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Report says design changes likely improved North Korean missile

A new version of North Korea's KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, bottom, publicly displayed during an October military parade, has been shortened and simplified, according to 38 North, a website run by Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies that monitors North Korean activities. A blunt warhead that is more likely to survive re-entry replaces a narrow, pointed design, shown at top.

COURTESY OF 38 NORTH/KCNA

By AARON KIDD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 24, 2015

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Design changes to a North Korean missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland should increase its reliability but are likely to delay deployment for at least five years, according to a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, which was publicly displayed during an October military parade, has been shortened and simplified, according to 38 North, a website run by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies that monitors North Korean activities. A blunt warhead that is more likely to survive re-entry replaces a narrow, pointed design, and the missile’s three stages have been reduced to two.

“The underlying technology is mostly the same — a blend of North Korean engineering and Cold War leftovers from the Soviet Union — but the structural design has been substantially improved,” the report said Tuesday. “There is reason to suspect that the new structural technology was illicitly obtained from Ukrainian sources.”

The new KN-08 would have a range similar to its predecessor — about 5,600 miles, enough to reach the U.S. West Coast — with an estimated success rate of 50 percent to 60 percent, the report said. The previous model’s rate was estimated at 30 percent to 40 percent.

“The new design is simpler and more reliable, and thus a more credible threat,” 38 North said.

But with such a major redesign four years into the KN-08’s development, and no flight testing so far, 38 North predicts the missile won’t see action until 2020 or beyond. The think tank previously estimated the missile could be deployed by 2018 at the earliest.

“While North Korea appears to be making progress towards a road-mobile [intercontinental ballistic missile], progress has been slower than we expected — a threat postponed, but not prevented,” 38 North said.

The North recently said it has successfully developed a nuclear weapon small enough to be placed in a missile warhead, but there has been no evidence to back up the claim.

kidd.aaron@stripes.com

Twitter: @kiddaaron

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