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North Korean Missile Found With Japanese Company Marks on Parts

A UK group says parts from Europe, the US and Japan were found in North Korean missile debris recovered after Russia fired the warheads into Ukraine.

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Parts recovered from North Korean missile debris. (Provided by CAR)

A North Korean missile, deployed by the Russian military in its ongoing invasion recently landed in Ukraine. British investigative group Conflict Armament Research (CAR) analyzed the missile's debris.

The missile struck a building in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, in January 2024. Russian forces had targeted the building in one of their attacks. Because the rocket did not fully explode, the Ukrainian military was able to recover its remnants. 

According to Reuters on May 7, Ukrainian prosecutors revealed that the debris recovered from 21 out of roughly 50 North Korean missiles had been examined. Russian forces launched these missiles between December 2023 and February 2024. Nearly half veered off course and detonated in mid-air, rendering recovery efforts futile.

Leading the investigation is Damien Spleeters. He is the Director of Expeditionary Operations for Conflict Armament Research, which takes the lead in weapon weapon investigations in conflict zones. In an interview with The Sankei Shimbun, Spleeters disclosed the discovery of fragments bearing Japanese company marks among the wreckage.

Excerpts from the interview follow: 

Damian Spleeters (Provided by Mr Spleeters)

Is this missile a Hwasong 11?

Based on the analysis of photos and data, it appears that the missile was a North Korean Hwasong 11 ballistic missile. It was either a Hwasong 11a (KN-23) or 11b (KN-24). We only have access to parts of the rocket, so it is difficult to determine conclusively. The number 112 was stamped on several parts of the shell. 112 corresponds to the North Korean calendar year Juche 112, the year 2023 in the Gregorian calendar. This suggests Pyongyang assembled it last year and has been supplying Russia with new weapons.

How big was the missile?

At 110 centimeters, it's larger than the Russian Iskander missile, which is around 95 centimeters in diameter. Additionally, the motor section alone measured close to two meters in length.

What can you tell us about the components you discovered?

Approximately 290 electronic components were recovered from the debris, with a significant portion being semiconductors and other chips. We used this information in our investigation.

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Number 112 written on parts of North Korean missile. (Provided by CAR)

Counterfeit parts were also discovered, which could have hindered the missile's complete detonation. Based on company marks, we've identified 26 manufacturers. These companies are located across eight countries and regions, including Japan, the United States, China, Taiwan, Switzerland, and Germany.

If the product is authentic, we work with the company concerned to determine its distribution channels and how North Korea accessed these components. However, we do not disclose the names of the companies involved.

North Korea has managed to circumvent UN Security Council sanctions and establish a network to acquire necessary components from the US and Europe. However, this also means its missile production is reliant on foreign technology. We're investigating whether components from Japanese companies are counterfeit and have notified the Japanese government.

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Mina Mitsui