KN-15 (Pukkuksong-2)

The KN-15 (Pukkuksong-2) is a cold-launched, medium-range ballistic missile, and appears to be a land-based variant of the KN-11, North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile.

KN-15 (Pukkuksong-2) at a Glance

Originated From: North Korea
Possessed By: North Korea
Alternate Names: Pukguksong-2, Pukkuksong-2, KN-15, Bukkeunkseong-2, KN-11 Mod 1
Class: Medium-range Ballistic Missile (MRBM)
Basing: Road mobile, tracked transporter-erector launcher
Length: 9-12 m
Diameter: ~1.5 m
Payload: Single warhead, HE or nuclear
Propulsion: Two-stage, solid propellant, cold-launched
Range: 1,200-2,000 km
Status: In Development
In Service: First tested February 2017

KN-15

KN-15 Development

KN-15 performed its first flight test on February 12, 2017, although North Korea has been conducting flight tests of KN-11 since May 2015.

To date, little has been confirmed concerning the exact capabilities of the KN-15. In its February 2017 flight test, the missile flew 500 km, and reached a maximum altitude of 550 km, a nearly identical trajectory to the KN-11’s successful flight test in August 2016.  This lofted trajectory has led analysts to contend that KN-15 could have a maximum range of between 1,200 and 2,000 km when fired along a more depressed trajectory. 1 2

The missile also employs a solid-fueled engine, which would allow for the missile to be fired shortly after receiving a launch order as it does not need to be fueled prior to launch. Solid-fuel missiles also require far fewer support vehicles and personnel, increasing their operational flexibility. Currently, the only other solid-fuel missile in North Korea’s ballistic missile arsenal is the short-range KN-02.

Additionally, the missile uses a cold-launch system, which uses high pressure steam to propel the missile out of the launch canister into the air before the missile’s engines ignite. This allows for the launch canister to be reused.

The KN-15 test was also noteworthy because it was launched from a tracked transporter erector launcher (TEL), reminiscent of older, Soviet-designed launchers. This differs from North Korea’s other road mobile missiles which use wheeled TELs and are mostly limited to operating on paved or otherwise relatively smooth roads. The addition of a tracked TEL greatly adds to the missile’s survivability, as it can be fired from hidden, off-road sites. This capability is particularly well-suited for North Korea, which has only around 700 km of paved road throughout the country. 3

The TEL used in the test is believed to have been produced in North Korea, which suggests that the nation has turned to producing its own launchers as it can no longer purchase Chinese or Russian ones due to arms embargoes. 4

Allegations have also been made that the KN-15 bears a great deal of similarity to the JL-1 and DF-21 missiles, and could have been produced from transferred Chinese technology. 5  The allegations cite the KN-15’s rapid development time frame and its physical similarity. Physical characteristics, however, may not be a reliable indicator of the missile’s source, given the physical similarities of SLBMs in general, and solid-fueled missile more broadly. Moreover, the KN-15 appears to use a single engine, and employs grid fins for stability, whereas the JL-1 employs four engines, and no grid fins.6

On May 21, 2017, North Korea carried out a second successful test launch of the KN-15. The missile was launched from the country of Pukchang, flying 500 km eastward, climbing to an altitude of 560 km before falling into the sea.

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Sources

  1. Kelsey Davenport, “North Korea Tests New Missile,” Arms Control Today, March 1, 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2017-03/news/north-korea-tests-new-missile.
  2. “North Korea Cultivates Ultimate Deterrence,” Stratfor, February 20, 2017, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/north-korea-cultivates-ultimate-deterrence.
  3. Ankit Panda, “It Wasn’t an ICBM, But North Korea’s First Missile Test of 2017 Is a Big Deal,” The Diplomat, February 14, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/02/it-wasnt-an-icbm-but-north-koreas-first-2017-missile-test-is-a-big-deal/.
  4. Davenport.
  5. Gordon Chang, “Did North Korea Just Test a Chinese Missile?,” The National Interest, February 15, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/did-north-korea-just-launch-chinese-missile-19459.
  6. Dave Schmerler, What did we learn from North Korea’s latest KN-11 test,” NK Pro, September 5, 2016, https://www.nknews.org/pro/what-did-we-learn-from-north-koreas-latest-kn-11-test/.