On the evening of January 14, a military parade was held in Pyongyang to mark the end of the VIII Congress of the DPRK Labor Party. During this event, a lot of already known samples of weapons and equipment, as well as several new developments, were demonstrated. Of greatest interest is the newest ballistic missile of submarines “Pukkykson-5A” (“Polar Star-5A”). It is claimed to be the most powerful weapon of its class, not only in North Korea, but also in the world.
Rockets on parade
During the parade, four new model SLBMs were demonstrated at once. Missiles without any transport-launch containers were transported on semi-trailers-transporters. The Korean Central Telegraph Agency has called these products the most powerful weapon in the world, demonstrating the power of the revolutionary armed forces.
The new rockets, like their predecessors from the Polar Star series, are not distinguished by a remarkable exterior – and their display did not reveal much technical information. SLBMs are made in a cylindrical body with an ogival head fairing. In the tail there is an expanding casing of the propulsion system. The missiles received a predominantly black color with a black and white pattern on the fairing. Also on board was the name of the rocket in Korean and digital markings.
Despite loud statements and epithets, the tactical and technical characteristics of the Pukkykson-5A SLBM have not been disclosed. In addition, so far nothing is known about the testing of such products. Probably, the first demonstration of the rockets took place before the start of the flights.
It is curious that the DPRK in recent months was able to demonstrate two missiles for submarines of a new development at once. Thus, in October, tractors with Pukkykson-4A products took part in the parade in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Labor Party. At that time, it was believed that this was the latest development in the field of missile weapons of the submarine forces. As it turned out now, there was another project.
Tactical and technical secrets
Any characteristics of the new Pukkykson-5A SLBM have not been officially disclosed, and the statement about “the world’s most powerful weapon” cannot even serve as a hint at their real level. At the same time, the available amount of data on North Korean ballistic missiles for submarines allows us to make some assumptions.
Judging by the photo and video filming, the new rocket has a diameter of no more than 2-2.5 m and a length of approx. 11-12 m. The weight of the item is unknown. Similar in size and architecture, foreign-developed SLBMs had a mass of at least 35-40 tons. Similar weight characteristics can also be indicated by the use of a three-axle semitrailer.
Marking on the rocket body suggests the use of a two-stage scheme. Both stages must have a solid fuel engine. Thus, in terms of its architecture and the type of propulsion system, Pukkykson-5A repeats the previous developments of its series. At the same time, an increase in size and weight made it possible to increase the charge of the engines and, accordingly, improve flight characteristics.
The firing range of the late missiles of the Pukkykson series has not yet been officially disclosed, and there have been only estimates based on calculations. In addition, the missiles of the last two models have not been tested, which does not provide information even for an approximate determination of their characteristics. However, the minimum values of the main parameters can be provided.
In October 2019, the first test launch of the Pukkykson-3 SLBM took place. The rocket moved along a test trajectory with an increased angle in the initial phase of the flight. During such a flight, she climbed to an altitude of 910 km and showed a range of 450 km. In terms of energy indicators, this is equivalent to a flight along an optimal trajectory of 2100 km.
The missiles of the last two models differ from Pukkykson-3 by an increased fuel reserve, which should give a significant increase in range. For “Pukkykson-5A” this parameter can be estimated at 3.5-4 thousand km or more. However, despite such an increase in performance, the new product will remain in the class of medium-range missiles – along with both predecessors.
According to the known data and estimates, ballistic missiles of North Korean design so far carry only monoblock warheads. The DPRK’s strategic nuclear forces have warheads with a yield of no more than 30-50 kt. Perhaps the new SLBM will be able to carry conventional combat equipment.
The issue of the carrier of the new Pukkykson-5A missiles has not yet been disclosed. In a recent speech at the WPK congress, the head of state, Kim Jong-un, spoke about the construction of the first North Korean nuclear submarine. Perhaps this ship will be armed with Pukkykson-4A or Pukkykson-5A missiles. However, reliable information of this kind is not yet available. Also unknown are the dates for the commissioning of the submarine and its weapons.
North Korea has developed yet another submarine ballistic missile, and is likely to see an improvement in key performance over previous products. Despite the existing lack of information, some predictions and conclusions can be made already now.
As far as is known, missiles of the last two types have not yet been tested. Accordingly, in the near future, the DPRK will have to conduct several test launches, bring the missiles to the required level and establish their production. In addition, it is necessary to complete the construction of strategic diesel and nuclear submarines. How long it will take is unknown.
It should be noted that the very first reports of tests of new missiles will seriously clarify the existing picture. In particular, according to the parameters of the test flight, it will be possible to determine the approximate flight characteristics, and information will also appear about the carrier, at least an experienced one. In all likelihood, flight tests of the two Polar Star missiles will begin in the coming months, and they will have to wait for several years to be put into service and on duty.
Strengthening the fleet
Currently, North Korea is simultaneously working on projects for submarines and ballistic missiles for their armament. According to the results of the implementation of well-known projects, the North Korean fleet will receive at least two or three submarines with a diesel-electric and nuclear power plant, capable of carrying SLBMs. For their armament, three medium-range missiles of the Pukkykson family have already been created.
Test launch of the Pukkykson-3 SLBM, October 2, 2019
The range of “Polar Stars” of various models is from 1,300 to 3-4 thousand km, which seriously increases the combat effectiveness and flexibility of the use of the naval component of nuclear forces. Using new submarines and missiles, the Navy will be able to attack designated targets from an increased distance, reducing its vulnerability to enemy anti-submarine defenses.
Despite all the expected progress, the strategic and tactical nuclear forces of the North Korean army will remain small and have limited combat capabilities. To ensure parity with potential adversaries, further development of all major areas is necessary, as well as the creation and deployment of new types of equipment and weapons.
However, so far the DPRK does not even have such opportunities. There is only one missile submarine in service, carrying not the most advanced Pukkykson-1 missiles. Nevertheless, Pyongyang is taking all the necessary measures and developing new designs. The next results of such work in the form of missiles on transporters were shown in October and January, and soon a new demonstration of potential due to flight tests should be expected.