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Asia-Pacific , Missile and Space

The Transformation and Rapid Modernisation of North Korea's Defences in 2017; How U.S. Intelligence Underestimated Pyongyang's Military Industrial Capabilities

Part Two

January 24th - 2018

Alongside enhancements in its A2AD capabilities, North Korea made unprecedented strides in its ballistic missile program in 2017. While the country's most notable achievements in this field in 2016 were the induction of the Pukkuksong-2 submarine launched ballistic missile and the Musudan intermediate range ballistic missile, 2017 proved the year the country would develop the capabilities it had long sought after. While the Musudan had an estimated range of 3000-4000km, leaving some doubt as to its ability to hit the strategically critical U.S. Pacific territory of Guam 3,500km away in question, the Hwasong-12 with its estimated range of 4500-6000km put it well within range of the target. The missile's successful testing and resulting threats to conduct nuclear strikes on the U.S. territory should the country make any moves against Korea earned it the informal name 'Guam Killer' - and the platform appeared designed precisely with this target in mind.

While North Korea had previously tested the somewhat primitive Taepodong-2 ICBM in 2006, an unwieldy system which required time consuming vertical assembly making it highly vulnerable to destruction on the ground, the country inducted far more capable and sophisticated platforms in 2017. The Taepodong-2 was largely a technology demonstrator based on satellite launch vehicles such as the Unha-3, and was never intended to enter service as an ICBM - a role for which it was far too cumbersome despite its range. The Hwasong-14, with its first flight test on July 4th speculated to be purposefully timed to symbolically coincide with U.S. Independence Day, was North Korea's first genuine attempt to build an ICBM for induction into service. Unlike the cumbersome 80 ton Taepodong-2, the 34 ton Hwasong-14 is very much a practical and feasible platform to deliver nuclear payloads to the U.S. mainland. Deployed from a road mobile transporter erector launcher, the platform was significantly more survivable than the Taepodong. Mobility and a short launch time are essential attributes when facing the U.S. Military as a result of its extensive strike and surveillance capabilities - as demonstrated during the Gulf War when Iraq's mobile ballistic missiles proved highly vulnerable while tracking down Iraqi mobile launchers proved among the most trying mission faced by U.S. forces in the war. With North Korea's forested and mountainous terrain, its mobile launchers could prove all but invulnerable.

Continued in Part Three

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