Yesterday, North Korea reported that it put its nuclear forces on alert. But the question is, what exactly have they put on alert? North Korea does not have an ICBM force or long range bombers, and still hasn’t proven it can launch a missile from a submarine.
However, it does have missiles, and one of the biggest threats to South Korea may date back to the Second World War. It’s called the Scud.
The original Scud was developed by the Soviet Union and fielded in the 1950s. It was derived from the German V-2 ballistic missile and developed as a tactical nuclear weapon . The North Koreans have been producing versions of the Scud missile since the 1980s. The North Korean Scuds come in many flavors; the Hwasongs -5,6 and 7 and the Nodong-1.
A Possible Nuclear Missile?
While all of these(and the rest of the DPRKs Arsenal) are derived from the Scud, They are each designed to do different things. The Hwasong-6 for example, has a longer range but a payload of only 700 kg. The Hwasong-7 has a range of 800 km but has an even further reduced 500 kg payload. Only the Nodong and the Hwasong-5 are capable of carrying the 1000 kg payload experts estimate is needed to accommodate a nuclear warhead.
Advantages of the Hwasong-5
The Hwasong-5 has the range to threaten he Seventh Air Force base in Osan and the U.S Eighth Army base in Seoul. Currently, the Hwasong-5s are based in Sariwŏn, Shin’gye-kun and Kumcheon near the DMZ.
Downfalls of the Hwasong-5
The problem with using the Hwasong-5 is not only its limited strike range of 320 km, but its vulnerability. Short range ballistic missiles are much easier to shoot down than their longer range counterparts due to both their lower speed and altitude. The PAC-2 and 3 Patriot missiles that South Korean and U.S Forces currently field are equal to; or more advanced than the missiles that destroyed 8 out 9 ballistic missiles launched by Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. (The remaining missile was deemed a probable kill.)
The Nodong missiles in Yŏngjŏ-ri, and installations like Komdok-san in North Hamgyŏng Province have the ability to target all major military facilities and cities in South Korea. The Nodong can avoid anti-missile systems by launching at a higher angle and flying over the Patriots intercept envelope; but this comes at a cost.
Problems with the Nodong
The Nodongs launch sites are more limited by it’s minimum range. In the modified high angle launch configuration it’s minimum flight distance is still 650 km. In order to hit Kunsan,the Nodongs would have to be transported from Yŏngjŏ-ri Missile Base 50km north to Chunggang village for launch. To hit Osan or Seoul, the Nodongs must be driven from their bases and fired from near the Chinese border in Korea’s northeast.
If you want to actually destroy an important target like the hardened aircraft shelters at Osan Air base, a low yield nuclear device striking somewhere in the vicinity simply isn’t going to cut it.However, accuracy with nuclear weapons is not as important if your targets are entire cities.
Being derived from 80 year old technology, the Hwasong-5 and Nodong are not the most accurate weapons. The Hwasong-5 has a CEP of 1000 meters, while the Nodong is believed to have a 2000 meter CEP at 1300 km .For comparison, the 1980s vintage Pershing II had a 30m CEP at 1770km.
Although extremely vulnerable to anti-missile systems and preemptive strike, North Korea does have at least two potential nuclear missiles.While not militarily effective(in the strict sense), in the hands the DPRK the Scud could return to it’s roots as a terror weapon. Like the Nazis’ V-2 threatened London, the North Koreans could use it’s grandson to threaten Seoul; using political terror to keep the regime afloat.