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)
Length: 7.5 m
Diameter: 0.95 m
Launch weight: 3,415 kg
Payload: 500 kg
Propulsion: Single-stage solid fuel
Range: 690 km
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
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
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.
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.