North Korean Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
This report reviews North Korea’s ballistic missile program. In summer 2007, North Korea tested
modern, short-range missiles. In July 2007, a Pentagon official said North Korea was about to
deploy a new, advanced short-range missile, designated the KN-02, or Toksa (said to be a
derivative of the former Soviet SS-21 missile). This report will be updated periodically.
Additional information is provided by CRS Report RL33590, North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons
Development and Diplomacy, by Larry A. Niksch.
The North Korean Taepo Dong program traces its origins to the No Dong medium range ballistic 1
missile program of the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, North Korea initiated the development of 2
two ballistic missile programs known to the West as Taepo Dong 1 and Taepo Dong 2. The
supposed design objectives for the Taepo Dong 1 system were to deliver a 1,000 to 1,500 kg
warhead to a range of 1,500 to 2,500 km and for the Taepo Dong 2 to deliver the same warhead to 3
a 4,000 to 8,000 km range. Initial prototypes for both systems were probably manufactured in
one or two Taepo Dong 2 prototypes by the end of 1999. These missiles are not believed to be 6
deployed. North Korea is believed to have had extensive foreign assistance from China, Russia, 7
Pakistan, and Iran throughout the program. Very little was known about the actual program until
the August 31, 1998 launch of a Taepo Dong 1 from the Musudan-ri Launch Facility in North 8
Hamgyong Province, northeast coast of North Korea.
The stated objective of this launch was to place North Korea’s first satellite (Kwangmyongsong
1) into orbit. Initial U.S. intelligence reports postulated that the Taepo Dong 1 SLV was only a
two stage rocket. The first stage fell into international waters 300 km east of Musudan-ri and the
second stage flew over the Japanese island of Honshu and fell into the water 330 km away from 9
the Japanese port of Hachinohe for a total distance of approximately 1,646 km. Further analysis
of radar tapes revealed that the Taepo Dong 1 had a small third solid propellant stage (presumably 10
designed to place the satellite into orbit). Debris from this third stage was believed to have 11
impacted as far as 4,000 km from the launch point. Some analysts believe that if the missile had
functioned properly, the Taepo Dong 1 space launch vehicle (SLV) could have achieved a 3,800 12
to 5,900 km range.
1 Ballistic missiles are classified by range as follows:
Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs) = 150 - 799 kms.
Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs) = 800 - 2,399 kms.
Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) = 2,400 - 5,499 kms.
Intercontinental Range Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) = 5,500 kms and greater.
2 Joseph S. Bermudez, “A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK, Occasional Paper No. 2,” Monterey
Institute of International Studies Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 1999, p. 26.
3 Joseph S. Bermudez, “North Korea’s Long-Range Missiles,” Jane’s Ballistic Missile Proliferation, 2000, p. 5.
4 Bermudez, Monterey Institute, p. 29.
6 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,
Ohio. NASIC-1031-0985-06, March 2006, p. 10.
7 Ibid., pp 23 - 29.
8 Bermudez, Janes, p. 6.
9 Michael Dutra and Gaurav Kampani, “North Korea: A Second Taepo Dong Test?”Monterey Institute of International
Studies, 1999, p. 2.
11 Bermudez, Janes, p. 6.
12 Michael Dutra and Gaurav Kampani, p. 2.
In order to strike targets from North Korea, a North Korean missile would need to achieve the 13
Target Washington, DC Chicago San Francisco Seattle Anchorage Honolulu
Range (km) 10,700 10,000 8,600 7,900 5,600 7,100
Within possible range of the Taepo Dongs are U.S. military facilities in Guam (3,500 km),
Okinawa, and Japan. The Taepo Dong 1 missile (as opposed to the SLV) is believed to be a two-
stage missile that uses a No Dong missile derivative as its first stage and SCUD C derivative
(called the Hwasong 6) as its second stage. In this configuration, it is estimated that it could 14
deliver a 700 - 1,000 kg warhead to a range of 2,500 km, which could put Japan and Okinawa
within range. For the Taepo Dong 1 to achieve greater range its payload would have to be
decreased. Some analysts speculate that a reduced-payload configuration could deliver a 200 kg
warhead into the U.S. center and a 100 kg warhead to Washington D.C., albeit with poor 15
Until recently, the Taepo Dong 2 had not yet been flight tested. (It has also been called the
Moksong 2 and the Pekdosan 2.) The Taepo Dong 2 is believed to be a two-stage missile about 35
meters long. The first stage has been said to bear close resemblance to the Chinese CSS-2 and
CSS-3 first stage. The second stage is believed to be based on the No Dong missile. The two-
stage variant is assessed a range potential of as much as 3,750 km with a 700 to 1,000 kg payload
and, if a third stage were added, some believe that range could be extended to 4,000 to 4,300 km 16
with a full payload. Some analysts further believe that the Taepo Dong 2 could deliver a 700 to 17
missile is believed to be fairly inaccurate. How it might be deployed (i.e., silo or transportable)
also remains undetermined, although some have suggested it is a road mobile system. In order to
achieve ranges capable of striking Hawaii and targets on the U.S. mainland, some analysts 19
believe that the Taepo Dong 2’s payload would need to be reduced to 200 - 300 kgs. Some 20
believe the Taepo Dong 2 may be exported to other countries in the future.
In June 2006 the Taepo Dong 2 was observed being assembled and fueled at the Musudan-ri test
site along the northeast coast of North Korea. At the time, some observers believed a test was
imminent while others expressed caution because much technical uncertainty remained. On July
4, 2006 (at 4:12 p.m. EST), North Korea launched the Taepo Dong 2. The launch was preceded
13 Bermudez, Janes, p. 8.
14 Ibid., p. 5.
15 Bermudez, Monterey Institute, p. 30.
16 “Taepo Dong 2,” The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists, 2002, the above discussion of the Taepo
Dong 2 is found on p. 3.
17 See North Korean Missile Could Bring U.S. into Range: Experts, Agence France-Presse, June 20, 2006, and
Bermudez, Monterey Institute, p. 30.
18 North Korea: An Impending Missile Launch?, Stratfor, June 16, 2006.
19 Siegel, p. 5.
20 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, National Air and Space Intelligence center, p. 17.
by three shorter-range ballistic missile launches, and then followed by three more.21 About 40
seconds into the flight, the Taepo Dong 2 apparently failed on its own during the first stage and
fell into the Sea of Japan, according to USNORTHCOM (U.S. Northern Command). Causes for
the failure were studied, but details have not been made public. Japanese sources reported some
details of the missile launches, suggesting greater accuracy in their impact areas than other 22
analyses. The report also suggested greater Russian engineering support than indicated
elsewhere. Some believe initial production of the Taepo Dong 2 may have started in 2005, and 23
that perhaps 20 missiles were built in 2006.
Some experts voice concern over North Korea’s level of military spending in relation to its
missile program. North Korea reportedly spends as much as 40 percent of its gross domestic 25
product (GDP) on the military. In 2004, U.S. Forces Korea commander, General Leon J.
LaPorte, reportedly stated that North Korea’s military investments are primarily in their nuclear,
biological, chemical and missile programs in order to gain an “asymmetrical” advantage over U.S 26
and South Korean forces. General LaPorte reportedly emphasized his concern over missile
development and North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear weapons program that 27
could eventually lead to “weaponizing their weapons-grade materials on missiles.”
North Korea’s apparent willingness to devote such a large portion of its GDP to missiles and
weapons of mass destruction could be cause for additional concern when viewed in the light of
their alleged cooperation with other countries. Evidence suggests that North Korea has had
extensive dealings with Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Yemen, and Libya on ballistic missiles and 28
possibly even nuclear warheads. One particular concern is that Chinese warhead designs, sold to
Libya by Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan, might also be in the hands of North Korea, 29
which could help accelerate its efforts to develop long-ranged nuclear ballistic missiles. Some
suggest that North Korea’s access to these countries’ missile and WMD technologies might
enable North Korea to advance its long-range nuclear ballistic missile program at a more
accelerated rate without having to conduct extensive testing, particularly if they use proven
missile designs from other countries.
21 The short-range test launches, some combination of SCUDs and No Dong missiles, occurred on July 4 (all EST) at 1)
2:32 p.m.; 2) 3:04 p.m.; 3) 3:59 p.m.; 4) 6:31 p.m.; 5) 7:12 p.m.; and 6) 4:15 a.m. (July 5, 2006).
22 Japan: Analysis of Data on Landing Points of DPRK’s 5 July Missile Launches, Yomiuri Weekly (Tokyo), Aug, 6,
2006, pp. 22-23.
23 MissileThreat.com, [http://www.misslethreat.com]
24 For a more detailed discussion of North Korea’s economy see CRS Report RL32493, The North Korean Economy:
Leverage and Policy Analysis, by Dick K. Nanto and Emma Chanlett-Avery.
25 Bill Gertz, “North Korea Pumps Money into Military,” Washington Times, August 3, 2004.
28 See CRS Report RL30427, Missile Survey: Ballistic and Cruise Missiles of Selected Foreign Countries, by Andrew
29 Bill Gertz, Op. Cit.
Various reports indicate that North Korea is developing and deploying at least two new medium
to intermediate range ballistic missile systems. It is not publicly known if North Korea is 30
continuing development of a reported new version of its Taepo Dong ballistic missile, the so-
called Taepo Dong X, which could achieve intercontinental ranges. The two new medium to 31
intermediate range missiles are believed to be based on the decommissioned Soviet R-27 32
submarine launched ballistic missile.
The R-27, which was allegedly acquired from Russia in the 1990s and possibly enhanced with the
help of Russian missile specialists, has been called an “excellent choice” on which to base a new 33
missile system. Its 40 year-old, liquid-fuelled technology is considered within the technological
and industrial capabilities of North Korea and versions of its engines are already used in North
Korean SCUDs and No Dongs. Perhaps the greatest advantage of this system is that the R-27 is a
proven design meaning that North Korea may be able to develop and deploy these missiles
without having to conduct extensive ground and flight tests.
The land-based version called Musadan or No Dong B is a medium to intermediate range ballistic
missile with an estimated range of 2,500-3,200 km. The North Korean version of this missile is
12 m long—2.4m longer than the R-27—and, although smaller than the No Dong and Taepo
Dong 1, has a greater range than these two missiles. This range puts most of East Asia within
range, including U.S. military bases at Guam and Okinawa, although experts point out that the
North Korean No Dong 2 missile could also reach Japan and Okinawa. Initial prototypes of the
land-based version were reportedly first identified in 2000, and pre-production models and a new
transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) were believed to have been completed by mid-2003.
The North Koreans reportedly began constructing two new missile bases to accommodate the
Musadan/Non Dong B. One base is near Yangdok-gun and the other is at Sangnam-ni, previously
reported as a No Dong and Taepo Dong base. North Korea has reportedly constructed
administrative and maintenance facilities at these two sites as well as fortified underground
tunnels for storing the missiles and TELs. By July 2004, experts reported that these new bases
were from 70 to 80 percent completed.
The sea-based version of the R-27 is reportedly either a submarine or ship-mounted system with
an estimated range of at least 2,500 km. Russian versions of the R-27 reportedly had both a single
nuclear reentry vehicle as well as a version with three reentry vehicles, each with a 200 kiloton
(KT) nuclear weapon. It is not known if North Korea possesses reentry vehicles for their versions
30 Bill Gertz, “North Korea to Display New Missiles,” Washington Times, September 9, 2003.
31 The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) classification for the R-27 is the SS-N-6.
32 Joseph S. Bermudez, “North Korea Deploys New Missiles,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, August 4, 2004.
33 Information in this section comes from Joseph S. Bermudez, “North Korea Deploys New Missiles,” Jane’s Defense
Weekly, August 4, 2004.
of the R-27. There are indications that North Korea may be actively pursuing a sea-based ballistic
missile capability, which could have potential security implications for the United States.
In September 1993, the Korean People’s Navy (KPN) reportedly purchased 12 decommissioned
Russian Foxtrot class and Golf-II class submarines for scrap metal from a Japanese company. The
Golf-IIs, which are capable of carrying three SS-N-5 SLBMs, did not have their missiles or
electronic firing systems when they were sold to the North Koreans, but they did allegedly retain
significant missile launch sub-systems including launch tubes and stabilization systems. Some
analysts believe that this technology, in conjunction with the R-27’s well-understood design,
gives North Korea the capability to develop either a submarine or ship-mounted ballistic missile.
Many experts postulate that North Korea does not have the capability to develop a new SLBM on
its own and that none of North Korea’s other ballistic missiles are easily convertible to SLBMs.
North Korea apparently integrated the Golf-IIs missile stabilization and launch technology into a
new class of conventionally powered ballistic missile submarines, possibly modified versions of 35
Golf-IIs or Romeo class Russian submarines. It is also possible, according to some observers,
that North Korea might attempt to incorporate this launch technology into a merchant ship. It is
not known if North Korea has sold or will sell this new system to other countries. Some analysts
suggest that Iran might be an ideal candidate for such a system, as it has allegedly researched a
sea-based ballistic missile capability in the past.
DPRK systems potentially increase the missile threat to the United States. If the new missiles are
indeed closely modified versions of the R-27, they are likely more accurate in relative terms and
have greater range than other DPRK missiles. Some analysts believe that the sea-launched
version could pose the greatest threat by threatening the continental United States. These experts
suggest that a North Korean sea-launched missile capability could complicate intelligence
collection efforts as well as present challenges for South Korean, Japanese, and U.S. ballistic
missile defense systems. Others, however, are skeptical that North Korea can reach the
continental United States with the new sea-based version. Anonymous U.S. government officials
have reportedly stated that North Korea does not presently have a submarine that is capable of 36
transporting a missile within striking distance of the continental United States. These officials
also expressed doubt that North Korea had intentions of developing a missile to hide inside a 37
freighter to be used against targets in the United States.
36 Thom Shanker, “Korean Missile Said to Advance; U.S. is Unworried,” New York Times, August 5, 2004.
Steven A. Hildreth
Specialist in Missile Defense