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Don’t Underestimate North Korea’s Missiles Because Of A ‘Bent Nose Cone’

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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North Korea showed off its collection of rockets and ballistic missiles during a military parade Saturday, but some observers claimed the missiles were fake.

One image in particular is circulating the internet as proof. The image shows a missile with a “bent nose cone,” suggesting the weapon is a cheap replica of the real thing.

A North Korean rocket with a "bent nose cone" (Youtube screenshot)

A North Korean booster rocket with a “bent nose cone” (Youtube screenshot)

“I suspect they all might be mock-ups aimed to impress the outside world,” Lee Il-Woo, a senior analyst at the private Korea Defense Network, said.

While it is very possible, even likely, that the missiles paraded through Kim Il Sung Square Saturday may have been mock-ups missing some of the critical components necessary for use in actual combat, the above image is not suitable evidence for that claim.

The weapon shown in the image above appears to be a Soviet S-200 surface-to-air missile, and if that is the case, the nose cone is intentionally curved.

Ukrainian soldiers walk past a S-200 "surface-to-air" missile at a base near Kiev, February 24. After the last Ukrainian nuclear warheads were sent to Russia in May 1996 under a nuclear weapons reduction agreement, there are only conventional weapons on duty in the Ukrainian army now. REUTERS/Stringer

Ukrainian soldiers walk past a S-200 “surface-to-air” missile at a base near Kiev, February 24. After the last Ukrainian nuclear warheads were sent to Russia in May 1996 under a nuclear weapons reduction agreement, there are only conventional weapons on duty in the Ukrainian army now. REUTERS/Stringer

North Korea revealed several weapons systems signaling the country is developing reliable second-strike capabilities. Solid-fueled missiles are being loaded onto mobile platforms, such as Transporter Erector Launchers (TELs) and submarines.

During the military parade, North Korea rolled out several KN-11 (Pukguksong-1) submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the KN-15 (Pukguksong-2) road-mobile, land-based variation, and several potential launchers for North Korea’s KN-08 or KN-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The weapons displayed were likely mock-ups, as it does not make sense for them to parade the real things through the streets of Pyongyang for a simple celebration. At the same time, the world already knows that at least some of these weapons are functional. For instance, the North successfully tested the KN-15 in February and the KN-11 last August.

A North Korean navy truck carries the 'Pukkuksong' submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

A North Korean navy truck carries the ‘Pukkuksong’ submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of North Korea's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Sue-Lin Wong

Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Sue-Lin Wong

Solid-fueled missiles on TELs require less preparation time and a smaller crew, reducing their satellite signature and making them harder to track. They can be fired with little warning and are significantly less vulnerable to pre-emptive strikes, thus giving North Korea second-strike capabilities.

Some observers suspect that North Korea has much greater aims.

“My big takeaway from is the emphasis on the very long range, previously unsighted systems is a statement of grand ambition on Kim Jong-un’s part that North Korea is not just settling for a minimum deterrent,” Euan Graham, the director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, told ABC’s reporters.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The canisters on the TELs — likely empty — resemble Russian Topol/Chinese DF-41 missiles, and the ones on the flatbeds look like Chinese DF-31s.

North Korea has launched eight missiles this year, and only three failed, giving the North a 62.5 percent success rate. That figure is disconcertingly high for a country that regularly threatens to obliterate the U.S. and its allies with its “treasured nuclear sword.” Furthermore, experts suggest that even failures allow North Korea to advance its missile program.

“I’m not sure why failed missile tests, which are still banned by the U.N. Security Council, are considered less provocative,” Kent Boydston, a North Korea-focused research analyst at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, explained to the Washington Post. “The North Koreans know they may fail, but they improve their capabilities each time.”

Graham added that while talk of war is “overblown,” North Korea’s ability to destabilize Northeast Asia is not.

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