Well, I am off to Paris.  But before I go, I want to mention something that is puzzling me.

You undoubtedly noticed that Rodong Sinum (Korean|English) carried a story about Kim Jong Un attending test launches of ”newly developed ultra-precision tactical guided missiles.” The story contained three not very helpful images.

According to Yonhap, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff official said something that doesn’t make any sense to me:

“Their range is some 190 kilometers, and we are now looking into exactly what type of rockets North Korea fired,” a JCS official said, noting that the North’s 300-millimeter multiple rocket launcher KN-09 has a similar range.

Another news site quotes  Yonhap quoting an official saying “Our analysis of its trajectory and other details led us to believe that what North Korea fired off yesterday was the 300-millimeter multiple-rocket launchers. North Korea appears to test-fire them to extend its range further.” US officials were more circumspect, stating in public that they were “still evaluating the available information to identify the exact type of projectile” and privately telling Barbara Starr the rocket was not new.

If the rocket really traveled 190 km, it is not a 300 mm artillery rocket.  The natural comparisons for such a rocket, which North Korea is developing are the Russian BM-30 Smerch, a Chinese knock-off, or Pakistani Hatf IX/Nasr.  All three of these systems have a range more like 60 km.

On the other hand, a 600 mm missile like the US ATACMs or Russian SS-21 Tochka might reach that range. (The SS-21C tops out at 120 km, but it could be range-extended.)  North Korea started testing and deploying an indigenous SS-21 in 2006 and 2007.  Two leaked cables (NSFW!) contain the text of papers that the US circulated about MTCR members describing the missile as “a new solid propellant SRBM based on the SS-21 SRBM. This new missile – called the Toksa by the United States — has a range of 120 km with a payload as large as 500 kg.”  (I think we are teasing them with Toksa/Tochka.) North Korea paraded the Toksa in 2012. The provenance of the Toksa is unclear.  Dan Pinkston notes there are both reports suggesting either Russia or Syria is the source of North Korea’s SS-21s.

Based on the images released by North Korea, we can tell the test involved a solid-fueled rocket– solid-fuels produce bright and smoky plumes like the one you see — but that’s all.

Unfortunately, the image of the rocket is too blurry to determine whether it is a BM-30 or an SS-21.  Also, one image contains what may be tarp-covered launchers in the background, but again they are too blurry to identify.

At some level, it doesn’t matter.  North Korea is developing both BM-30 and SS-21 clones, to say nothing of anti-ship cruise missiles like the Kh-35.  It’s possible the range is “90-100″ kilometers not 190 kilometers.  Then it’s a Smerch.  If its 190 km, then I think its more likely a Toksa.

A related note.  South Korean media reports continue to describe the new 300 mm MLRS rocket as the KN-09.  The US has released exactly one slide that suggested the KN-09 was a coastal defense cruise missile, not an artillery rocket. It would be very nice if someone in Dayton or Huntsville could let us know the proper designations for these missiles. (Of course, people make mistakes.  One of the leaked cables describes the Toksa as a “modified Silkworm” which is bizarre.)

For now, I am just going to use the Russian designations like BM-30 Smerch, SS-21 Tochka/Toksa, and Kh-35 preceded by “North Korean.”