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North Korea Makes A Very Weird Grenade Launcher

August 2, 2021
Via North Korean media.

The military parades held in Pyongyang to mark special occasions are among the few reliable sources providing useful insight on the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and its ongoing transformation under Kim Jong Un. Even with the hardship imposed by economic sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic another such event was held in January to welcome the new year. The timing was rather suspect as an impressive parade took place just months before. Some speculated the January 14 parade was meant to signal the incoming Biden administration that Kim was eager for more diplomacy since no long-range nuclear missiles showed up.

Examining the content of the parade, however, raises some eyebrows. The KPA are shedding their old weapon systems that were hallmarks of the Kim Jong Il era–T-55 medium tanks and farm tractors come to mind–and advertising dangerous new capabilities. Some of these efforts tend to bewilder though. At the latest parade the infantry columns goose stepping past Kim Jong Un were assigned specific armaments. Most carried the North Korean copy of the Soviet vintage AK-74 albeit with new furniture and optics making them resemble today’s AK-74M.

A strange addition was a large rifle with a PG-7 grenade attached to the muzzle. The PG-7 is the standard high explosive munition for the ubiquitous Soviet recoilless anti-tank weapon North Korea also mass-produces. But the RPG-7 is a well-designed launch tube recognizable for its dual grips and the conical venturi, also known as a blast cone, that channels the rocket’s substantial back blast away from the operator. This North Korean grenade launcher that a whole infantry section carried is obviously a large firearm with a fixed stock and a basic optical sight. How can it fire rockets without injuring the soldier?

Its noticeable length is also atypical. Single shot grenade launchers are designed to be compact as they’re often paired with rifles. The Soviet GP-25, which is manufactured in North Korea, is a very short muzzle loaded device fitted under a Kalashnikov rifle’s barrel. The US Army’s M203 underbarrel grenade launcher is another example. To use a PG-7 rocket for a grenade launcher is rather dubious since these have an elongated “tail” motor containing propellant and the metal guidance fins that pop open in flight. The propellant of a PG-7 rocket is so combustible its resulting blast shoots out from behind the launch tube as far as 60 feet.

Perhaps this North Korean grenade launcher is a serious attempt at an anti-tank weapon usable indoors and at very close ranges. Rather than an actual PG-7 rocket its munition might contain a low velocity charge effective within a hundred meters; this makes it closer to a rifle grenade than an anti-tank rocket. An interesting detail about the RPG-7 is its bore is 40 millimeters and it appears this grenade launcher is also a 40mm weapon. Yet its choice of munition still baffles. In recent years different manufacturers have attempted to combine short-range 40mm grenades with precision guidance. Results have been encouraging and Raytheon’s impressive Pike comes to mind, which is launched from an M203 grenade launcher without any recoil, and contains eight folding guidance fins.

South Korea’s LIG Nex1 did the same with a lightweight 40mm munition that can fly up to 2,000 meters. Even Turkey’s Roketsan developed a similar 40x400mm munition able to hit targets within 1,000 m. North Korea’s mysterious anti-tank rifle that began appearing in its military parades from 2017 onward looks (with various warhead types) counter-intuitive by comparison. Maybe it takes after rifle grenades from the 1950s, some of which were quite large, and employ dual propulsion–a small charge for launching it out the barrel and a secondary charge that accelerates its flight after some distance.

This is all speculative. As a portable anti-tank weapon for individual soldiers it’s strange how the KPA skipped large caliber sniper rifles that are easier to manufacture. A 12.7x108mm or 14.5x114mm bolt action rifle is very effective against a multitude of targets. “Smart” munitions look like a missed opportunity with North Korea’s military-industrial sector having the expertise to develop one suited for a 40mm firearm. Besides, try as they might, the KPA and its industrial allies are at a disadvantage versus South Korea’s own innovative weaponry.

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