The KN-08 is a three-stage, road-mobile ballistic missile with an intercontinental range. It was first displayed in a North Korean parade on April 15, 2012.
KN-08 at a Glance
Originated From: North Korea
Possessed By: North Korea
Class: Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)
Length: 17.5-19.75 m
Diameter: 1.5-2.0 m
Range: 5,500 – 11,500 km
Status: In development
After the unveiling, several analysts thought the KN-08 was merely a poorly designed mock-up to be used for propaganda purposes.1 While the missile is not known to have ever been tested, several images of the missile’s engine nozzles and re-entry vehicle leave the impression that North Korea is indeed pursuing the KN-08, and its modification, the KN-14, as delivery vehicles for its nascent nuclear weapons capability.2
Reports have long suggested that North Korea acquired spare Soviet-origin R-27/SS-N-6 missiles in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and had begun to develop a similar system of their own, with Russian assistance (possibly by members of the Makayev Design Bureau) who had built the R-27. These reports are supported by recently released images of a static ICBM engine test which appear to show reconfigured engines from the R-27.3
The KN-08, and its newer modification the KN-14, are believed to use 4D10 engines adapted from the R-27. It was previously assumed by many analysts that the KN-08 and KN-14 were propelled by four No Dong engines. In photographs of a Kim Jong Un’s visit to a KN-08/KN-14 missile depot, analysts are briefly granted a view of KN-08 engine nozzles. They appear to be the same size and in the same position for twin 4D10 engines. Vernier thrusters (thrusters incorporated into the 4D10 engine) are also seen on the KN-08 in the photograph. This view would seem to be reinforced by the testing of twin 4D10 engines at the static testing stand in Sohae.4 4D10 engines are also used on North Korea’s BM-25 Musudan IRBM.
Other analysts believe this conclusion to be incorrect. Schiller and Schmucker, referenced in a Jane’s, state that two R-27 engines along with their Vernier thrusters would not provide enough thrust to lift the KN-08, which is both larger and heavier than the R-27.5
Still photographs of the static 4D10 engine test show an orange flame without soot meaning that the engine is likely not fueled by the same kerosene fuel that powers North Korea’s Scud missiles. The coloration of the plume points to more advanced fuels that can provide greater thrust. If this is the case, the range of the KN-08 could be be towards the higher end of previous predictions, potentially 11,500 km with an approximate 500 kg warhead, putting the U.S. east coast within range. 6
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on April 7, 2015, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, Elaine Bunn, stated, “the reliability of an untested KN-08 is likely to be very low.”7 Nonetheless, Admiral Gortney of US NORTHCOM, said that the United States “assess[es] it to be operational today,” and that North Korea “[has]the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland.”8
- John Schilling, “North Korea’s Space Launch: An Initial Assessment,” 38 North, February 9, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/02/jschilling020816/.
- Jeffrey Lewis, “Five Things You Need to Know about Kim Jong Un’s Photo Op with the Bomb,” 38 North, March 11, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/03/jlewis031116/.
- John Schilling, “North Korea’s Large Rocket Engine Test: A Significant Step Forward for Pyongyang’s ICBM Program,” 38 North, April 11, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/04/schilling041116/
- Markus Schiller, Robert H. Schmucker, and James Kim, Assessment of North Korea’s Latest ICBM Mock-up, (n.p.: Asan Institute Center for Regional Studies, 2014), http://en.asaninst.org/contents/assessment-of-north-koreas-latest-icbm-mock-up/.
- Jeffrey Lewis, “New DPRK ICBM Engine,” Arms Control Wonk, April 9, 2016, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1201278/north-korea-tests-a-fancy-new-rocket-engine/.
- Elaine Bunn, “Next Steps in Missile Defense” (event, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, April 7, 2015), https://www.csis.org/events/next-steps-missile-defense.
- “Department of Defense Press Briefing by Admiral Gortney in the Pentagon,” Department of Defense, April 7, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/607034.