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Reports of Cyberwar against N. Korean Ballistic Missiles are Likely False

April 15, 2017 13 comments

Many of you might have, by now, come across “news” which suggests that the frequent failure of N. Korean ballistic missiles is somehow due to some elaborate “cyberwarfare” by USA. I am sure you must have seen mouth-breathing idiots.. I mean american patriots.. repeat that bullshit because they heard if from some MSM or some ‘alt-media’ shill.. I mean “reliable news sources”. Anyway, the point of this post is to explain why that idea reeks of propaganda and delusion.

But let us be clear about a few things first. It is no secret that N. Korean missiles, either fired by them or in the 1990s by Pakistan, always had a rather high rate of failure. However the reasons behind this rather high rate of failure is immediately obvious to somebody who has read about the general history of developing ballistic missiles and space launch systems. Long story short- it comes down to the choice of fuels.

N. Korean missiles have been traditionally powered by pretty dangerous (but effective) mixtures of old-style hypergolic liquid propellants. Since N. Korean missiles trace their ancestry to Scud missiles, they have traditionally used the same fuel mixture- namely, kerosene and corrosion inhibited red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA) with UDMH aka unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine as the liquid igniter. Once again, to make a long story short- this particular old-style hypergolic mixture does not scale up well for larger and longer-burning rocket motors

Apart from Russia and to some extent China, nobody has been able to mass produce relatively safe ballistic missiles which use hypergolic fuels of any kind. In fact, the rate of success of early american ICBMS using hypergolic fuels in the 1950s and early 1960s was pretty dismal. While it is possible to build pretty reliable space launch systems using more modern hypergolic fuel combinations, making scores of reliable ballistic missiles which use them requires a lot more experience.

That is why the majority of non-Russian (and now even Russian) ICBMS use solid propellants for their first and frequently also the second stage motors.

Returning back to the subject of ballistic missile control and guidance, let us be clear about a few basics. Firstly, the main guidance systems of such missiles is always internal and almost always based on some form of astro-intertial guidance. In case you are interested about the history of the non-computational side of guidance hardware, here is a link: The Soviet Union and Strategic Missile Guidance. Secondly, the computational part of such systems is quite simple and can be built without using integrated circuits, let alone CPUs.

For example, one of first electronic guidance computers for american ICBMS, known as the D-17B, contained 1,521 transistors, 6,282 diodes, 1,116 capacitors, and 504 resistors. Some of the older Russian designs for flight guidance computers on such missiles even used special rugged vacuum tubes instead of transistors. To put it another way, the flight control and guidance systems of ballistic missiles can be made of very rugged and simple electronic components, especially if you do not require a very high degree of targeting accuracy.

It is basically impossible to remotely “hack” a simple, hard-wired and hard-programmed control and guidance computer in which every discrete component can be repeatedly tested with a multi-meter and oscilloscope.

Furthermore, N. Korea is a pretty paranoid and conservative country. Therefore it is almost certain that they use somewhat primitive but extremely reliable indigenous designs. In any case, they seem to be aiming for targeting accuracy that is between 0.5-1% of distance covered- which is within the reach of such systems. It is therefore my opinion that the frequent malfunctions of longer range N. Korean ballistic missiles are largely due to their inability to scale up an obsolete hypergolic rocket engine technology.

Those problems will however go away once they are successful at building large solid fueled rocket engines. Some of you might know that they have already transitioned away from older hypergolic fuels for their newer short-range (upto 1,000 km) missiles. It is only a matter of time before they do so for their longer-range missiles. If things go the way they are going now, it is possible that they might be able to successfully test and start deploying such missiles in the next 2 years.

What do you think? Comments?