North Korea has attempted to test a missile, near a submarine base at Sinpo, a day after its blockbuster military parade to mark the birthday of Kim Il-sung.
We do not know what missile that was, but comments from US officials suggest to us that it was *not* an ICBM and that it was an attempted test of a land based missile i.e. not the Pukguksong-1 SLBM. These statements are based on two different, anonymous, sources.
Reports had initially suggested that the missile might have been an ICBM or a Pukguksong-2 (KN-15) or something new. Those reports stated that in April 5 North Korea attempted to test the KN-15 from Sinpo, but that is inaccurate. On April 5 North Korea launched a Scud-ER, but it quickly tumbled after launch and only flew for 60km. Initial Pacific Command assessments figured that the launch was of the KN-15, an intriguing error.
Today’s missile launch could have been of a Scud, a Musudan, or a KN-15 going on the US statements.
Two Scud-ER failures in succession would be intriguing. This time last year North Korea tried, and failed, to launch a Musudan MRBM. Today’s test failed almost immediately after launch, leading to a paucity of data, and that aspect is consistent with a string of Musudan failures. Recently a failure immediately after launch, at Wonsan, appeared to be of a Musudan given the burn marks left on the ground.
If indeed today’s launch was of a Musudan, why the continued failures immediately after launch? It could do with the complexity of the engine, derived from the Russian 4D10 engine for the SS-N-6 SLBM, or it could be due to the high energy liquid propellants. To be sure North Korea learns with every failure and one suspects that North Korea’s missile engineers have a known control issue which requires practical expertise, through continued testing, to overcome.
Further information is required for a firm assessment of just what transpired today, and its possible implications.