The Implictions of North Korea’s Failed Missile Launch

North Korea’s attempted test of a Musudan IRBM has failed.

The test was set to mark the 104th birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung and came on the heels of months of provocations. These actions have included a satellite launch and multiple short range rocket and ballistic missile tests. Recently North Korean also tested a nuclear device which they claimed was a hydrogen bomb(it wasn’t).

The U.S believes that the missile failed on the launch pad. This indicates a problem with the first stage of the missile, or the launching platform itself. The BM-25 is a much more advanced missile than the Scud based missiles North Korea has been using since the 1980s. The Musudan uses a more complex  manufacturing process and a higher performance fuel. This means potentially more range with higher payloads.

This failure is significant not only because it occurred during an important (North Korean) holiday, but because it effects the DPRK’s other potential missiles. The Musudan’s engine is based on the Russian R-27 SLBM, which is also suspected to be the basis of North Korea’s KN-08 road mobile ICBM.  A failure for the Musudan therefore puts the KN-08’s reliability in doubt because of this commonality.

The launch’s failure buys the United States some time in dealing with the North’s nuclear missile program. Right now they have not shown a functioning engine for their ICBM. Depending on what went wrong it could take weeks or months to fix. This means more time before they can threaten the continental United States with a nuclear strike.

In the best case scenario (for the U.S) the North Koreans may lack the expertise to properly replicate the chemical etching process or submerged engine that the Soviets used on their original missile. If this is the case it could seriously impair the ability of the North to produce high performance missiles. On the other hand,  it may simply have been a case of a heavy missile overloading a modified Chinese lumber carrier or a leaky valve.

Either way, the test failed, and we can be happy that it did.




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