A few notes on The Defensive Forces of North Korea DPRK.

By: Albert van der Sel
Version: 0.0
Date: 8 Januari, 2020
Subject: Limited overview of The Defensive Forces of North Korea (NK).
Status: Just starting. Recently (2 Oct. 2021) started working again on this note.

Please refresh the page to see any updates.

As you know, NK is a bit of a black box, although, ofcourse, lots of facts are known.

However, there are still "all sorts of bits" of unknowns. Take for example their current amount
of operational Nuclear Warheads. The estimates in professional articles and other texts, vary widely.
I have reasons to believe it's somewhere between 5 - 15, and probably quite a bit near "5".

I like to try to create a note on their Conventional Forces. That means for example: which Subs do they have?
What is their collection of ballistic missiles? What about the Airforce? What about SAM batteries...?
All such sort of questions...

To try to analyze NK is difficult, and lots of specs of "devices" are rather uncertain.
My procedure usually is, to scout all sorts of public sources (among which are Military articles,
and open/public Military collections), and try to get a "rationale" from all those sources.

Yes, I find this most interresting (but otherwise..., I believe I am "normal", I hope...).

It may sound silly, but I (as a simple privite citizen) always had some doubts on true ICBM capabilities of NK.
Not in the media. There, it was since long, quite established, that mr. Kim has "true" ICBM's.

By the way: politics and that sort of stuff, will be completely avoided in this note.
The only thing you will read here, are the results of my curiosity.

As I presently study the capabilities more and more, it seems indeed to be true that ICBM capabilities
are a fact in present times. Some Test launches were done (rather recently) to a very high altitude, but can also be used
for lower altitudes and longer ranges. If you would ask me now today: "Do you believe in NK having
ICBM capabilities?" Then I would answer positively.
OK, long distance missiles are present, in the form you could call ICBM's. However, guiding missiles,
or have onboard sensory, making them perform like Russian, Chinese, or US ICBM's, is still a bit doubtful.

For those tests, it is ofcourse also extremely interesting if they were performed with a representative (dummy) warhead.

The warhead complicates things a bit. First, at re-entry, "the re-entry vehicle (RV)" is a sort of mantle
protecting the actual warhead on decend.
What I mean is: just a crash in the ocean's is not a comprehensive test for a warhead.

Out of the atmosphere, the RV (or last stage), typically moves with a speed > Mach 20.
At descend, the RV quickly decellerates. At lower altitudes, the RV still typically has a speed of 6 - 9 km/s,
and obviously the warhead needs protection. The RV is meant to offer that protection.
If you would happen to know some specifics of modern RV's, then today they have the appearance of a "sharp" cone
with a very small nose in front. Together with a surface layer, which erodes away in a controlled way on re-entry,
makes it possible that a warhead can survive the (rather brutal) decend in the amosphere.
It's technology which cannot be fully unknown to the technicians of NK. Interesting indeed.

So yes. My recent "study" on the military of NK, did indeed changed my perspective on NK's capabilities.
Ofcourse, an ICBM is obviously meant to deliver a nuclear warhead over large distances.
But, those large missiles themselves, are certainly a subject in this note.

So, let's see what I have found.


This note is likely to have some serious faults, or it refers to matters which are uncertain.
Overall, I think that the material in this note could be labeled as for 60% as "reasonable", while
40% or so, is quite uncertain/untrusted. I certainly do not like saying that, but that's how it is.
If you would say: "that's hopeless", I understand that completely....

If you would study most public sources, you would observe quite some amount of uncertainties yourself.
Ofcourse, no-one reads this anyway, but if there was any reader, it probably scares him/her off immediately.

Chapter 1. NK's Space program.

The first object in Orbit: December 2012.

After some previous failed attempts to launch and deliver a satelite in orbit (LEO), the launch
in december 2012, finally was succesful. At least, that's a common believe among Western analysts,
but it cannot be excluded (although very unlikely) that at least "a payload" was brought in low orbit before.

The satelite launched at december 2012, was called the "Bright Star-3 Unit 2", or "Kwangmyongsong-3 Unit 2".
The satelite came in an orbit of (roughly approximated) 500km, in polar orbit.

The missile used was the "Unha-3", a 3 stage missile, with an estimated length of about 32m.
(I am sorry not to be able to include any pictures, due to possible copy rights).

It's rather curious, that South Korea seemed to have managed to salvage the first stage from the sea, and
reported similarities of the techical aspects with material from Iran.
That's remarkable, because, honestly, I would say, it's rather the other way around.
Well, I could be wrong, ofcourse. But I am quite sure that the Shahab-5/6 of Iran, find it's ultimate roots
from NK technology (and strongly modified by Iranian technicians, ofcourse).

It must be noted, that the "very grandfather" of NK's ballistic missiles, are Russian Scuds from about the '70,
supposedly donated by Egypt.
Somewhat later, NK developed modified versions, resulting in the early Hwasong series.
Later on, we will see all about the various missiles.

The development and launch of the "Unha-3", resulted in a strong condemnation by the UN, and thus many countries,
and did the level of sanctions/embargo's on NK, not much good.

From a military perspective, it was a serious step. Being able to place a satelite (although probably
the satelite itself was malfuncioning) into a higher LEO orbit, is quite an achievement, having
military implications as well.


Related: Modified "Taepodong-2" as the military variant.

Height: about 32m
Diameter First stage: 2.4m
Weight: at least 90 tons
Stages: 3
Propellant: liquid.
Launches: Often reported as 3 launches in total, and 1 succesful (as discussed above).

Since the UNHA-3 might be viewed as the scientific version of the "Taepodong-2", then
when viewed from the "Taepodong-2" perspective, up to 2012 there were 4 test lauches.
And up to today, probably (around) 6 "Taepodong-2" testlaunches were performed.

As we will see later on, the range of the "Taepodong-2" is estimated to be somewhere in between
5500 and 10000 km, which would classify it as an ICBM.

Since I recently picked this note up again, we will certainly see the HWASONG missiles, where
some qualify as ICBM's.