Strategic Weapons: How North Korea Copes


February 5, 2008: Analysis of North Korea ballistic missiles sold to other countries, and debriefing of some key people who have escaped, indicates that many key missiles components still have to be imported. Guidance systems and electronics are the two items that the North Koreans are unable to manufacture themselves. What they have managed to create are factories that can build missile airframes, and most of the components that go into liquid fueled engines. North Korea has also mastered solid fuel rocket technology, although it is still a decade or more behind the West in this area. Many of the needed electronic parts are smuggled in, or bought openly, from Russia and China.

It's more difficult to get needed electronics items from the West, since guidance system grade stuff is usually considered "military" and requires a lot of additional paperwork to export. As a result, North Korea missile guidance systems have remained quite primitive. The North Koreans have been working with scientists, and manufacturers, in Iran, Syria, and other nations, to get around these problems.

A major effort in North Korea is how to put a nuclear warhead on a missile. This is not simple, as the warhead has to be built to handle rapid acceleration (on launch and re-entry) and operating in near-space (before it turns earthward towards its target.) The Russians and Chinese have not been very helpful in this department, as both nations are not keen on seeing North Korea armed with nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.

Given the shabby state of the North Korean economy, it's amazing that this ballistic missile industry has been built at all. It was accomplished by starving many other sectors of the economy. On a per-capita basis, the North Korea GPD is less is than one twentieth that of South Korea. With a population of 23 million, North Korea is unable to feed itself, or keep the electricity on 24/7. But the missile factories always have their lights on, and the workers eat well.


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