KN-23

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 a maximum range of 690 km. North Korea first flight tested the missile on May 4, 2019. Due to its visual similarity to Russia’s Iskander-M SRBM, analysts dispute whether the missile was constructed with foreign assistance.

KN-23 at a Glance

Originated from: North Korea (disputed)
Possessed by: North Korea
Class: Short-Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM)
Basing: Road-mobile
Length: 7.5 m
Diameter: 0.95 m
Launch weight: 3,415 kg
Payload: 500 kg
Propulsion: Single-stage solid fuel
Range: 690 km

Photo credit: Rodong Sinmun

Development

After displaying the missile on parade in February 2019North 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 laterthe 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

On July 25, North Korea conducted its third flight test of the KN-23, launching two missiles to 430 and 690 kilometers respectively. Launched from a wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL), the missiles reached a 50 km apogee before impacting in the Sea of Japan.3 Pyongyang flight tested the KN-23 for the fourth time on August 6, launching two missiles 450 km from the country’s west coast. According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the weapons tested reached an apogee of 37 km and overflew North Korea’s capital region.4

Appearance and Specifications

The KN-23 is estimated to carry a 500 kg warhead to 450 km or a reduced payload to 690 km. According to analysts, the missile measures approximately 7.5 m in length, 0.95 m in diameter, and weighs 3415 kg in total.5

KN-23 (left) Iskander-M (centre) Hyunmoo-2b (right)

These specifications are roughly comparable to both the Russian Iskander-M and South Korean Hyunmoo-2B SRBMs. Like its contemporaries, the KN-23 appears to conduct a “pull-up” maneuver in its terminal phase of flight—ostensibly to ensure it would be “hard to intercept.”6 Moreover, the missiles’ ranges are similar; the Iskander-M is reportedly capable of reaching ~700km ranges in reduced-payload configurations.7 Given these similarities, several analysts speculate that the KN-23 was constructed with foreign assistance.8 However, others contend that the missile was domestically produced, emphasizing how the KN-23’s elongated cable raceway and smooth base distinguish it from the Iskander-M, Hyunmoo-2B, and others.9

Like the Iskander-M, the missile’s quasi-ballistic trajectory could pose a challenge for missile defense.10 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.

Service History

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 missile has entered service.

    1. “North Korea Military Parade February 8, 2018,” YouTube video, 1:43:29, posted by “AngelZurdito” Feb. 9, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLMjEfYMtbE&feature=youtu.be&t=5267; Masao Dahlgren and Shaan Shaikh, “North Korea Fires Short-Range Ballistic Missile, MLRS,” Missile Threat, May 6, 2019, https://missilethreat.csis.org/north-korea-fires-short-range-rockets/.
    2. Masao Dahlgren, “North Korea Test Fires Two Short-Range Ballistic Missiles,” Missile Threat, May 9, 2019, https://missilethreat.csis.org/north-korea-test-fires-two-short-range-ballistic-missiles/; DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Strike Drill of Defence Units in Frontline Area and on Eastern Front,” News release, May 5, 2019, http://www.mfa.gov.kp/en/guides-strike-drill-of-defence-units-in-frontline-area-and-on-eastern-front/.
    3. “(8th LD) N. Korea fires 2 new short-range ballistic missiles: Seoul,” Yonhap News, July 25, 2019, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20190725000858325?section=national/defense#none.
    4. “N.K. leader says missile launches were ‘warning’ against S. Korea-U.S. exercise,” Yonhap News Agency, August 7, 2019, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20190807000454325?section=nk/nk#none.
    5. Jeffrey Lewis, “Preliminary Analysis: KN-23 SRBM,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, June 5, 2019, https://www.nonproliferation.org/preliminary-analysis-kn-23-srbm/.
    6. Joseph Dempsey, Twitter post, July 24, 2019, 5:38PM, https://twitter.com/JosephHDempsey/status/1154143820432494596; “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Power Demonstration Fire of New-Type Tactical Guided Weapon,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, July 26, 2019, http://www.mfa.gov.kp/en/power-demonstration-fire-of-new-type-tactical-guided-weapon/; “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Watches Demonstration Fire of New-Type Tactical Guided Missiles,” Rodong Sinmun, August 6, 2019, http://www.rodong.rep.kp/en/index.php?strPageID=SF01_02_01&newsID=2019-08-07-0009.
    7. Ibid; James O’Halloran, IHS Jane’s Weapons: Strategic 2015 – 2016, (London: IHS, 2015).
    8. Eric Talmadge, “Experts see Russia fingerprints on North Korea’s new missile,” The Associated Press, May 10, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/20afeea785634442b8300ba2fab0c002; Michael Elleman, “North Korea’s Newest Ballistic Missile: A Preliminary Assessment,” 38 North, May 8, 2019, https://www.38north.org/2019/05/melleman050819/.
    9. Lewis, “Preliminary Analysis: KN-23 SRBM,” 2019.
    10. Elleman, “North Korea’s Newest Ballistic Missile,” 2019.