Edit: this Article has been updated to refer to the second failed Musudan.
For the second (and third) time in only a few weeks a North Korean Musudan IRBM test has failed. Reuters reported that the missiles survived only a few seconds in the air before falling back to earth. The failed launches followed a partially successful solid fuel SLBM test only a few days ago.
These tests were technically significant because they effect not only the Musudan itself, but 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 for North Korea’s KN-08 road mobile ICBM and was originally the basis for their SLBM as well. This engine has never been successfully tested by the DPRK. today’s test failures shed more doubt on the North Korean’s ability to launch a R-27 based KN-08.
With the failure of these tests it is becoming apparent that there is something seriously wrong with North Korea’s Musudan program. The SLBM the North Koreans tested earlier this week was originally designed with an R-27 based engine, similar to the Musudan. While getting it to work with a solid fuel engine was an impressive achievement, the engine swap may also indicate a problem with with R-27.
The R-27 is a somewhat complicated missile to produce. It requires the use of a chemical etching process to produce some of it’s main components and it’s engine is built into the fuel tank to save weight. This is a far cry from the wielded steel construction present on the regime’s Scud based missiles.
In terms of politics, North Korea has greatly increased it’s provocations and weapons testing in the run up to the Party Congress on May 6th. Each test is a new opportunity for the regime to generate propaganda and strengthen the Kim regime’s position.
With the Musudan tests a failure, Kim Jong Un will need some kind of success to show at the gathering. This dynamic means that the DPRK is certain to test a nuclear device in to coming days. North Korea finished preparations for the test a few days ago and a successful nuclear device could be just the kind of thing Kim needs to offset today’s failed missile tests.