North Korea's missile programme

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North Korea is believed to have more than 1,000 missiles of varying capabilities, including long-range missiles which could one day strike the US.

Pyongyang's programme has progressed over the last few decades from tactical artillery rockets in the 1960s and 70s to short­-range and medium-range ballistic missiles in the 1980s and 90s. Systems capable of greater ranges are understood to be under research and development.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think-tank, some of North Korea's missiles also have the capability to carry nuclear warheads.

It had been thought the country had not developed such warheads, but a US intelligence report leaked in April said it may now be capable of firing a nuclear-armed missile, though with "low reliability".

The Pentagon later denied the report, stating it would be "inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities".

North Korea missile ranges map

The country's missile programme has mainly been developed from the Scud, itself a development from the German V2 rockets of World War II.

It first obtained tactical missiles from the Soviet Union as early as 1969, but its first Scuds reportedly came via Egypt in 1976. Egypt is believed to have supplied North Korea with missiles and designs in return for its support against Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

By 1984, North Korea was building its own Scuds, the Hwasong-5. The larger, longer range Hwasong-6 followed, and eventually the Nodong - essentially a 50% larger Hwasong-6.

Following these came the multiple-stage Taepodong missiles, which can potentially be configured as satellite launchers or missiles.

In 2006, it test-fired a Taepodong-2 missile, which experts say could have a range of many thousands of miles, and rockets with related technology in 2009 and 2012. All three launches ended in failure.

However, North Korea made another, apparently successful, launch of a three-stage rocket on 12 December 2012. It was condemned by many in the international community as cover for a missile test.

In June 2014, a North Korean propaganda film briefly showed what some experts said might be a newly developed cruise missile, believed to be similar to the Russian KH-35 anti-ship missile. It is unclear whether North Korea previously owned any cruise missiles.

Cruise missiles are weapons guided by on-board computers, used to attack specific targets.

Graphic showing North Korea's missile range

Short range missiles

North Korea is believed to be in possession of a variety of short-range missiles, such as the KN-02, which can reach up to 120km and could target military installations in neighbouring South Korea.

The Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6, also known as Scud-B and C, have longer ranges of 300km and 500km respectively, according to the US Center for Nonproliferation Studies. These missiles can deliver conventional warheads, but may also have biological, chemical and nuclear capabilities.

The Hwasong-5 and 6 have both been tested and deployed, defence experts believe, and would enable North Korea to strike any area in South Korea. The Hwasong-6 has also been sold to Iran, where it is known as the Shehab 2.

Relations between the two Koreas are fraught and they remain, technically, in a state of war. The two countries never signed a peace treaty after an armistice ended their 1950-53 conflict.

They are separated by one of the world's most heavily fortified borders and both have strong military capabilities.

Map of N Korea nuclear test sites

Nodong missile

North Korea went on to embark on a programme in the late 1980s to build a new missile, known as the Nodong, with a range of 1,000km. Its likely target is Japan.

The missile is based on the Scud design, but is 50% larger and has a more powerful engine.

But, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, few exact details are known about the Nodong's development, production, and deployment.

The institute believes the weapon is not accurate enough for effective use against military targets, such as US military bases in Japan.

A March 2006 report by the US Center for Non-proliferation Studies, concluded it had a "circular error probable" of 2km to 4km, meaning that half the missiles fired would fall outside a circle of that radius.

Analysts therefore believe that should the Nodong be used as a weapon against Japan, it could lead to high levels of civilian casualties.

Nodongs are believed to have been test-fired in 2006, 2009 and 2014.

Musudan missile

The Musudan, also known as the Nodong-B or the Taepodong-X, is an intermediate-range ballistic missile. Its likely targets are Okinawa, Japan, and US bases in the Pacific.

Range estimates differ dramatically. Israeli intelligence believes they have a 2,500km range while the US Missile Defense Agency estimates they have a range of 3,200km; other sources put the upper limit at 4,000km.

These differences are due in large part to the fact that the missile has never been tested publicly, according to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Its payload is also unknown.

Taepodong-1 and 2 missiles (including the Unha space launcher)

The Taepodong-1 - known as Paektusan-1 in North Korea - was the country's first multi-stage missile.

Based on satellite photographs, independent think-tank the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) believes the first stage is a Nodong missile and the second stage a Hwasong-6.

Missile ranges

  • Short range: 1,000km or less
  • Medium range: 1,000-3,000km
  • Intermediate range: 3,000-5,500 km
  • Intercontinental: Greater than 5,500km

Source: Federation of American Scientists

It has an estimated range of 2,200km, but is understood to be even less accurate than the Nodong.

The Taepodong-1 is understood to have test flown once in August 1998 as a space launcher. Instead of a normal ballistic missile payload, the missile carried a third stage that was meant to send a small satellite into low Earth orbit.

The FAS believes that although the first two stages worked, the third stage did not function correctly and no satellite entered orbit. The federation also says it is possible the Taepodong-1 was always meant as a space launcher and was never intended to be an intermediate range military missile.

The Taepodong-2 - or Paektusan-2 - is also a two to three-stage ballistic missile, but is a significant advance on the Taepodong-1. Its range has been estimated at anything between 5,000-15,000km. The Center for Nonproliferation Studies puts the figure at a maximum estimated 6,000km.

Before December 2012, Taepodong-2 and its technology had been flight tested three times, in 2006, 2009 and April 2012. It failed to perform on all these occasions.

In the early morning of 5 July 2006 (still 4 July in the US), it flew only 42 seconds before exploding - according to US sources.

Three-stage space launcher versions of the Taepodong-2 were then used in failed attempts to send a satellite into space in April 2009 and April 2012. These launches were condemned by the US and South Korea, among others, as covers for a long-range missile tests.

North Korea refers to the space launcher version of the Taepodong-2 as Unha - Korean for galaxy - and describes it as a "carrier rocket".

Following its previous failed launch attempts, on 12 December 2012 North Korea appeared to make a successful launch of a three-stage rocket using the same Unha technology.

The rocket, launched at 09:49 local time (00:49 GMT), appears to have followed its planned trajectory, with stages falling in expected areas. The US confirmed an object had been put into space.

Although space launches and missile launches follow slightly different trajectories and the rocket may be optimised for one purpose or the other, the basic technology used is the same. This includes the structure, engines and fuel.

If the Taepodong-2 were successfully launched and it reached its maximum estimated range, its increased power could put Australia and parts of the US, among other countries, within range.

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