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Did China Help North Korea With Its Guided Rockets?

September 3, 2019

Via North Korean media.

The sudden tempo of publicized weapon tests by North Korea this year may not have earned it fresh sanctions but they underscore two inconvenient truths. First, the Korean peninsula remains trapped in an arms race that’s beginning to look unrestricted. Second, Kim Jong Un is obsessed with strengthening his army, an institution impervious to external pressure and veiled threats. Both conditions were in full display on August 24 when the rogue state’s news agencies proclaimed the successful test of another rocket launcher.

North Korea has decades of experience manufacturing its own rocket artillery and no other Communist state stacked rockets in as many different platforms as the Kim’s gargantuan People’s Army. For the past 30 years, the largest caliber produced in North Korea never exceeded 300 mm and it had a range that covered nearly all sensitive targets 100 kilometers south of the DMZ. The rocket artillery weapon revealed in August, however, is different. It used an elongated 8×8 semitrailer with an armored cab. The launch system supported a quartet of cylinders each loaded with a rocket whose cones had small fins or canards around them.

The latter detail was obvious from the photos circulated by North Korean news and it should be a real cause for concern in Seoul. Canards on large diameter rockets indicate a guidance system for reducing inaccuracy; meaning North Korea is intent on mass-producing a precision weapon of extreme range that regular air defenses can neither intercept nor neutralize.

What’s uncanny about this is the vehicle’s layout. China’s Norinco, the eager exporter that it is, has a similar rocket artillery system in its catalog.

In fact, Turkey’s Roketsan manufactures Chinese rocket artillery in various calibers. The biggest is the T-300 Kasirga that also utilizes cylindrical launch tubes holding 300 mm rockets with a range of 100 km. This decade saw Turkey delivering a batch of T-300 Kasirga’s to Azerbaijan in Ukrainian 8×8 trucks. The resemblance to North Korea’s new weapon is too obvious to miss.

On the other hand, Pakistan boasts a diverse ballistic missile arsenal whose smallest member is the Nasr, a rocket artillery weapon enhanced with precision warheads. Like the exportable Kasirga, the Nasr comes in an 8×8 transporter but the rockets are housed in rectangular containers. The Nasr’s four rockets have fixed tails around their boosters, hence the shape of their containers. But North Korea’s equivalent may have folding tails to accommodate their cylindrical containers.

Having described two Chinese rocket artillery systems sharing a few external characteristics with North Korea’s own, the real mystery is how far do the latter’s munitions travel. North Korea’s existing 300 mm rockets, upgraded with guidance systems, manage an estimated 200 km but if the munitions revealed on August 24 are much larger and have pinpoint accuracy then the ROK Army and US Army find themselves outgunned.

If the August 24 rockets are indeed Chinese WS-series 400 mm munitions, each traveling between 350 to 400 km, they put the whole of South Korea at risk. With the few constraints on his military-industrial sector, Kim does have reason to gloat about his new rockets.

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