North Korean missile failure in the Ukraine war explains why Iranian missiles failed during the attacks on Israel

A man stands next to the apparent remains of a ballistic missile, as it lies in the desert near the Dead Sea, following a massive missile and drone attack by Iran on Israel, in southern Israel April 21, 2024 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Russia has been deploying North Korean-developed short-range ballistic missiles on the battlefields of Ukraine that are showing a remarkably high failure rate, according to Ukrainian officials.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office said it had recovered and analyzed the debris from 21 out of approximately 50 North Korean missiles launched between late December 2023 and February 2024.

The findings reveal that around 90% of these missiles failed to reach their intended targets.

“About half of the North Korean missiles lost their programmed trajectories and exploded in the air; in such cases, the debris was not recovered,” Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Andriy Kostin, told the Reuters news agency last week.

The KN-23 and KN-24 solid-fuel ballistic missiles, officially known as the Hwasong-11, have reportedly been deployed by Russia since December 2023, first used during the shelling in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhzhia region. The missiles were also said to be deployed in attacks on Kyiv in early February.

Those attacks have resulted in at least 24 civilian deaths and over 100 injuries, according to Ukrainian officials. The toll could have been even higher if the missiles had been more precise, according to Kostin’s office.

The 50 or so missiles were launched from multiple sites, including in Russia’s western regions of Belgorod, Voronezh and Kursk.

About KN-23 Missile

As far as its structure is concerned, the UN data describe the KN-23 as a clone of the Russian SS-26E Iskander (with a similar diameter, length and propellant mass). The two missiles are undeniably very similar in their design, proportions and general aerodynamic characteristics. A number of other details are also comparable, in particular the components used for attitude control (control fins and jet deflectors) and launch procedure.106 Finally, the TELs used also seem very similar.

Both North Korea and Iran, Scud system modernisation is usually based on the Scud C, demonstrating that the system retains an essential role owing to its range. In both countries, the modifications concern the guidance and navigation systems (Qiam and Qiam 2 in Iran, KN-18 and KN-21 in North Korea), highlighting the desire of these states to rely on the range of these systems but to broaden the spectrum of targets they can engage.

However, the prominence of the Scud C does not mean that shorter-range weapons have no specific
role to play. North Korea’s interest in such systems can be seen in the KN-02 test campaign – 20 tests
conducted between 2013 and 2015 – and in the very substantial KN-25 test campaign in 2019–2020,
discussed in Part 4.3 of this study.

CEP issues with North Korean missile

The KN-23 appears to be a relatively heavy modification of the short-range scud acquired from Russia.
Initially, the increase in range from the basic 170km to the first version of the KN-23, with a
range of 400 km, could have been the result of a reduction of the payload (162 kg of explosive or 372
kg of submunitions), implying slight modifications to the missile.

The range extension to 400 km cannot result from payload reduction alone. The possibility that the missile has larger dimensions than the initial version of the KN-23 cannot be excluded. It should also be assumed that North Korea lacks modern Inertial navigation systems and uses only rudimentary gyroscopic and terminal guidance systems. North Korea and Iran never used the erroneous GLONASS guidance system.

This is the primary reason North Korean and Iranian missiles have high CEP (a CEP of 500m for a range of 400 km), while combining a high CEP and a relatively light payload considerably limits the weapon’s utility at maximum range.

GLONASS guidance issues

The Russian Air Force’s operates Soviet-vintage MiG-29, Su-30SM, MiG-31BM and Su-35 fighter jets remain badly outranged by the radars and weapons of modern Western fighters.

Russia managed to shoot down its own Su-35 and Su-34 fighter bombers. The lack of identification of friend-or-foe and datalink were two primary reasons the Russian air force did not operate in formation and within occupied territories of Ukraine. The Russian military lacks networking and a common datalink amongst forces, creating communication barriers for multi-domain operations in the Ukraine war.

Captured Russian pilot Andrey Fedorchukov told Ukrainian officials that the Russian Air Force distributed Garmin GPS and Pronebo mobile app to navigate in Ukraine because of the poor quality of Russia’s inaccurate GLONASS guidance system.

Garmin GPS is tapped on the cockpit. An exact model of the hand-held Garmin GPS is on the right side.

Russia used older generation Su-24 and Su-25 in Syria and Ukraine because the newly built Su-35 lacks precision strike capability due to an erroneous GLONASS guidance system.

Exploded in the air

The KN-23 has an estimated range of 280 to 370 miles, enabling North Korea to target locations inside South Korea and potentially parts of Japan. The missile can carry a conventional or nuclear warhead with a payload capacity of about 1,100 to 2,200 pounds.

While the KN-23’s design includes advanced maneuverability, questions remain about its precision. The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) notes that the missile’s quasi-ballistic trajectory and maneuverable fins complicate interception by missile defense systems. But the sophistication of its guidance systems for precise targeting remains uncertain.

This lack of precision has been confirmed by the Ukrainians. “Out of 24 missiles fired, we know of two relatively accurate hits: the Kremenchuk oil refinery and the technical premises of the Kanatove airfield. The rest either exploded in the air or hit residential areas in Kharkiv,” Kostin said in February.

The deployment of North Korean-made ballistic missiles in Ukraine has raised significant worries about the level of military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang. Some experts suggest these missiles may have been developed with Kremlin assistance, given their similarities to the Russian Iskander-M.

Now, there are growing concerns that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with an assist from Vladimir Putin, is using the conflict in Ukraine as a testing ground for his own arsenal. In an attempt to clarify the extent of that cooperation, Kostin told Reuters his office is still investigating how closely the North Koreans have been monitoring the use of the missiles on the battlefields of eastern Ukraine.

Iranian missile failure

Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles towards Israel, the Israeli military said on Sunday. Most missiles were either intercepted or failed to hit the intended targets.

The attack included 170 drones and 30 cruise missiles, none of which entered Israeli territory, and at least 110 ballistic missiles, of which a small number reached Israel, military spokesman Rear Adm Daniel Hagari said in a televised statement. The BBC has not independently verified those figures.

The shortest distance from Iran to Israel is about 1,000km (620 miles) across Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

ver five hours of missile and drone strikes on Saturday night, Iran launched an attack on Israel unlike anything the world has seen. 

A man stands next to the apparent remains of a ballistic missile, as it lies in the desert near the Dead Sea, following a massive missile and drone attack by Iran on Israel, in southern Israel April 21, 2024
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

The skies were alight, sirens blared and fighter jets roared as waves of strikes were launched towards Israeli territory.

But despite more than 300 munitions being fired in Iran’s unprecedented blitz, Israel says more than “99 per cent” were intercepted. 

The minimal damage was being attributed to Israel’s multi-layered defence systems and a “coalition” of allies that came together for the first time to counter Tehran’s attack.

Analysts say it’s unlikely any other country could have withstood such an onslaught, and the attack is a lesson in how to prepare for future conflicts. 

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