at]gmail.com

L.V. Krishnan retired as Director of Safety Research and Health Physics Programmes at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam in 1997. He is Adjunct Faculty, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies. He can be contacted at krishnan97[at]gmail[dot]com

Lalitha Sundaresan is is Visiting Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. She can be reached at chandrashekar.schandra[at]gmail.com


North Korea’s Successful Space Launch

North Korea’s Successful Space Launch

Authors: S.Chandrashekar, N.Ramani, Rajaram Nagappa and Soma Perumal

To read the complete report in pdf click here

North Korea Space LaunchOn December 12 2012 North Korea surprised the world by successfully placing a remote sensing satellite in a sun synchronous orbit using an indigenously developed launcher called the Unha.

Using publicly available information and images of the Unha launcher as well as the specific information on the first stage put out by South Korea after recovering and analyzing the debris from the first stage, the International Strategic & Security Studies Programme (ISSSP) at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) attempted to reconstruct the trajectory of the successful launch.

For the December 12 2012 launch of the Unha, a lot of information was publicly available or reasonable estimates could be made from images of the launcher. This enabled us to reconstruct the trajectory flown by the Unha launcher with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Through an iterative process we were able to obtain a trajectory that matches well with the midpoints of the notified impact zones as well as the achieved orbit.

The analysis suggests that North Korea is somewhat more advanced than either Iran or Pakistan in space and missile technologies and products. This assessment, more than the actual performance of the Unha launcher as a missile, must be a source of considerable concern to North Korea’s immediate neighbours as well as the United States.

The available evidence based on the recovery of the first stage debris by South Korea indicates that the first stage of the Unha Launcher comprises a cluster of four Nodong Engines that have a common turbo pump and common tanks for the kerosene propellant and the RFNA oxidizer. The first stage sea level specific impulse that best fits the trajectory is only 229 seconds as compared to the initial assumed value of 232 seconds. This is consistent with a Kerosene RFNA fuel and oxidizer combination typical of the original Scud A Soviet era technology that has been modified and scaled up for a space booster application.

The second stage of the Unha does not use a Nodong engine as assumed by most analysts. We found that the second stage vacuum specific impulse that best fits the trajectory is about 270 seconds. This is not compatible with the 250 to 255 seconds vacuum specific impulse of the Nodong that uses a kerosene RFNA fuel oxidizer combination. The second stage most probably uses a UDMH RFNA fuel and oxidizer combination that is compatible with the Scud B technology of the Soviet era. Though it would have been easier for the North Korea to have used a regular missile engine for the Unha second stage they choose to develop an engine and stage specifically designed for a satellite mission. This indicates a substantial in-house capability that has built upon imported technology to not only improve it but to use the knowledge acquired to scaleup, re-design, develop, test and launch a new stage.

The ISSSP’s in-house Trajectory Model also suggests that the third stage uses an advanced engine with a specific impulse in the range of 288 to 290 seconds. The results also suggest that this is a light weight stage with a high propellant load factor of around 86%. The engine that powers this stage uses an advanced propellant oxidizer combination such as UDMH and Nitrogen Tetroxide.

This propellant and oxidizer combination was not used in the Scud series development. North Korea’s possession of this stage indicates that they have the knowledge and capabilities to indigenously design, develop, test and integrate such an advanced engine and stage into a space launcher. This is no mean achievement for a supposedly backward country like North Korea.

Though the Unha has been primarily designed for a space application it can also be used as a missile. The range of the Unha with a 1000 kg payload launched due north towards the US or Canada is 5950 Km. A due North East launch from the Launch site with a 1000 kg payload (sufficient for a nuclear warhead) can reach most parts of Alaska.

Apart from these hard technological achievements related to the development of the propulsion units and the stages for the Unha, the launch provides visible evidence that North Korea has been able to integrate these hard technologies with the softer technologies of mission planning and management of a complex project. The vehicle trajectory including the maneuvers after liftoff, the pitching down of the second stage after first stage separation, maintaining control during the fairly long coast phase, the yaw maneuver of the third stage and the final injection into a fairly good sun synchronous orbit shows a strong and well developed internal organization of effort within North Korea. The division of work and the integration of these various diverse subsystems and components into a whole launcher and the planning and execution of the launch mission show that North Korea has made commendable progress in its mastery of missile and space launcher products and technologies.

Conducting Academic and Policy Research related to National and International Security Issues
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