The Beginning of the Missile Program

The North Korean ballistic missile program commenced in 1976 with the acquisition of SCUD-B missiles from the Soviet Union, brokered through Egypt. After reverse engineering this technology, missile testing began in 1984. Over the years, North Korea has conducted more than 244 tests, spanning short-, medium-, intermediate-, and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, as well as submarine-launched ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles.

Through the Kim Dynasty

Kim Il Sung (1984-1994): Under Kim Il Sung’s regime, North Korea conducted 17 missile tests, primarily at the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground. Initial tests focused on short- and medium-range SCUD variants, including Hwasong-5, Hwasong-6, and No Dong-1. In 1994, the regime tested its first cruise missile, the KN-01.

Kim Jong Il (1994-2011): Progress was slow during the first half of Kim Jong Il’s rule. Between 1994 and 2002, North Korea conducted only one test, debuting the Taepodong-1 prototype in 1998. Between 2003 and 2009, missile activity surged, with 43 tests, including the introduction of Taepodong-2 in 2006.

North Korea Missile

Kim Jong Un (2011-Present): Kim Jong Un significantly expanded and developed North Korea’s ballistic missile program since 2012. Over 214 tests have been conducted, introducing various missiles with increasing ranges. Infrastructure for testing and development expanded, including proximity to nuclear facilities. The regime debuted its first SLBM, the KN-11, in 2015, and an IRBM, the BM-25 Musudan, in 2016. Multiple nuclear tests were conducted, and as of 2023, North Korea boasts several missile capabilities, including theater cruise missiles, short- to long-range missiles, SLBMs, a long-range cruise missile, and two ICBM platforms, the Hwasong-17 and Hwasong-18.


During the 1960s and early 1970s, North Korea missile, as part of military cooperation agreements with the Soviet Union, received surface-to-air and artillery rockets. They were also trained in the construction and operation of multiple-rocket launchers. Additionally, separate agreements with China facilitated the acquisition of coastal defense capabilities, including anti-ship cruise missiles, and the transfer of missile research and development know-how. These foundational elements laid the groundwork for North Korea’s indigenous missile program.

2023 Developments

This comprehensive overview illustrates the evolution and advancements in North Korea missile program, spanning multiple decades and the leadership of the Kim dynasty.

In 2023 alone, North Korea confirmed 36 missile tests, primarily short- and medium-range, with a recent demonstration of an ICBM in July. Notably, there were three attempts to place a satellite in orbit, with success on the third attempt. The space-launch efforts are significant as they utilize the same ICBM motors, enhancing intelligence and targeting capabilities.

Failure Rates and Improvement

While the failure rate of missile tests has historically been high, it has shown improvement. Up until 1994, the failure rate was approximately 50%. From 1994 to 2011, it dropped to around 23%, and from 2011 to 2023, it further decreased to roughly 15%.

North Korea Missile


The trajectory of North Korea’s ballistic missile program, spanning from its origins in the 1960s to the present under the leadership of the Kim dynasty, reveals a persistent and evolving pursuit of technological capabilities. Beginning with foundational knowledge obtained through military cooperation pacts with the Soviet Union and agreements with China, North Korea established its indigenous missile program.

Kim Jong Un’s leadership from 2011 onward marked a notable acceleration in North Korea’s missile program. With over 214 missile tests and the introduction of various missiles, including the KN-11 SLBM and BM-25 Musudan IRBM, North Korea showcased its commitment to expanding its ballistic missile capabilities. Multiple nuclear tests, including the significant one in September 2017, demonstrated the parallel advancement of nuclear capabilities.

As of the latest information, North Korea boasts an array of missile capabilities, including theater cruise missiles, short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles, SLBMs, a long-range cruise missile, and two ICBM platforms, the Hwasong-17 and Hwasong-18. The confirmed testing of 36 missiles in 2023, coupled with attempts to place satellites in orbit, exemplifies North Korea’s persistent pursuit of advanced capabilities, often leveraging the same ICBM motors for both space launches and military applications.

Under Kim Il Sung, the initial testing phases focused on short- and medium-range SCUD variants, with additional advancements, including the testing of the KN-01 cruise missile in 1994. Kim Jong Il’s era witnessed a gradual progression, marked by the introduction of the Taepodong-1 prototype in 1998 and intensified missile activity between 2003 and 2009, including the unveiling of the Taepodong-2. Nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 underscored the intertwining of missile and nuclear capabilities during this period.

In essence, North Korea missile program, deeply interwoven with its nuclear ambitions, remains a focal point of strategic developments, underscoring the nation’s determination to advance its technological prowess on the global stage.

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