KN-08 / Hwasong-13

January 2017 by David Webb


North Korean/U.S. Designation Hwasong-13/KN-08
Missile Variants KN-14
Mobility and Role Road Mobile/Surface-to-surface Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
Designer/Producer N/A
Range 5,500 – 11,500 km
Warhead Type and Weight Conventional or Nuclear/300-700kg
MIRV and Yield N/A
Guidance System/Accuracy N/A
Stages/Propellant Three/Liquid
IOC/Retirement Not yet deemed operational
Status/Number of Units N/A


Despite the many uncertainties that exist in regards to North Korea’s intercontinental-range ballistic missiles capabilities, the United States has considered the KN-08, or Hwasong -13, to be a serious threat that can increase North Korea’s strike range and strategic influence in the region. As Kim Jong Un announced in his 2017 New Year’s Address, North Korea has entered the final stage of preparation for an intercontinental ballistic missile test which would be the fifth nuclear test conducted by the DPRK.[i] Still in the prototype phase, the KN-08 was publicized in 2012 and appears to be multistage with a projected range of at least 5,500 km. Currently North Korea does not possess the capability to reach the U.S. homeland, Europe, or even the border of NATO with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, however the KN-08 may grant the DPRK the ability to create miniaturized nuclear warheads that can fit onto missiles and be launched at long-range targets.[ii] The existence of an enhanced version of the KN-08, known as the KN-14, has been confirmed to exist by the Pentagon however neither the KN-08 or the KN-14 have been flight tested.[iii]

In comparison to the KN-08, the KN-14 is noticeably shorter in length with a blunt, cone-shaped nosecone. First unveiled on October 10th, 2015 the KN-14 is expected to possess a smaller warhead carrying capacity and shorter range than its counterpart. Like the KN-08, the KN-14 is suspected to be road-mobile, however the operational status of both ICBMs remain unknown. [iv]

Strategic Implications

The KN-08 and the KN-14 represent a significant progression in North Korean ballistic missiles technologies and, if capable of striking the U.S. homeland, provides the Kim regime with diplomatic leverage against the United States. Indeed, ICBM capabilities will allow the DPRK to place pressure upon the U.S. and its allies to gain negotiating power in international organizations such as the United Nations. The KN-08 and KN-14 could also pressure the U.S. to reconsider its policy approach to North Korea, replacing the current strategy of isolation with one of regional containment, mutual deterrence, or engagement. As the Obama administration prepares to leave office, the publicizing of ICBMs in North Korea, acts as a strong message to future administrations.[v] Despite a high failure rate, an ICBM test launch can provide the DPRK with the information they need to construct a successful model.[vi]

Strategic leverage provided by North Korean ICBMs can be minimized with the application of appropriate and effective homeland ballistic missile defense. Currently, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System (GMD) is the only line of defense against North Korean ICBMs. Not only does GMD provide physical protections for the U.S. homeland, but can also minimize any diplomatic leverage attained by North Korea if the country develops a nuclear-capable ICBM.


  • January 1 2017: Kim Jong Un announces to be in the final stage for test launching an ICBM[vii]
  • June 22 2016: Test launch conducted for IRBM Musudan which is believed to have been a proxy test for ICBM launch capabilities[viii]
  • April 9 2016: Large liquid-fuel rocket engine test suspected to be the KN-08[ix]
  • March 15 2016: Guided test for KN-08 nose cone[x]
  • October 10 2015: KN-14 ICBM is publicized during military parade in Pyongyang[xi]
  • August 2014: Long range engine test conducted which was suspected to be the KN-08[xii]
  • February 2013: Underground nuclear test is conducted which was suspected to be the KN-08[xiii]
  • April 2012: KN-08 road-mobile ICBM is publicized during military parade in Pyongyang[xiv]
  • June 2011: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warns that North Korea is developing a road-mobile ICBM[xv]


[i] US/Korea Institute at SAIS.

[ii] UPI News.

[iii] Washington Free Beacon.

[iv] US/Korea Institute at SAIS.

[v]  CNN.

[vi] The Korea Herald.

[vii] Dong-A Ilbo.

[viii] US/Korea Institute at SAIS.

[ix] US/Korea Institute at SAIS.

[x] Bloomberg.

[xi] The Diplomat.

[xii] Bloomberg.

[xiii] US/Korea Institute at SAIS.

[xiv] Center for Strategic & International Studies.

[xv] The National Committee on North Korea.


Missile Threat and Proliferation