The KN-23 is a North Korean short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) first tested in May 2019. The missile flies on a quasi-ballistic trajectory and has an estimated range of 450 km. Due to its appearance, analysts have hypothesized that the missile is of Russian origin, but this theory remains unconfirmed.
KN-23 at a Glance
Originated from: North Korea (disputed)
Possessed by: North Korea
Class: Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)
Length: 7.5 m
Diameter: 0.95 m
Launch weight: 3,415 kg
Payload: 500 kg
Propulsion: Single-stage solid fuel
Range: 420 km (demonstrated), 450 km (estimated)
After displaying the missile on parade in February 2019, North Korea first tested the KN-23 near Wonsan on May 4. The test missile reached an apogee of 60 km and range of 240 km.1 Five days later, the DPRK flight tested two more “tactical guided weapons” to apogees of 50 km and ranges up to 420 km. By May 17, United States Forces Korea had formally designated the unnamed weapon as the KN-23.2
Appearance and Specifications
The missile shares similar dimensions, appearance, and flight profile to the Russian Iskander-M SRBM, leading several analysts to speculate that the missile was constructed with foreign assistance.3 However, others contend that the missile’s solid-rocket motor may have been under domestic development since 2014 and note how the KN-23’s elongated cable raceway and smooth base distinguish it from other Iskander-like missiles.4
The KN-23 has an estimated range of 450 km, weighs approximately 3,415 kg, and can carry 500 kg warhead. It measures 7.5 m in length and 0.95 m in body diameter.5 These capabilities and measurements are similar to both the Russian Iskander and South Korean Hyunmoo-2B SRBMs.
Like the Iskander-M, the missile’s quasi-ballistic trajectory could also pose a challenge for missile defense.6 By flying lower than comparable SRBMs, the KN-23 can use its fins to maneuver and complicate intercept predictions. However, it remains unknown if the missile possesses the sophisticated guidance systems necessary for precise targeting following evasive maneuvers.
The KN-23’s two test launches in May 2019 were reportedly conducted as part of a military drill, but it remains unclear whether the SRBM has entered service.