Alexander Nemets
An economist, analyst and expert on China and its relations with Russia
Summarizing 2017 North Korean “nuclear-missile achievements”

General consideration

The entire North Korean “rocket-nuclear scientific &production system” consists of the following elements (according to the data which I managed to assemble from many sources):

– Several thousand units of modern Chinese metal-processing equipment (machine tools etc., are mostly obtained through “underground channels”, generally, without Beijing’s knowledge).

– Serving these machines are the mechanics that have basic qualification (very poorly paid, half-starved) as well as several hundred researchers, engineers, and technologists, also of average quality and poorly paid.

– Some amount of gas-diffusion centrifuges for the production of enriched uranium (but, evidently, not weapons-grade plutonium, which is necessary to manufacture a compact “light” warhead).

This “scientific-production system” appeared to be PHYSICALLY INCAPABLE of creating independently even a “perfect” Musudan (Hwasong-10) ballistic missile with a combat range of 4000 kilometers (2500 miles). Seven Musudan launches failed out of eight total, according to the information available. Let’s take a look – North Korea has been engaged in Musudan development (reverse engineering of the Soviet R-27 missile) for 27 years, starting in 1989. And all it has to show for it is such a bleak outcome, which by itself provides a perfect estimation of North Korean “rocket-nuclear scientific & production system” with real (very low) capabilities!

In 2017, North Korea successfully tested Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14, and Hwasong-15 ballistic missiles with higher capabilities than Hwasong-10. And I have no doubts that these three missiles are built from spare parts and even blocks received from “outer space.” Specifically, where did they come from?

Definitely, they did not come from China. The “divorce process” between China and North Korea continued for many more years and was over by the end of 2016. China is very tired of North Korea’s tricks and, for sure, has nothing in common with Pyongyang adventurism.

Could the source be Ukraine? August 15 -17, 2017, directly after publishing the “notorious article” in New York Times on August 14, Ukrainian leaders and space-missile expert proposed to the West to inspect the Ukrainian plants and design bureaus in any possible way, so no suspicion would remain regarding the alleged “ties” between Kiev and Pyongyang.

Could the technology have come from Iran? Iran would have given these technologies to North Korea, however, Iran itself has nothing beyond ballistic missiles with a combat range between 2500 km to 3000 km. By the way, they have been developed with the use of North Korean and Russian technology.

Maybe, North Korea merely stole the key technologies for the new ballistic missiles? Indeed, during the last 20 years, North Korea managed to steal a lot for the purpose of Musudan missile development. Still, in practical terms, these thefts did not advance this project. And it would be silly to consider these thefts a serious factor in the framework of new missiles development projects.

The unavoidable conclusion is as follows: Russia, the only major ally of Pyongyang in “outer world”, providing systematic, persistent and comprehensive assistance to North Korea in the framework of the development of Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14, and Hwasong-15 missiles. And this became the decisive factor.

Let’s consider the entire situation in “digital way”. Let’s take “technological difficulty” related to the development of a “perfect Musudan” missile as 100. Then it appears that North Korea’s “missile scientific and production system” completed somewhat 90% of required work and, consequently, was capable, by 2017, of accomplishing projects with “technological difficulty (later TD) of ~90.

Hwasong-12 has a combat range of 5000 km, 25% greater than Hwasong-10 (Musudan), so its TD can be estimated as ~125.

Hwasong-14 has a more sophisticated engine in its first stage (instead of one-stage Hwasong-10 and Hwasong-12) and a second stage, namely, Hwasong-13 missile. Above all, Hwasong-12 has a combat range of 10,000 km. And it is possible to estimate Hwasong-14 TD as at least 300.

Finally, Hwasong-15 is more sophisticated than the Hwasong-14 missile, has two engines inside its first stage and its combat range is as great as 15,000 km. So, it is possible to estimate Hwasong-14 TD as at least 500.

Eventually, it is necessary to recognize that “foreign side” (namely, Russian side) accomplished at least 80% of necessary work in Hwasong-15 R&D and production. That’s it.


Estimations of three renowned experts on August 11-14

Let’s start with a quote from a statement by a top-rank German missile scientist Dr. Robert Scmucker on August 9, for Deutsche Welle (German Wave) channel. (, 08.09.17) (“Who provided Hwasong-14 technology for North Korea?”  Interview with Mikhail Bushuyev; translation from German, abbreviated):

“The vast majority (of North Korean missiles) are old Russian rockets that have a specific (Russian/Soviet) technology. The new rockets (North Korean) that have been launched in the past twelve to 14 months have completely new technology. But we see engines that are clearly Russian engines. The connection to Russia is not only about the early Russian missiles, but also about the current ones, at least for the engines. North Korea has presented seven different rockets in the past 14 months. How is that possible? The effort for seven different rockets requires seven different project teams, manufacturing equipment for the different caliber rockets, different materials, fuels, materials, and sizes. There is an infinite number of tools, machines, and regulations needed. It’s a huge hassle to do it all in parallel and then succeed at the first shot. Nobody has done that yet unless the rocket came from somewhere else…”

In short, all the technologies for Hwasong-12, Hwasong-15 and several more new “North Korean” missiles are from Russia, and the necessary funding for their R&D and production is from Russia as well. I and Dr.Schnucker came to the same conclusion.

Then came the article in “Bulletin of atomic scientists” published by Dr.Schnucker, his colleague and employee of “Schmucker Technologie Co.” Marcus Shiller and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Professor Emeritus Theodore Postol. All three (and probably Dr.Shiller also) are ‘superstars’ in both missile and nuclear technologies.

“The newest Russian rocket motor we have identified in North Korean arsenal, derived from the RD-250/251 and used in (Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 missiles, is not from Russian) Makeyev Design Bureau, but from an entirely different major rocket motor manufacturer, NPO Energomash, which supported the OKB-456 Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. This rocket motor was associated with rocket and space launch vehicles produced in Ukraine. The presence of RD-250/251 rocket components in a new North Korean rocket raises new and potentially ominous questions…”

Finally, on August 14, Dr.Michael Elleman published his report on new North Korean ballistic missiles for London based IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies). The report claimed that for sure Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 used engines RD-250/251 or their close modifications, which North Korea obtained from Russia or Ukraine.

So, based only on these three very important publications, it was possible to conclude that Pyongyang got missile engines and other key technologies (blocks) for Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 from Russia (with 90% probability) or from Ukraine (with 10% probability) and from nowhere else. So, let’s forget about the “independent development” of these missiles.

However, after energetic rebuke by Ukraine leaders and experts after the publication of the notorious article in New York Times on August 14, the probability of “Ukraine source” fell to somewhat 1%, while the probability of “Russian source” increased to ~99%. Simultaneously it became understandable that the publishing of a New York Times article was…sophisticated Moscow provocation (its authors should answer several unpleasant questions).  And expert Elleman himself had to give up his claim regarding “Ukrainian track in recent North Korean missile achievements”.

The nature and, partly, mechanism of this provocation is revealed in the article “ Ukraine Provide Rocket Engines to North Korea For Its Nuclear Missile Program?”  By Nolan Peterson.


Latest developments

On November 29 North Korea successfully launched its newest missile Hwasong-15. Almost instantly, Michael Elleman published his new comment. The essence of this comment is as follows: “No doubts, major technologies and blocks of Hwasong-15 came from abroad. And this missile is extremely dangerous for USA.”

A little bit later, in December 2017, the New York Times published a new big article on North Korean missiles: “North Korean Leader’s Heroes: His Rocket Scientists”. The authors of this article had nothing to do with two authors of notorious publication on August 14, 2017. The most remarkable here was the quote of Professor Postol statement:

“North Korea had this fantastic record (in 2017) for flying rockets the first time and having them succeed. We think it’s because they had rocket motors and their designs that were basically Russian designs, and they had the expertise of Russian engineers who knew how to solve the problems.”

That’s enough, I think. If one was to use these two last publications as a basis, only one possible conclusion is left: Moscow provided everything, including money, for the success of Hwasong-12, Hwassong-14, and Hwasong-15 missiles.

But maybe even these statements and facts are not entirely convincing? Then look at all these North Korea supporting statements and actions of Vladimir Putin and his close retinue (for example, speaker of “Russian Senate” Valentina Matvienko) during the second half of 2017.



On October 25, 2017, a commission of Josh Gottheimer and Francis Rooney started working in U.S. House of Representatives. The goal of this Commission is to find “the foreign sources” of North Korean “missile-nuclear achievements”.

According to the author’s humble opinion, the Commission should ASAP get an inquiry from three experts mentioned above: Robert Schmucker, Michael Elleman, and Theodore Postol. The author himself is eager to make a statement before the Commission.

And it is necessary to do it swiftly, before February 2, 2018, when Congress intends to initiate the package of new, very strict financial sanctions against Putin and his oligarchs. It is probable that Moscow and Pyongyang are preparing a new very dangerous provocation.