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 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)
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: 420 km (demonstrated), 450 km (estimated)

KN-23 Development

Photo credit: Republic of Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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  

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.

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 SRBM 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. 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/.
    4. 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/.
    5. Ibid.
    6. Elleman, “North Korea’s Newest Ballistic Missile.”