The recent test of North Korea's Pukguksong-2 or PGS-2 missile was a significant step in North Korea's (DPRK) missile armaments program. The PGS-2, a land-based, solid propellant missile is a game-changer when it comes to survivability in war time as we will see in this posting which looks at North Korea’s missile program as a whole, focusing on the game-changing test in February 2017.
Let's open by looking at North Korea's current ballistic missile inventory from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, excluding the PGS-2 which is still in its testing phase:
Here is a table showing the classes, ranges and status of all North Korean missiles in order from shortest to longest range:
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the three-stage Taepodong-2 has the potential to deliver a small payload to the west coast of continental North America. Here is a map showing the operating range of several of North Korea's missiles:
Here is a graphic showing the timing of North Korea's missile testing program:
As you can see, there has been a very significant increase in the number of tests since 2009 (excluding 2010). During Kim Jong-un's five year term as North Korea's Supreme Leader, there have been more missile tests than there were during the period from 2004 to 2011.
In February 2017, North Korea tested its Pukguksong-2 (PGS-2) missile, a land-based variation of its submarine-based Pukguksong-1 (PGS-1 or KN-11) missile. Here is a North Korean news video, proudly announcing the test launch of the PGS-2 on February 12, 2017:
In contrast to most other North Korean missiles, the medium-diameter PGS-2 is a solid-propellant variant. As was apparent in the video, the PGS-2 is launched from a tracked transporter erector launcher or TEL, the only tracked TEL in use in any modern day defense system. This provides North Korean forces with several advantages:
1.) The PGS-2 system has a shorter launch preparation time of between 15 to 45 minutes compared to the 60 minutes or more required to set up and fuel a liquid-propellant system. This means that no additional fuel trucks will be required, reducing the number of vehicles involved, making it more difficult for surveillance satellites to detect.
2.) The tracked TEL used with the PGS-2 system will be able to access the remote and rugged terrain of North Korea's interior.
3.) The PGS-2 system will be more survivable in the event of an attack than its more vulnerable liquid-propellant system. This will give the DPRK a much more survivable second strike capability which could act as a deterrent.
The Pukguksong-2 and its submarine-launched variant, the Pukguksong-1, are helping North Korea to put in place a multifaceted first and second strike alternatives. While it still hasn't developed a missile industry that is capable of producing large numbers of weapons, it certainly appears that its missile industry is becoming increasingly efficient.