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Armored Cars: North Korean Protected 4×4

September 18, 2018

Is the absence of thicker door windows a design flaw? Wheeled combat vehicles today usually have multilayered laminated glass inserts bolted on their doors to stop large caliber rounds.

On September 9 a splendid military parade was held in the North Korean capital to commemorate the nation’s founding 70 years ago. While news agencies heralded the absence of ballistic missiles during the spectacle there wasn’t much attention paid to the vehicles that rolled past Kim Jong Un and his generals. One particular model that wasn’t scrutinized at all is an armored 4×4 used to inspect the infantry squares before they marched.

For decades North Korea’s parades imitated their Soviet forebears where the army’s highest ranking general addressed the soldiers standing at attention. This used to be done on a UAZ jeep. But this year North Korea deployed a unique light truck whose proportions are better suited for combat.

A rule of thumb for armored 4x4s is the heavier the vehicle, the higher its ground clearance because the suspension must be strong enough to support the hull’s additional tonnage. High ground clearance is also essential for off-road travel and this explains why North Korea’s armored 4×4 has steps underneath the side doors of the cab. Both traits–armor and ground clearance–suggest this model isn’t restricted to ceremonial use. Anyone tempted to label it a “Humvee” is mistaken, however, since the Snatch Land Rover or the Mercedes Benz Enok are better comparisons. In fact, photos of North Korean derivatives of Land Rover-type 4x4s can be found online and the state-owned automotive sector does assemble jeeps.

In 2015 a travel vlogger discovered a North Korean car dealership that sold several commercial models, including a jeep-type 4×4 in olive green.

During the September 9 parade two of these vehicles appeared and they drove a circuit through Kim Il Sung square until reaching the tank columns waiting to rumble past the youthful Marshal Kim in his pavilion. The footage broadcast by North Korean media and shared virally revealed enough external features to assess their traits. Aside from an unspecified level of ballistic protection they have bulletproof windows and the windshield is formed by two reinforced panels bolted in place. While there doesn’t appear to be armor below the hull, where a spare tire is kept, the 4×4 does have other protective countermeasures like separate rows of smoke grenades on either side of the roof. But can it withstand gunfire? Certainly. What kind? Hard to tell, but STANAG I is sufficient against most NATO assault rifles.

Specifications for this armored 4×4 are still unavailable but since a lot of military vehicles use commercial parts it won’t be far-fetched to guess if its engine, drivetrain, transmission, and even the lamps are sourced from China. If this unnamed 4×4 is 100% locally made then designers and engineers working for North Korea’s military industries are up to date on trends shaping armored vehicle production. When it comes to its mobility, the topic is best left alone for now. But if its gross weight is in the five to seven ton range then a 150 horsepower diesel engine is appropriate.

If this armored 4×4 model is already in low-rate production, then its immediate use is a command vehicle with enough seating for an officer and his staff. While the cab is obviously where the driver and co-driver are ensconced, the number of passengers behind them are unknown although a reasonable figure is six people. What is known is two can enter from the side doors and perhaps four others enter via a rear swing door that has a single window. Hand rails at the left side of the vehicle allow at least one person to climb the roof and maybe step inside a hatch. There are small windows on both sides of the passenger compartment for visibility but firing ports are absent.

It’s tempting to dismiss this armored 4×4 model as another North Korean oddity. But as a product of a notorious rogue state whose industries have built howitzers and tanks in huge numbers, the implications here are serious. Mounting weapons on its roof isn’t difficult and North Korea’s battle tanks do carry a strange combination of anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, and tandem grenade launchers. If this 4×4 were modified to support an oscillating turret with twin 14.5mm KPVT machine guns, it’s actually better armed than a typical Humvee and its rival from South Korea. It gets worse if the local variety of Fagot missiles are installed four apiece on elevating mounts in the passenger compartment, turning this vehicle into a pocket tank destroyer.

What passes for North Korea’s warfighting doctrine involves adding large caliber weapons to anything that moves. In the case of this armored 4×4, it’s possible for it to carry lightweight 107mm rockets and SA-16 MANPADs provided there’s enough room for the operator. An even worse usage is an electronic warfare platform or a mobile ground station for UAVs deployed to the DMZ. These risks shouldn’t be ignored because militaries still haven’t come to grips with how many roles a 4×4 truck can be made to perform. Anyone who observes North Korea’s war machine must take note; Pyongyang is addicted to illicit trade and is an unrepentant arms exporter. This unnamed armored 4×4 might end up killing somebody, somewhere, soon.

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