Why North Korea Decreases Missile Testing During Winter Months

Mr. Shea Cotton who is a research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies noticed something that North Korea watchers have known for a long time, missile testing tends to slow in the winter:

Tuesday, November 14 marked 60 days since North Korea’s most recent missile test. Earlier this year, between March and May, North Korea was launching an average of one missile every two weeks. Now after about two months, the silence seems deafening.

Can we credit the slow down to America’s policies working? Was there a diplomatic breakthrough with the regime? Or has Kim Jong Un seen the error of his ways and is abandoning or backtracking on his missile program? Probably not.

Instead, this is likely part of an annual slowdown in testing we’ve observed now in North Korea for several years.

A look back at missile testing in North Korea under Kim Jong Un demonstrates the trend. The table below depicts a quarterly breakdown of North Korea’s nuclear capable missile tests since 2012.

A few things are clear from this. First, Kim Jong Un stepped on the gas pedal in 2014. In fact, Kim Jong Un has carried out more tests than his father and grandfather combined. Second, and more important to this topic, North Korea slows things down in the fourth quarter of every year. On average, we see about an 80% drop in tests from Q3 to Q4. Every so often North Korea will conduct a test in Q4, but that number is only a small fraction compared to past quarters.

Harvest season

But what then, explains this consistent drop? While difficult to say for sure, the most likely explanation we have is that North Korea’s resources are tied up in the harvest.  [Forbes]

You can read more at the link, but the priority on the annual harvest is part of the reason for the decrease in missile testing, there are a few other reasons as well.

Mr. Cotton in his article says the trend analysis shows that testing will pick up again in February.  February just so happens to be the lead to the annual Key Resolve military exercise.  Every year Key Resolve starts tends to start an annual provocation cycle with North Korea then the UFG exercises tends to be when the provocation cycle slows down.  For example this year the last missile test occurred on September 14th; the annual UFG military exercise concluded in early September.

There are other reasons as well, but the long gap between major US-ROK military exercises, the annual harvest, the winter training cycle for the North Korean military, as well as poor weather all play into the decrease in missile testing.



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


  1. Forget about quarterly charts and just remember this: since the first missile launch in 1984, there have been only two missiles launched from October through January.

  2. “the priority on the annual harvest is part of the reason for the decrease in missile testing”

    Wait so you’re saying that in the DPRK they have all the engineers, scientists, mathematicians, etc. all stop what their doing to go pick wheat? DPRK’s weird but even that notion’s a bit out there… razz

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