Stronger, faster, higher: How North Korea built a fearsome missile arsenal

Sarah Joseph
Sarah Joseph
5 Min Read
North Korea
North Korea

North Korea has perfected its ballistic missile capability with a wide variety of shorter-range weapons through extensive testing, including a record-setting number of launches in 2022.

North Korea launched ballistic missiles over 6,000 kilometres into orbit in March and again in November. These extreme trajectories indicated a weapon with the potential to reach a different continent or perhaps to carry multiple warheads.

More than three intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) have been test-fired by Pyongyang over Japan, including one on October 4 that landed some 3,200 kilometres (3,200 mi) away in the Pacific Ocean. This missile may have been a derivative of the intermediate-range Hwasong-12.

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Many concerns have been raised about the dependability and effectiveness of the North’s largest missiles: At least some of its launches appear to have failed because it has not yet properly demonstrated some essential technology for assuring a nuclear warhead survives its violent descent through the atmosphere.

But experts say North Korea is likely testing missiles that might be used in a conflict, and it has no plans to give them up.

As a sovereign nation, North Korea claims it has the right to develop ballistic missiles in order to protect itself against what it sees as an aggressive U.S. strategy.

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As an infringement on its sovereign rights, it has stated that it will not abide by UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting missile and nuclear programmes. Also, as a sovereign nation, it claims the right to conduct space travel and exploration.

Even while long-range weapons receive all the press, researchers think North Korea is also investing heavily on shorter-range systems.

This year, after the collapse of historic denuclearization discussions between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, Pyongyang unveiled a new generation of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), several of which are capable of manoeuvring to evade missile defences.

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Analysts argue that South Korea, which hosts roughly 28,500 American troops, has a lot to lose in a conflict with North Korea, therefore the country is stocking up on short-range missiles in preparation. Short-range missiles appear to have been the most successful in North Korea’s testing programme.
In addition to “hypersonic” missiles and SRBMs for “tactical” nuclear attacks, the North has tested new submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

For the first time since 2017, South Korea and the United States have been sounding the alarm that North Korea may resume nuclear testing. They think that could aid in the development of smaller nuclear warheads that can be used with a wider variety of missiles.

According to a recent research by Hwang Ildo of Seoul’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, “Kim revealed aspirations to create weapons systems ranging from tactical nuclear bombs to a nuclear-powered submarine and is ticking the boxes on his weapons wishlist through a series of tests.”

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Tactical nuclear weapons are designed for use on the battlefield, with their smaller warheads allowing them to target specific locations relatively near to the point of launch.

According to Duyeon Kim, a North Korea expert at the Center for a New American Security in the United States, targeting US bases in South Korea with such weapons makes sense because the North Korean military does not have enough conventional warheads to meaningfully damage such facilities and prevent a conventional US strike on North Korea.

She explained that North Korea would be able to achieve this while still preventing a U.S. retaliatory nuclear attack on the country because it could use its ICBMs and thermonuclear bombs for this purpose.

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North Korea is also heavily testing more pedestrian technologies, such rocket fuel. One area of interest is the development of solid fuel, which would enable the firing of missiles (even ICBMs) with minimal advance notice.

Researchers in North Korea conducted tests on a solid-fuel motor on December 16 that they claimed produced “high thrust.” This motor appears to be a prototype for a larger engine intended for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

To paraphrase what Hwang wrote, “one of Kim Jong Un’s objectives… is to develop an ICBM propelled by solid-fuel engines,” and if North Korea is successful in doing so, “it will become difficult for the US to defend against Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal,” because early warning signs of an ICBM launch using solid-fuel engines are difficult to detect.

Hi, fellow readers! So glad you found my little writing nook on the internet. I am a freelance writer, occasionally moonlighting as a digital marketer as well. I love to read, mostly focusing on high-fantasy and thrillers. Here, on Geekybar, I share my thoughts and views on breaking and recent news form all around the world. Oh, and I LOVE covering all the celeb gossips so stick around for some really interesting stuff!
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