Report on North Korea's Missile Launch on December 12th, 2012

January 25, 2013
Ministry of Defense

1. Background

On 1 December 2012, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the statement by the Spokesman of the Korean Committee of Space Technology (KCST), saying to the effect that the space launch vehicle (SLV) Unha 3 carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong 3-2 would be launched between 10 and 22 December.1 On 3 December, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) noticed danger areas announced by North Korea, etc. to concerned countries including Japan.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) has strengthened the posture of intelligence and surveillance. On 7 December, in preparation for any contingency, the Defense Minister issued an order concerning the measures to destroy ballistic missiles or other objects as stipulated under Article 82-3, Paragraph 3 of the SDF law and took necessary measures such as deploying SM-3 equipped Aegis destroyers and Patriot PAC-3 units. When North Korea launched a missile which it called "Satellite" on 12 December, the MOD has provided information concerning the launch with the Prime Minister's Office (the Crisis Management Center) immediately after obtaining it.

  • 1: On 10 December, KCNA reported the statement by the Spokesman of the KCST, saying to the effect that a technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the SLV was found and decided to extend the satellite launch period up to 29 December. On the same day, the IMO also noticed concerned countries including Japan that it had received similar notification from North Korea.

2. Assessment

Making a comprehensive assessment and study of the information the MOD has obtained to the day, a factual account of the launch is summed up as the follows.2

  • 2: See Annex 1 and 2

(1) Trajectory

It is judged that at approximately 0949 on 12 December 2012 (Japan time. The same shall apply hereinafter), North Korea launched a missile from the Tongh'ang-ri area, located in northwestern coastal region, toward south.3

It is estimated that at approximately 0958, the possible first stage propelling device has impacted in the Yellow Sea, approximately 460 kilometers away from the Tongh'ang-ri area, within the danger area North Korea had announced.

It is estimated that between approximately 0959 and approximately 1001, the possible second stage propelling device and the object including the possible third stage propelling device flew over Japanese territory toward the Pacific Ocean, at an altitude of approximately 430 kilometers and 500 kilometers each. We have not detected any fallen objects impacted on the Japanese territory.

It is estimated that at approximately 1003, possible fairing from the nose section of the missile has impacted in the East China Sea, approximately 690 kilometers away from the Tongh'ang-ri area, within the danger area North Korea had announced.

It is estimated that at approximately 1009, the possible second stage propelling device has impacted in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,600 kilometers away from the Tongh'ang-ri area, within the danger area North Korea had announced.

It is estimated that the object including the possible third stage propelling device has continued flight following a generally flat-shaped trajectory4 while changing the trajectory, and then, put an object into orbit around the earth.

  • 3: On 12 December, KCNA reported that the space launch vehicle Unha-3 was launched at 09:49:46 of that day.
  • 4: Generally speaking, there is a difference in trajectories of ballistic missiles and those of SLVs: a ballistic missile has a parabolic trajectory and guides warheads to the objective points, whereas an SLV has a flat-shaped trajectory after reaching a certain altitude and puts satellites into orbit by giving them a certain speed.

(2) An object which North Korea calls "satellite"

North Korea announced after the launch that it had successfully put an "artificial earth5 satellite" into orbit around the earth. With regard to this,

  • ① It has been confirmed that the object that North Korea has allegedly launched is orbiting the earth with an inclination of approximately 97 degrees.6
  • ② Any communication or transmission of signals between the object and the ground has not been confirmed.

Judging from above, it is estimated that North Korea has put an object into orbit around the earth with an inclination of approximately 97 degrees, but it is not assessed that the object actually functions as an artificial satellite.

  • 5: The KCNA report on 12 December 2012 claims that: "at 09:59:13 (9 minutes and 27 seconds after the launch), Kwangmyongsong 3-2 was successfully put into an orbit;" and "Kwangmyongsong 3-2 operates in a polar orbit of 499.7 kilometer in perigee and 584 kilometer in apogee, with inclination of 97.4 degrees. Its orbit period is 95 minutes 29 seconds."
  • 6: According to USSTRATCOM, Kwangmyongsong 3-2 is orbiting with an inclination of 97.4 degrees, 498 kilometer in perigee and 581 kilometer in apogee. Its orbit period is 95 minutes 43 seconds. (As of 22 January 2013)

(3) North Korea's ballistic missiles

Launching ballistic missiles and SLVs require the same technologies in common such as those for control of large-size propelling devices, separation of multi-stage propelling devices, and attitude and guidance control. Therefore, we assess that North Korea was able to demonstrate these technical challenges that have to be met for the improvement of its ballistic missile capabilities through the launch.

A. The shape and the kind of the missile launched by North Korea

North Korea announced that it had launched a three-stage SLV this time.7 Considering the status of its ballistic missile development and the way the missile flew this time, we judge that what North Korea launched this time was a three-stage TD-2 variant.8 We estimate that it is approximately thirty-meter long,9 consisting of the approximately fifteen-meter first stage, the approximately eight-meter second stage, and the approximately seven-meter third stage.

We also estimate that it uses four engines, each of which was developed based on technologies of Nodong, in a cluster in the first stage, and the same type of engine in the second stage.

B. Status of North Korean missile technology development

At the launch this time, it is estimated that the possible first and second propelling devices were separated and that both of which have impacted in the danger areas North Korea had announced. It is also estimated that the object including the possible third stage propelling device has continued flight after the separation while changing the trajectory. These estimates show that North Korea has been making progress in technologies mentioned in the first part of (3).

North Korea launched the TD-2 variant this time, which it called a "satellite launch". We assess that, based on technologies that it verified through the launches this time and in the past, North Korea could develop a long-range ballistic missile whose range is more than approximately 10,000km (assuming the payload weight is less than approximately one ton), though it has not yet been clear about some of related technologies. That assessment shows that North Korea has been making progress in its longer-range ballistic missile capability.10

The fact that North Korea has been able to promote its ballistic missile development rapidly without conducting so many test launches suggests the possible transfer of related resources and technologies into North Korea from outside. It is also pointed out that North Korea is advancing missile development with financial resources it gains by transferring and proliferating its ballistic missiles and missile-related technologies11 and that North Korea is taking advantage of data acquired through test launches conducted in countries to which it exports ballistic missiles.

C. Challenges North Korea will face in bringing its long-range missile to the stage of practical use

In order to bring its long-range missile to the stage of practical use, North Korea would seek such technologies as those for protecting a payload from high temperature when it reenters into the atmosphere from higher altitude with high velocity, those for precision guidance, and those for building underground launch sites and silos, which enhance survivability of missiles.

Given that North Korea has claimed that it will continue to conduct "satellite launches" and will develop and launch more capable SLVs, it is possible that North Korea is aiming to gain more advanced technology and to enhance reliability of its missile technology by increasing the number of launches.12 It is highly possible that North Korea will further develop its long-range ballistic missiles in this way.

  • 7: On 13 December 2012, KCNA reported that a three-stage SLV Unha-3 had separated successfully.
  • 8: We have estimated that the TD-2 was a two-stage missile whose range was approximately 6,000km and an example of its variants could be a three-stage one which was developed by installing a booster on the top of a two-stage missile.
  • 9: North Korea calls the missile it launched this time Unha-3, and it was reported in April 2012 that the chief of the launch site said Unha-3 was thirty-meter long.
  • 10: TD-1 flew over approximately 1,600km in the launch in 1998. In the launch of a TD-2 or its variant in 2009, after the first stage separation, remaining stages flew over approximately 3,000km.
  • 11: TD-1 flew over approximately 1,600km in the launch in 1998. In the launch of a TD-2 or its variant in 2009, after the first stage separation, remaining stages flew over approximately 3,000km.
  • 12: According to Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and others, North Korea has space-related plans such as the "National Space Development Plan" and the "National Space Development Prospective Plan," and it would continue to launch various types of satellites including geostationary ones. In addition, KCNA reported on 21 December 2012 that Kim Jong-un, the First Chairman of the National Defense Commission, made a statement to the effect that North Korea should develop and launch more varieties of satellites and more capable SLVs.

3. Possible impact on the security of Japan, etc.

We assess that North Korea's ballistic missile development enters a new phase by the launch this time.

It is believed that test launch of long-range ballistic missiles can contribute to the development of shorter-range missiles in such ways as increasing the range and payload capability and improving the CEP. Therefore, the launch may lead to the improvement of other types of its ballistic missiles including Nodong. Such North Korean reinforcement of its ballistic missile capability is, when considering with the possibility that it has already made considerable progress in its nuclear weapons program, a serious problem which could increase threats to the security of Japan.

In addition, the progress of North Korea's long-range ballistic missile development itself is, though it has not yet been clear about some of related technologies, a serious concern not only to the security of the Asia-Pacific region but also widely to that of the international society.

Furthermore, with the advancement of North Korea's ballistic missile development, there is increasing concern of additional transfer and proliferation of ballistic missiles or related technologies.

The launch of this time shows that North Korea's ballistic missile issue has become more realistic and imminent from the perspective of both the improvement of the capability such as the increase of the range and CEP improvement, and the transfer and proliferation of relevant technologies. Also, it is obvious that the launch is the violation of relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions including UNSCR 1874, which prohibits North Korea from any launch using ballistic missile technologies. To that issue, we will seek to collect and analyze related information and take the all possible measures to protect Japan's peace and security, cooperating with the international society including the United States and other concerned countries.

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