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North Korean Anti-Tank Missiles Are Cutting Edge

November 1, 2021
Via North Korean media.

The “Self Defense 2021” exhibition in Pyongyang from mid-October gave an extremely rare glimpse into the updated arsenal being prepared by one of the world’s poorest countries. Kim Jong Un did have reason to gloat in his podium where a new main battle tank, first revealed at a military parade in 2020, was parked. After all, arranged along one side of the venue were his country’s road mobile ballistic missiles, including an ICBM armed with a hypersonic glider, and on the opposite side were the latest rocket and self-propelled artillery the army had amassed. But media coverage of the event revealed more; smaller weapon systems were found in outlying stands that prove beyond any doubt how meticulous North Korean war planners are.

The Korean People’s Army now possess better anti-tank missiles than what they had several years ago. For decades a local copy of the Soviet 9M14 Malyutka was a mainstay with the ground forces. It was also known the KPA had their own variant of the 9K111 Fagot wire-guided ATGM. Since 2020, however, the KPA have adapted 9M133 Kornet ATGMs in substantial numbers and there’s ample proof these are deployed as single launchers or as part of a vehicular-based weapon system. These three generations of ATGMs were identified at the “Self Defense 2021” exhibition through local media coverage. But in addition to them was an unfamiliar non-line-of-sight (NLOS) missile and what appeared to be a smaller air-launched missile with an optoelectronic lens/guidance system. (Pictured above.) North Korea is known to manufacture all its military technology and the exposure of an indigenous NLOS missile buries a few long-held assumptions about the KPA. Foremost is its aging and obsolescent hardware. Well, not anymore.

Demand for NLOS missiles surged in the 2010s as these were seen as cost-effective precision guided munitions adaptable to so many platforms and with enormous firepower. The Israeli-made Spike NLOS, for example, boasts an effective range of 20 kilometers for its surface-to-surface variant. There’s some overlap between NLOS missiles and the concept of “loitering munitions” as both are guided by an eptoelectronic seeker and launched over vast distances; loitering munitions have flight ranges in the hundreds of kilometers though. It’s claimed the farthest distance an NLOS missile reaches is 40 km, which vastly exceeds most portable ATGMs. NLOS missiles and loitering munitions also have person-in-the-loop controls which means their targeting and angle of attack can be adjusted during flight. What makes this North Korean missile an NLOS munition is its layout–similar, in fact, to the Spike NLOS with its elongated retractable fins around the airframe’s midsection–and the obvious large diameter.

This North Korean missile, which is unnamed, does confirm the role of a wheeled combat vehicle that first appeared at a military parade in 2018. At the time it had a tan paint scheme and a 6×6 chassis similar to a Brazilian-made Urutu or a Belgian-made SIBMAS. But its hull resembled the Soviet BTR-series of APCs. This combat vehicle mounted a container with eight rectangular pop up box launchers resembling those on the Chinese-made AFT-10, a missile-armed “tank destroyer” carrying eight Norinco HJ-10 NLOS missiles. It was assumed the 6×6 combat vehicle was indeed a mobile NLOS launcher meant for neutralizing enemy armor across the DMZ. This observation is now proven correct with the exposure of its munition at “Self Defense 2021.”

Yet questions persist. The effective range of this missile is in doubt as these tend to vary depending on the motor installed on the missile’s airframe. The known Chinese NLOS missiles are as good and sometimes even better than those exported by Israel, meaning 20 km is considered mid-range and the missiles are able to lock and engage targets at twice this distance. The origin of its parts arouse suspicion. From 2018 until 2021 the North Korean military introduced so many new weapon systems, many of them resembling Russian-made armaments, that input from abroad can’t be ruled out. China, whose state-owned manufacturers are known to overproduce precision guided munitions, invites scrutiny as an illicit supplier of dual use components that are adaptable for missiles. The availability of North Korean NLOS missiles has troublesome ramifications beyond the peninsula. Pyongyang maintains trade networks to many countries who don’t bother enforcing US-led sanctions and the risk of selling these missiles abroad is high.

The North Korean NLOS missile at “Self Defense 2021” was positioned next to a smaller, likely air-launched, munition that suggests use on KPA attack helicopters and even medium altitude drones.

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