North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on 26 March: the latest in a series of test launches.
The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that two missiles were launched from the Sukchon region at 02.35 and 02.42 local time respectively. It added that the launches were in violation of “UN Security Council Resolutions [UNSCR] 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013) and 2094 (2013), which prohibit North Korea from all activities related to ballistic missile programmes.”
South Korean Ministry of National Defense spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters that based on their speed and range, it was believed they were Rodong (also known as No Dong) missiles, which have a range of between 1,000 and 1,500 km.
IHS Jane’s believes the No Dong to be a single-stage, liquid-fuelled missile able to carry conventional, chemical and nuclear warheads from 700 kg to 1200 kg. At a military parade in 2010, at least eight No Dongs were carried on transport-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicles with five axles that appeared to be enlarged versions of the four-axle Hwasong 5 MAZ-543 vehicle, presumably adapted to carry the heavier missiles.
If confirmed the firings would be the first No Dong launches since July 2009.
“This missile is capable of hitting not only most of Japan but also Russia and China,” Kim said. “The North is showing off its military capabilities to grab the attention of the international community.”
They coincided with the fourth anniversary of the sinking of ROKS Chon An (PCC-772), a Republic of Korea Navy Pohang-class corvette that Seoul and international observers said was attacked by a North Korean torpedo in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives. The firing also occurred as South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met for the first time in a meeting organised by US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in the Diet that Tokyo had protested to North Korea via the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. Meanwhile, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said he had instructed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to continue gathering information about the launches.
“Should it fly farther in the same direction, it would have reached Japan’s mainland,” Onodera told reporters. “Even if there was no direct impact this time, it is an incident we should pay particular attention to in terms of Japan’s national security.”
The launches follow threats of “nuclear measures” by North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations on 24 March. Ri Tong-il told reporters in New York that his country was: “ready to take a series of additional nuclear measures to demonstrate the power of the self-defensive nuclear deterrent,” without specifying what these would be.
“I think you can wait and see later,” he added before citing ongoing joint US-South Korean military drills as an example of US hostility to Pyongyang.
The No Dong launches follow a series of test firings by the Korean People’s Army (KPA) since late February that US and South Korean officials believe to be in protest at the annual ‘Key Resolve’ and ‘Foal Eagle’ exercises that are conducted in South Korea.
According to these officials, the North had launched 72 rockets and missiles as of 23 March: 4 KN-09 rockets on 21 February; 4 Scud missiles on 27 February; 2 Scud C missiles on 3 March; 4 KN-09 and three 240 mm rockets on 4 March; 25 FROG-7 rockets on 16 March; and 30 FROG-7s on 23 March.
All the launches were from the east coast: the Scud launches were from the Kittaeryong (Gitdaeryeong) area south of Wonsan and the rocket launches from the Hodo Peninsula immediately east of Wonsan. Both sites have been frequently used by the KPA to test ballistic missiles and rockets.
Of particular interest were the launches of eight 300 mm KN-09 missiles. The March launches are only the second and third time that the KN-09 has been reported to have been test fired: the first was from 17-19 May 2013 when four were launched from the east coast and flew approximately 150 km before landing in the East Sea/Sea of Japan.
Unlike the 26 March No Dong launches, which occurred at night, both the 21 February and 4 March KN-09 launches occurred in the late afternoon (approximately 16.00 hours local), were in an east-northeast direction and impacted in the East Sea/Sea of Japan at a range of approximately 155 km.
Neither the South Korean nor US governments have released details on the KN-09 – all a South Korean MND spokesman would say was that the KN-09 “was developed to strike South Korea’s strategic facilities and hinder reinforcement of US forces in a time of war”.
What little information that has been released indicates that the KN-09 is a 300 mm (possibly 302 mm) projectile fired from a 12-tube wheeled 6×6 or 8×8 multiple rocket launcher. While it has only been tested to a range of 155 km, it is reported that the KPA is seeking to extend this to 200 km.
While the origins of the KN-09 are unclear, North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department, through the Second Economic Committee, has had it under development for at least three years and is responsible for its manufacture. Some sources suggest that the system is derived from the Russian 300 mm BM-30 Smerch, and others from the Chinese WS-1B or its Syrian M-302 derivative – hence the 302 mm diameter. Also not clear as to whether the system is an artillery rocket or missile. One source claims that it is a missile whose guidance system is capable of using the Russian GLONASS GPS system.
The KN-09 appears to be in limited KPA service and still under development. It is unclear whether units equipped with the system are subordinate to either the Artillery Bureau or the Strategic Rocket Forces Command.