Chronology of North Korea’s Missile Trade and Developments: 1990-1991

CNS Resources on North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Program:


North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Program

Early 1990

Iran purchases 20 Scud-B missiles from North Korea.

Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12.

Early 1990

North Korea conducts the first test of the Scud-C missile, which is reportedly unsuccessful.

Jane’s Defence Weekly, 8 August 1992, pp.26-27.

May 1990

A US intelligence satellite photographs a new IRBM (Nodong-1), with an estimated range of 620 miles, on its launcher at the Musudan Range in Hwadae-gun in eastern North Korea. Analyses of subsequent photographs of the launch pad reveal burn marks, which are believed to indicate that the missile exploded on the pad.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 4 June 1991, p.4. Yonhap (Seoul), 24 June 1993; in FBIS-EAS-93-120, 24 June 1993, p.19.

June 1990

North Korea conducts its first successful test of a Scud-C, launching from the Nodong test site south over the Sea of Japan.

Joseph Bermudez, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 10 April 1993, pp.20, 22.

June 1990

Seoul Sinmun reports that North Korea is constructing two missile launch sites in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). A US intelligence satellite has reportedly confirmed the construction of these bases.

Seoul Sinmun, 16 June 1990, p.2; in JPRS-TND-90-011, 28 June 1990, p.10.

(Note: The bases are almost certainly not in the DMZ, but they may be bases for the SSM regiment reportedly located near Sariwon, about 50 km from the DMZ)

August 1990

The USSR signs a contract with North Korea for the provision of 200 rocket experts. The deal is reportedly called off in exchange for a South Korean loan when the USSR normalizes relations with South Korea.

Yonhap (Seoul), 23 April 1994; in JPRS-TND-94-011, 16 May 1994, pp.51-52.

November 1990

The US detects preparations for a second test-launch of North Korea’s IRBM (Nodong-1), but radar tracking ships positioned in the Sea of Japan, the likely impact zone, observe no launch.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 4 June 1991, p.4.

29 November 1990

A North Korean team led by defense minister, Oh Jin-u, visits Tehran where they meet with senior Iranian officials, including the head of the IRGC, Mohsen Rezai, and the Ayatollah’s son Ahmed Khomeini. The visit culminates in a second series of agreements between the two countries, which is believed to include the purchase of North Korea’s Scud-C missile and the conversion of a missile maintenance facility in eastern Iran into a production facility.

Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12. Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “Iran’s Missile Developments,” in International Missile Bazaar: The New Supplier’s Network, ed., William C. Potter and Harlan W. Jencks, (Boulder, San Francisco and Oxford: Westview Press, 1994), p.57.

December 1990

North Korean technical advisors arrive in Iran to fulfill the 29 November 1990 conversion agreement. Iranian military officials are trained in North Korea to manufacture and launch ballistic missiles.

Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12.

December 1990

North Korea agrees to sell Scud-B and Scud-C missiles to Iraq.

Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12.

December 1990

An Israeli official comments that Syria, using the $2 billion that it received for participation in the 1990-91 Gulf War, has purchased extended-range Scud-C missiles from North Korea as part of a program to acquire advanced weapons systems.

Milavnews, 1 January 1991, pp.22-23.


Full-scale production of the North Korean Scud-C at four to eight units per month is reached.

Joseph Bermudez, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 10 April 1993, pp.20, 22.

Early 1991

Initial prototypes of Nodong-1 are believed to be completed.

Joseph Bermudez, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 10 April 1993, pp.20, 22.

January 1991

Libya is allegedly financing a Syrian purchase of several dozen Scud-C missiles from North Korea.

Defense and Foreign Affairs Weekly, 28 January 1991, p.2.  Milavnews, March 1991, p.23.

January 1991

The ship Al-Yarmouk, co-owned by Jordan and Syria, departs North Korea bound for Syria carrying 24 Scud-C missiles and 20 mobile launchers. The ship sails around the Cape of Good Hope, bypassing the Suez Canal, in order to avoid inspection by Coalition forces.

Gary Milhollin and Gerard White, “Bombs from Beijing,” Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, May 1991, p.12.  Milavnews, May 1991, p.23. Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12.

29 January 1991

The Iranian News Agency (IRNA) announces that “… from 4 February 1991 Iran’s munitions industry will launch the production of its own long-range, powerful ‘surface-to-surface’ missiles.”

Alexander Mozgovoi, Moscow News, 31 March 1991, p.12.

(Note: This production capability is probably a reference to the facilities at Isfahan that assemble missiles from DPRK components)

February 1991

Iraqi deputy foreign minister Saadoun Hamadi flies to Pyongyang in an attempt to speed the delivery of Scud-B and Scud-C missiles. North Korea reneges on the December 1990 deal because Iraq is unable to pay in hard currency or oil.

Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12.

March 1991

Syria contracts for the delivery of more than 150 Scud-C missiles from North Korea worth an estimated $500 million. According to Western intelligence officials, the sale received Saudi Arabia’s prior approval.

Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12.

March 1991

North Korea signs a five-year contract with Iran for the supply of 20,000 barrels of oil per day.

Jane’s Defence Weekly, 8 August 1992, pp.26-27.

13 March 1991

The Al-Yarmouk docks in Latakia, Syria, laden with North Korean missiles; on the same day US Secretary of State James Baker arrives in Damascus to meet with Syrian President Haffez al-Assad for the first time.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 4 June 1991, p.4. Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12.

April 1991

North Korea approaches Anatoliy Rubtsov, a Russian solid-state physicist, at a seminar in Beijing. Rubtsov is paid by the North Korean embassy in Moscow to recruit Russian scientists for work in North Korea.

Yonhap (Seoul), 23 April 1994; in JPRS-TND-94-011, 16 May 1994, pp.51-52.

13 April 1991

South Korea’s defense minister reports that North Korea possesses the Nodong-1 SSM, a modified Scud missile that can reach any target in South Korea.

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Proliferation Watch, March 1991, p.9.

May 1991

US satellites observe the launch of a Scud-C missile from a mobile launcher near Qom in Iran. The missile flies 500 km before impacting south of Shahroud [Emamshahr] in the Salt Desert [Dasht-e Kavir]. The missile was assembled in Iran from components provided by North Korea in a series of shipments tracked by Western intelligence agencies since January 1991. Iran has thus far purchased 170 Scud-C missiles, and is assembling them from “knock-down kits” at the Isfahan facility.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 24 May 1991. Steven Emerson, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 1991, p.A12. Kenneth Timmerman, Mednews, 21 December 1992, p.4-5.

(Note: This test may have been an Iranian test of the missile, a joint Iranian-North Korean test, or an early example of North Korea making use of the larger test areas in Iran, as was later planned for Nodong in October or November of 1993. As to the 170 Scud-C missiles, it is unlikely that all 170 could have been delivered. According to production estimates, North Korea would not have been able to produce that many Scud-Cs by this time.)

May 1991

According to Israeli Ministry of Defense Director-General David Ivry, Syria takes delivery of a shipment of Scud-C missiles from North Korea. The missiles were carried aboard a Yugoslavian freighter.

David Silverberg, Defense News, 17 June 1991, p.4, 42. Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 2 July 1991, p.A4.

May 1991

According to US administration officials, North Korean military officials visit Libya to negotiate the sale of a new 1,000km-range IRBM [Nodong-1] at an estimated unit cost of $7 million. Under the terms of the agreement, Libya is to finance development of the system in exchange for production models and related technology.

Yonhap (Seoul), 3 June 1991; in JPRS-TND-91-009, 24 June 1991, pp.7-8. Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 4 June 1991, p.4.

May 1991

Mid-level North Korean diplomat Ko Yong-hwan defects to South Korea and reports that North Korea has “vast underground plants” for the manufacture of missiles and the testing of nuclear weapons.

Michael Breen, Washington Times, 25 October 1991, p.A11.

31 May 1991

Japan asks North Korea to cease exporting Scud missiles to Syria.

Kyodo (Tokyo), 31 May 1991; in FBIS-ME, 3 June 1991.

31 May 1991

A senior Israeli military official tells reporters that Syria is spending between $200 and $400 million to acquire a brigade of Scud-C missile launchers by 1992, and is also interested in procuring “an indigenous missile production capability.”

R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, 31 May 1991, pp.A12, A26.

(Note: This is probably just a confirmation of the March 1991 deal. Also, while the source only indicates launchers as part of the sale, given the amount of money involved, it is likely that missiles are included as well. A Soviet-style brigade would consist of 12 to 18 launchers.)

Summer 1991

The North Korean ship Mupo departs Namp’o bound for Syria allegedly carrying eight launchers and an additional missile shipment as part of the Syrian order for 150 Scud-C missiles; the first 24 were delivered in March 1991.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 9 November 1991, p.A6. Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 10 December 1991, p.A6. Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 10 March 1992, p.A3.

June 1991

According to Bush administration officials, a large shipment of North Korean Scud-C missiles arrives in Cyprus and is transferred to smaller vessels for transshipment to Syria.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 2 July 1991, p.A4.

June 1991

US intelligence agencies monitor up to 10 Soviet-made Scud-C missiles being delivered to North Korea by rail. US officials believe this may be an attempt to replenish stocks depleted by sales to Syria.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 2 July 1991, p.A4.

(Note: This is unlikely. The USSR refused to deliver Scud-Bs to North Korea in the 1970s. Furthermore, the Soviet Scud-C was never deployed.)

Late June 1991

The BBC investigative television news program “Panorama” reports that a BAe/Arab Organization for Industrialization joint venture, Arab-British Dynamics, is cooperating with North Korea in Egypt to develop and manufacture an extended-range version of the Scud-B. The report also cites unidentified “intelligence sources” as saying that the program is nearing the production stage.

Alan Cowell, New York Times, 5 July 1991, p.A5.

July 1991

According to the head of South Korea’s Agency for National Security Planning, Suh Dong-kwon, North Korea successfully test-fired a mobile Scud-C missile, with a range of 500km, from a Korean Peoples Army (KPA) base in Kangwon Province on the east coast of North Korea; the missile reportedly struck a target in the Sea of Japan. The mobile launch equipment consisted of a launcher, a transport vehicle, and a “lifting device” [crane]. Suh said that it is believed that North Korea is capable of producing its own mobile launcher. He also said that North Korea has stationed 36 Scud-C missiles with its regiment at Sariwon.

Yonhap (Seoul), 4 October 1991; in FBIS-EAS-91-193, 4 October 1991, p.19. Jane’s Defence Weekly, 12 October 1991, p.651. Milavnews, October 1991, p.17.

10 July 1991

According to Iranian exile sources, an Iranian scientific and technical delegation travels to China and North Korea to negotiate an increase in the transfer of nuclear and ballistic missile technologies.

Kenneth R. Timmerman, Wall Street Journal, 24 July 1991, p.A10.

15 July 1991

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense reports to the National Assembly that North Korea has formed its first SSM brigade presumably armed with indigenously produced Scud-C missiles. It also indicates that North Korea has produced more than 1,000 tons of chemical warheads for its missiles.

Yonhap (Seoul), 15 July 1991; in FBIS-EAS-91-135, 15 July 1991, p.23. Milavnews, August 1991, pp.17-18.

(Note: It is quite possible that North Korea produced enough Scud-Cs to both outfit the SSM brigade and fill the Syrian order of January 1991. Depending on when in 1991 full-scale Scud-C production began, North Korea may have been able to outfit the brigade before filling the Syrian order)

25 July 1991

US Undersecretary of State Reginald Bartholomew confirms in testimony before Congressional subcommittees that North Korea has sold Scud missiles to Syria and that “North Korea is emerging more and more as a major supplier of missiles of this type around the world.”

Arms Sale Monitor, July 1991, p.2.

August 1991

Ko Yong-hwan, a mid-level North Korean diplomat and former interpreter for Kim Il-sung who defected in May 1991, identifies underground missile manufacturing plants where nuclear weapons tests are conducted. One is the 18 January Machine Plant in Kagam-ni, Kaechon County, South Pyongan Province. Another is at Mangyongdae, where ground-launched anti-ship missiles are produced.

Seoul Sinmun, 9 October 1991, p.5; in JPRS-TND-91-017, 7 November 1991, pp.8-9. Michael Breen, Washington Times, 25 October 1991, p.A11.

24 August 1991

An unidentified Soviet military specialist, who had worked in North Korea says, “having encountered great difficulties [in their efforts to build an atomic bomb], the North Koreans resolved to primarily emphasize their missile program.”

A. Platkovskiy, Komosomolskaya Pravda (Moscow), 24 August 1991, p.5; in JPRS-TND-91-014, 12 September 1991, pp.24-25.

25 August 1991

A high-ranking intelligence official in South Korea’s Ministry of Defense states that North Korea is expanding its improved Scud missile regiment into a brigade, and has developed and test-fired the Nodong-1 missile. The brigade is reportedly located near Sariwon, 50km from the DMZ, in the IV Corps area. The official also says that North Korea has the capability to produce around 4,500 tons of chemical agent each year.

Tong-A Ilbo (Seoul), 25 August 1991, p.2; in FBIS-EAS-91-165, 26 August 1991, pp.32-33. Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Jane’s Defence Weekly, 10 April 1993, pp.20-22.

September 1991

The Egyptian government-controlled newspaper Al-Ahram reports that North Korea has sold 300 Scud missiles to Iran and 20 Scud missiles to Syria, and that Libya has signed a contract for the purchase of an unspecified number of missiles.

KBS-1 Radio Network (Seoul), 21 September 1991; in JPRS-TND-91-016, 29 October 1991, p.19.

(Note: There is also a report claiming that the 20 Scud missiles were actually delivered to Iran, but this is probably the same delivery)

September 1991

North Korean Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Kim Yong Nam, denies allegations that North Korea has sold missiles to Syria commenting that, “…the DPRK is not in a position to sell missiles, simply because we have no surplus in armaments to sell to the Middle East.”

Mushahid Hussain, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 14 September 1991, p.492.

Late September 1991

According to Israeli intelligence, during a visit by Syrian Chief of Staff General Hikmat Shihabi to Tehran, Syria and Iran finalize an agreement for increased military cooperation, which may be part of Syria’s ongoing efforts to acquire North Korean missile technology. The agreement may result in the Iranian financing of the construction of a SSM joint development and production center in Syria.

Flight International, 16 October 1991, p.15.

Fall 1991

A joint Chinese-North Korean medium-range ballistic missile prototype is reportedly tested at Yinchuan in China.

Seoul Sinmun, 7 December 1991; in Task Force on Terrorism & Unconventional Warfare, House Republican Research Committee, Executive Summary: North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction, by Yossef Bodansky and Vaughn S. Forrest, 11 March 1992, p.7.

October 1991

North Korean President Kim Il-sung visits Beijing to request China’s technical assistance in order to accelerate North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program.

Yonhap (Seoul), 29 October 1991, in Task Force on Terrorism & Unconventional Warfare, House Republican Research Committee, Executive Summary: North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction, by Yossef Bodansky and Vaughn S. Forrest, 11 March 1992, p.7.

October 1991

South Korean Ministry of Defense considers purchasing four Patriot anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) batteries following North Korea’s deployment of 36 Scud-C SSMs within 50km of the DMZ.

Milavnews, October 1991, p.17.

(Note: The deployment is most probably a reference to the SSM brigade mentioned in entry 1991, and possibly to the launch sites mentioned in entry June 1990)

October 1991

Western intelligence sources indicate that North Korea has exported 20 Scud missiles to Iran, some of which have already arrived and are fully assembled. It reports that missiles bound for Syria will arrive in the near future.

KBS-1 Television Network (Seoul), 13 October 1991, in FBIS-EAS-91-199, 15 October 1991, pp.26-27.

1 October 1991

Ha’aretz reports that Iran is going to finance a North Korean Scud-C production facility in Syria for joint production. North Korea is to build the facility.

Herald, 2 October 1991, p.2A.

28 October 1991

A 1991-1992 South Korean defense white paper states that North Korea has the ability to produce approximately 100 Scud-type SSMs annually, and has deployed additional Scuds and their related radar sites.

Ministry of National Defense, Republic of Korea, Defense White Paper 1991-92, p.98. NAVINT, 8 November 1991, p.8. Milavnews, November 1991, pp.13-14.

30 November 1991

According to 32-year-old Ko Chon-song, who defected from North Korea in June 1993, an explosion took place at the Kanggye No.26 General Plant at 2130 hours, killing approximately 200 workers and destroying a number of homes. The plant, the largest such underground facility in North Korea, produced missiles, including the 200km-range Hwasong-1 SAM/AAM.

KSB-1 Radio Network (Seoul), 19 March 1994; in JPRS-TND-94-007, 23 March 1994, pp.2-3.

December 1991

The North Korean ship Mupo returns to the port of Namp’o reportedly without delivering its cargo of missiles for Syria. The Mupo followed a circuitous route similar to that of the Al-Yarmouk out of fear of Israeli interception. However, there is some speculation that the Mupo’s cargo was transferred to another freighter at Gibraltar to complete its voyage to Tartus, Syria.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 9 November 1991, p.A6. Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 10 December 1991, p.A6.

14 December 1991

German intelligence service head Konrad Porzner tells Jane’s Defence Weekly that North Korea not only sells Scud missiles to other countries, but also assists in extending the range of these missiles and establishing production facilities for them.

Heinz Schulte, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 14 December 1991, p.1134.

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