Delivery Systems

Hinge Points: An Inside Look at North Korea’s Nuclear Program

Heading text Part3: Delivery Systems with missile on a tel in a warehouse with officials

Delivery Systems

Nuclear bombs and warheads must also be integrated into delivery vehicles. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki fission bombs were delivered by B-29 bombers, appropriately modified to carry the first atomic bombs. The most common delivery systems today are missiles, be they either land-based or sea-based on submarines. Of North Korea’s aircraft options, the Russian Iliushin-28, its Chinese version, the H-5, or the Russian MiG-23 could possibly be configured to carry nuclear warheads, but all indications are that Pyongyang decided on missiles early on.

Longer range rockets can be used for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Solid-fueled rocket motors are preferred for nuclear-tipped missiles because they can be prepared for launch much more rapidly than liquid-fueled rockets (commonly used for space launches). Solid-fueled rockets are also more readily obscured. In addition, they can be launched from road-mobile transporter erector launchers (TELs) or from submarines. Intermediate and long-range nuclear-tipped missiles require greatly miniaturized nuclear warheads that are sufficiently robust to survive the entire flight trajectory of launch, space flight, and atmospheric reentry. The final integration for nuclear warheads is the command-and-control structure that links the military to the country’s leadership.

The missile capabilities and tests of North Korea are described in publications of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ and the Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ North Korea Missile Test Data Base. [1] Over the years, KCNA released numerous photos and videos of North Korea’s missiles and missile tests. In November 2017, it released the photo shown in Figure 6 of Kim Jong Un inspecting the Hwasong-15 ICBM on a TEL.

Missile on a Tel in a warehouse with officials

Figure 6. Kim Jong Un with Hwasong-15 ICBM that Nort Korea claimed to be able to reach most of the U.S. mainland – November 2017 (KCNA).


[1] Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2021.

The CNS North Korea Missile Test Data Base

Comments Are Closed