North Korea’s Missile in New Test Would Have 4,500 km Range

, former co-director | May 13, 2017, 9:09 pm EDT
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North Korea launched a missile in a test early in the morning of May 14, North Korean time. If the information that has been reported about the test are correct, the missile has considerably longer range than its current missiles.

Reports from Japan say that the missile fell into the Sea of Japan after traveling about 700 km (430 miles), after flying for about 30 minutes.

A missile with a range of 1,000 km (620 miles), such as the extended-range Scud, or Scud-ER, would only have a flight time of about 12 minutes if flown on a slightly lofted trajectory that traveled 700 km.

A 30-minute flight time would instead require a missile that was highly lofted, reaching an apogee of about 2,000 km (1,240 miles) while splashing down at a range of 700 km. If that same missile was flown on a standard trajectory, it would have a maximum range of about 4,500 km (2,800 miles).

New press reports are in fact giving a 2,000 km apogee for the test.

Fig. 1  The black curve is the lofted trajectory flown on the test. The red curve is the same missile flown on a normal (MET) trajectory.

This range is considerably longer than the estimated range of the Musudan missile, which showed a range of about 3,000 km in a test last year. Guam is 3,400 km from North Korea. Reaching the US West Coast would require a missile with a range of more than 8,000 km. Hawaii is roughly 7,000 km from North Korea.

This missile may have been the new mobile missile seen in North Korea’s April 15 parade (Fig. 2). It appears to be a two-stage liquid-fueled missile.

Fig. 2 (Source: KCNA)

Note added 5/15/17:

Photos of the launch released by North Korea confirm that the tested missile was the one shown in Fig.2, which North Korea calls the Hwasong-12 and the US calls the KN-17.

North Korea said the range of the test was 787 km and the maximum altitude was 2111.5 km. Based on these numbers, I find a slightly longer range on a standard trajectory, roughly 4,800 km.


Posted in: Missiles and Missile Defense Tags: ,

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  • Emily Willingham

    Unit correction needed? 4,500 km (2,800 km) should be 4,500 km (2,800 miles)?

    • dwrightucsusa

      Yes, thanks for catching that.

  • Cdevries

    I’m a little bit confused about the numbers: 2000 km.? That would mean entering space and passing the ISS space station? Or 2 point 0 km?

    • Andrew Pickin

      I’m not an expert, but yes, 2000km. Missiles such as these are typically fired to an altitude of 1,200 km and then descend following a natural trajectory until they hit the target (

      In this case they fired it even higher than normal so that it wouldn’t reach land and land on a 3rd-party country (see the diagram above).

      • dwrightucsusa

        Yes, that’s right, although the altitude a missile reaches on a normal trajectory depends on its range. For a long-range missile they do reach 1,200 km or so. In this case, the range of the missile was shorter but it was launched at a steeper angle so it went higher.

  • Martin Ellis

    I read a copy of this article on the bbc news website, but the numbers just seem really off. If the International Space Station orbits at 400 km, then are you suggesting that this missile went 10 times higher?

  • Bin Xie

    Would the speed at re-entry be significantly higher than with a standard trajectory of the same missile? Would this lofted trajectory have enabled them to test an ICBM-type re-entry vehicle?

    • dwrightucsusa

      In both cases the reentry speed would be about the same, but the heating profile would be different. I plan to look at this later today.

  • jj

    Please stop this madness. That missile did not reach an altitude of 1200miles. If it did, it would be well on it’s way to the moon not falling back to earth.

    • dwrightucsusa

      No, it depends on the speed of the missile. In this case its speed was just enough to carry it to 2000 km altitude, and which point it fell back to earth.

  • Jonathan McDowell

    Russia says ( that the flight time was 23 minutes, and it fell 500 km from the Russian coast. How does 23 vs 30 minutes change your estimate of the apogee? I know the Japanese MoD seems to confirm the 2000 km, I’m a bit worried they might be just quoting you!

    • dwrightucsusa

      Not sure what to make of the Russian claim, or what sensors it may have come from. I was writing my blog when Japan announced the 2,000 km apogee, so I hadn’t released my number yet–so they weren’t quoting me. Also, NK has now announced that the missile landed “787 km away [from the launch site] after flying to the maximum altitude of 2 111.5 km.”

      • Jonathan McDowell

        Indeed, the new NK numbers seem definitive. Thanks.

  • Liberalimpact_com

    What does MET stand for?

    • dwrightucsusa

      Good question. It stands for “minimum energy trajectory.” It essentially means the trajectory that gives the longest range for a missile that attains at a given speed at burnout. On a flat earth, you get the maximum range when you fire the missile at a 45 degree angle from the horizontal; at both higher and lower angles it will fall short of that maximum range.

  • Alexander Trotsky

    The DPRK for obvious reasons will not be allowed to place a warhead on any delivery vehicle. They are getting close to a viable delivery system and likely they have already learned to or are very close to miniaturizing their warheads. When they successfully launched the KSM-3 and KSM-4 satellites into an orbital trajectory that passes over the US, the count down sped up on policy makers to either implement an effective and verifiable non-military deterrence to their proliferation or to prepare for a massive preemptive strike that eliminates all of their ballastic missiles, nuclear weapons testing and storage facilities, artillery assets, ground units attempting to cross the DMZ, communications, air assets, and to eliminate all top leadership. This would all have to be done in a very narrow window to avoid massive casualties in South Korea (it takes just 45 seconds for DPRK artillery to strike Seoul). I hope a military response can be avoided, but it is not looking good. The status quo is not palatable to global security and will lead to another war on the Korean Peninsula in the very near future. As bad as that will be, a nuclear DPRK would be worse. It would be the most socially, politically, economically, destablizing force on the planet.

  • Major Kong

    That’s a heck of an alliance that the U.S. has with South Korea.

    Facing the prospect of North Korean Warheads raining down on American Cities, this pact denies America the option of preemption.

    Because Seoul would be put at risk, the South Koreans will NEVER assent.


    1) Dissolve the alliance

    2) Pull out all 28,500 U.S. Troops (hostages)

    3) Give North Korea 60 days to verifiably dismantle

    4) When they fail to comply, launch preemptive strikes to destroy their atomic program and decapitate their leadership.

  • Pertinaxjak

    Does this launch indicate that the North Koreans (and possibly Iranians) are closer to having a devastating EMP weapon? Highly civilized nations through inaction and / or hubris have fallen to a confederation of tribes or entities that were much lower on the scale but had a devastating capability.

    • Михаил

      Please do show me a “highly civilised” western nation. There are literally none, unless “highly civilised nation” is defined as “a bunch of morons who marry same sex and have only goal in life to take selfies in public bathrooms”. The perverted, degraded West will fall like Rome did, unless it changes its attitudes. Has nothing to do with muslims or Koreans.

  • Xaviersp

    We often hear that the North Koreans have yet to test an ICBM, which is technically true. However, couldn’t the semi-successful satellite launches with the Unha-3 rocket be considered ICBM tests, given that the vehicle is essentially the same, or very similar?

    • dwrightucsusa

      The Unha-3 launcher carries a lightweight satellite rather than a heavy warhead, which probably has at least five times as much mass.