North Korea Missile Update – 2003

Although North Korea has not tested a long-range missile since 1998, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reports that North Korea is still actively importing raw material and components for its missile programs. North Korea also remains a leading exporter of completed missiles, production plants, components, and expertise. Both Japan and South Korea are now within the range of North Korea’s existing fleet of Nodong missiles, which can fly an estimated 1,300 km. Also at Pyongyang’s disposal are hundreds of SCUD B and C short-range missiles that can fly 300 and 600 km respectively. Longer- range missiles, called the Taepodong 1 and 2, are being developed. The Taepodong 1’s estimated range is 2,000 km, while the Taepodong 2, in the opinion of the CIA, would be able to reach parts of the United States. In July 2001, North Korea reportedly conducted a static test of a Taepodong engine north of Pyongyang. All of North Korea’s SCUD, Nodong, and Taepodong missiles are large enough to accommodate nuclear warheads.

Missile capabilities

The Nodong is now North Korea’s longest-range deployed missile, and it poses the greatest active threat to its East Asian neighbors. It is a single-stage, liquid fuel rocket derived from the SCUD technology sold widely by the former Soviet Union. The Nodong’s successor, called the Taepodong 1, is a two-stage, liquid fuel rocket that appears to consist of a Nodong as a first stage and a SCUD C as the second stage. The Taepodong 1’s successor, the Taepodong 2, might appear in either a two- or three-stage model. The CIA estimates that the two-stage version of this missile could fly up to 10,000 km, far enough to reach Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the continental United States. A three-stage version would be capable of transporting a several hundred kilogram payload to any location in the United States.

In 1998, a special commission convened to assess the missile threat to the United States – known as the Rumsfeld Commission – reported that “[i]n light of the considerable difficulties the Intelligence Community encountered in assessing the pace and scope of the Nodong missile program, the U.S. may have very little warning prior to the deployment of the Taepodong 2.” The Defense Department has predicted that North Korea is likely to use the Taepodong 2 for a future ICBM, rather than a three-stage version of the Taepodong 1.

Exports of missile technology

In addition to exporting complete ballistic missiles, North Korea has also provided the plants, raw material, components and engineers needed to make them. Revenue from these sales is funneled back into the country’s military establishment. In August of 2000, the press reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, while receiving a delegation of visiting South Korean media executives, admitted that his country was selling missiles to both Iran and Syria as a means of generating income.

In July 2003, the United States decided once again to impose trade sanctions against North Korea’s Changgwang Sinyong Corporation, this time for selling missiles to Yemen. CSC was also sanctioned in March, and according to the media, the punishment was for selling from three to six “ready to fly” Nodong missiles to Pakistan’s Khan Research Laboratories. The sanctions have only symbolic effect; CSC has no trade relationship with the United States. After importing the Nodong, Pakistan has test-flown it and renamed it the “Ghauri” (Hatf-5).

Iran, Libya and Yemen have all been mentioned recently as possible partakers in North Korea’s missile bounty. In August 2003, a conservative Japanese newspaper known for its hard-line stance on North Korea reported that Iran and North Korea were talking about the possible export of the Taepodong 2 missile to Iran. The missile would be sent disassembled for reassembly at a “Shahid Hemat” plant near Tehran, according to the report, which has not been confirmed. Libya, according to the CIA, continued to receive missile-related North Korean exports during 2002. And Yemen was the destination of a shipment of SCUD missiles and fuel components intercepted in the Arabian Sea by Spanish naval vessels in December 2002. As a result of strong objections by the Yemeni government, the United States agreed to release the ship on condition that Yemen refrain from further SCUD purchases in the future.


In May 2003, an anonymous North Korean defector told a subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that companies and groups within Japan have been long-time supporters of Pyongyang’s missile program. He explained through a translator: “I worked for nine years as an expert in the guidance system for North Korean missile industry, and I can tell you completely that over ninety percent of these [missile related] parts come from Japan and the way they bring this in is … by ship every three months.” A large number of North Koreans reside in Japan and are responsible for much of the technical assistance that North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs receive from abroad. In May 2003 it was reported that a North Korean-owned Japanese company, Meishin, was caught attempting to export to North Korea three specialized power-supply devices that could be used in uranium enrichment or missile launch devices. Japan’s neighbor China has also been a source of North Korean imports. According to a CIA report released in January 2003, North Korean companies based in China have provided both missile components and raw material.