Musudan (BM-25)

The BM-25 Musudan is a single-stage intermediate-range ballistic missile. It is speculated to have a range of 2,500 – 4,000 km with a 500 kg – 1,200 kg payload – enough range to hold bases in Guam and Japan at risk.

Musudan at a Glance

Originated From: North Korea
Possessed By: North Korea, Iran
Alternate Names: Mirim, No Dong B, BM-25
Class: Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM)
Basing: Road-mobile, Ground-launched
Length: 12.0 m
Diameter: 1.5-2.0 m
Launch Weight: 19,000-26,000 kg
Payload: Single warhead, 500-1,200 kg
Warhead: HE or nuclear
Propulsion: One or two-stage liquid propellant
Range: 2,500-4,000 km
Status: Development

musudanThe Musudan is based on the Soviet R-27 ‘Serb’ SLBM missile which uses a 4D10 engine propelled by unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (NTO). These propellants are much more advanced than the kerosene compounds used in North Korea’s Scuds and No Dong missiles, giving the Musudan its greater range without enlarging the missile.1 Reports suggest that Iran purchased 18 Musudan missile sets from North Korea in 2005. In 2009, additional reports arose in regards to a North Korea and Iran missile linkage, indicating that Musudan parts were transferred to Iran.2

The missile specifications vary widely: length ranges from 12.0 to 19.0 m; the body diameter is 1.5 to 2.0 m; launch weight is 19,000 to 26,000 kg; and the range is 2,500 to 4,000 km. The missile is expected to have a single warhead with a payload of 1,200 kg. It uses a one or two-stage liquid propellant. The guidance is inertial with an accuracy of 1,600 m CEP.

On April 15, 2016 North Korea attempted a flight test of its BM-25 Musudan missile, which failed. Pentagon officials called it a “fiery, catastrophic attempt at a launch. It was not successful.”3 The Washington Post cited one member of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying, “North Korea appears to have tried a missile launch from the East Sea (Sea of Japan) area early morning today, but it is presumed to have failed.”4 Despite the failure, this test was a significant event, demonstrating the Musudan’s advancement from what was once believed to be a mock-up for propaganda purposes to a functioning, testable missile.5

On April 28, 2016, North Korea again attempted to launch the Musudan, this time launching two missiles simultaneously. Both launches failed shortly after takeoff from Wonsan.6 On May 30, 2016 North Korea attempted its fourth and latest launch of the Musudan. It exploded on its launch pad.7

On June 21, 2016 North Korea attempted its fifth and sixth test of the Musudan. Japanese and South Korean officials stated that the first missile traveled approximately 150 km from its road mobile launcher located near the east coast city of Wonsan, and broke up mid-air.8 Later reports from North Korea claim that they intentionally destroyed the missile mid-flight.9 The second launch came approximately two hours later. During this test, the Musudan was able to travel 400 km, while reaching an altitude of over 1,000, according to the officials. The Department of Defense confirmed that STRATCOM detected and tracked both missile launches, and that each fell into the Sea of Japan.

Despite the second test only reaching 400 km, North Korean run media regarded the launch to be a successful one, and quoted Kim Jong-un as saying “We have the sure capability to attack in an overall and practical way the Americans in the Pacific operation theater.”10 The Musudan IRBM does have an expected range of 2,500-4,000 km. This distance puts Guam, which hosts U.S. forces, within the missile’s range if it operates at its peak capability.

The launch, which may not be deemed a success by those outside North Korea, did nonetheless show improved performance for the Musudan. After five straight failures, the Musudan was able to display that its propulsion system, which raised it to over 1,000 km, is indeed working well. This is noteworthy because North Korea’s KN-08 ICBM and KN-14 ICBM are believed to use the same engine as the Musudan. However, both ICBM’s are three-staged and have yet to be tested.

Additionally, the odd trajectory of the missile, which achieved 1,000 km altitude but only 400 km in distance, likely means that the missile launcher was lofted significantly more upwards than what an operational launch would look like. 38 North, a website devoted to North Korea security analysis, points out that if the missile was positioned in a more traditional sense, it could have increased its distance enough to fly over foreign land, which would have likely caused a much more serious response to the launch.11

North Korea conducted two test launches on October 15 and 20, 2016. Both tests are believed to have failed. 12

Sources

  1. 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/.
  2. John Pomfret and Walter Pincus “Experts question North Korea-Iran missile link from WikiLeaks document release,” The Washington Post, December 1, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/30/AR2010113006781.html
  3. “North Korean missile test ‘fiery, catastrophic’ failure: Pentagon,” Reuters, April 15, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missile-usa-pentagon-idUSKCN0XC28N
  4. Anne Fifield, “North Korea’s missile launch has failed, South’s military says,” The Washington Post, April 15, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/north-koreas-missile-has-failed-officials-from-south-say/2016/04/14/8eb2ce53-bc38-40d0-9013-5655bed26764_story.html
  5. Markus Schiller and Robert H. Schmucker, “Explaining the Musudan: New Insights on the North Korean SS-N-6 Technology,” Arms Control Wonk, May 31, 2012, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/files/2012/05/Explaining_the_Musudan_Schiller_Schmucker_v1.2.pdf
  6. Euan McKirdy and Paula Hancocks, “North Korea Launches two midrange missiles; both tests fail,” CNN, April 29, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/28/asia/north-korea-failed-missile-launch/
  7. Stella Kim and Alastair Jamieson, “North Korea’s Test Launch of Musudan Missile Ends in Failure: South,” NBC News, May 31, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/north-korea-s-test-launch-musudan-missile-ends-failure-south-n582911
  8. Gabriel Dominguez, Chieko Tsuneoka, and Karl Dewey, “North Korean ballistic missile fires 400 km,” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, June 22, 2016, http://www.janes.com/article/61684/north-korean-ballistic-missile-flies-400-km
  9. Julian Ryall, “North Korea claims mid-air explosion of Musudan was ‘deliberate’,” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, July 7, 2016, http://www.janes.com/article/62058/north-korea-claims-mid-air-explosion-of-musudan-was-deliberate
  10. “Stratcom Detects, Tracks North Korean Missile Launches,” Department of Defense, June 22, 2016, Jack Kim, “North Korea leader says missile launch shows ability to attack U.S. in Pacific,” Reuters, June 23, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missile-kim-idUSKCN0Z82PB?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social
  11. John Schilling, “A Partial Success for the Musudan,” 38 North, June 23, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/06/jschilling062316/
  12. Amanda Macias, “A North Korean nuclear attack ‘will be met with an overwhelming and effective response’, Business Insider, October 20, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/pentagon-north-korean-nuclear-attack-overwhelming-response-2016-10.
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