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North Korea Has A Dangerous New Anti-Ship Missile

February 1, 2022
Via North Korean media.

The surprising rearmament of the North Korean military with brand new strategic weapons happened so fast, and in such a short time span, that it’s difficult to measure its true scale. Even official propaganda that shows these weapons in use can be unhelpful. A very specific example involves a large wheeled transporter and the baffling quartet of launch tubes it carries on its bed. It was only after repeated appearances in local news did its role suggest itself; an unnamed weapon system for scaring away hostile navies. But finding out how is quite a headache.

All types of accurized rockets and missiles are the priority for the North Korean armed forces. These were the main attractions during another huge parade in late 2020 and many of the same were driven past Kim Jong Un again in January 2021. It turns out a large five axle transporter with 10 wheels was being mistaken for a long-range air defense system when, in reality, its role became clearer at the “Self Defense 2021” exhibition in Pyongyang from October 2021. (See photo below.)

Owing to its placement at the military parade in 2020–a column followed the North Korean equivalent of the Tor SAM and the S-300 SAM–some assumed it was also an air defense system. However, this unnamed road mobile missile launcher was supposed to appear together with the strategic missiles that usually end the parade, which it did. Its relative similarity with the long-range SAM that came before it sparked the confusion. But its actual placement was to lead the columns of nuclear-capable missiles.

Via North Korean media.

By the time it was displayed at the “Self Defense 2021” exhibition an important clue about its role came to light. Since the indoor event was intended to showcase all of the North Korean armed forces’ new weaponry (except for aircraft, submarines, and UAVs) the tactical missiles and their transports were parked in ready to launch configurations for dramatic effect. This also applied to the large diameter rocket artillery and long-range SAMs. Yet behind the stage where Kim Jong Un delivered his speech was the five axle transporter parked with the hydraulic stabilizers behind its bed lowered and the launch tubes readied at an incline.

A telling detail about this five axle transporter and its four launch tubes is its preparation to fire is comparable with the Chinese military’s road mobile anti-ship missile systems like the subsonic YJ-62 or the CJ-10/DH-10. On the other hand, the advanced Russian-made Bastion, which is armed with two supersonic Yakhont missiles, is a vertical launch system. North Korea’s military-industrial sector has decades of experience manufacturing Soviet vintage anti-ship missiles and the latest–until now–was an equivalent of the Russian Kh-35 that utilized a large tracked chassis mounting four or eight launch tubes. It turns out the influence endures.

This five axle transporter deploys like an anti-ship missile system with sealed launch tubes whose dimensions fit those for long-range cruise missiles. (A related model that conducted test launches on January 25 carries five missiles that can each travel 1,500 kilometers.) But North Korea’s rocket force have different vehicles for cruise missiles and at “Self Defense 2021” a naval gun turret is placed behind the five axle transporter and this probably indicates a part of the exhibition devoted to naval systems. The last piece of the puzzle remaining is, with the four launch tubes having covers that are raised and lowered prior to and after firing, what missiles are contained inside? It’s strange how a sample missile wasn’t put on display for Kim Jong Un to notice.

So it’s not far-fetched to assume the munitions carried by this transporter are long-range anti-ship missiles that may or may not be supersonic and function as, in the parlance of the US Navy, anti-access weapon systems. It’s clear Pyongyang deems the threat posed by navies to be extreme and is now equipping the armed forces with the best defensive weapons for thwarting them. The remaining detail that withstands serious analysis is the exact type of missile, whether it uses a hybrid trajectory, and how far it travels. North Korea’s military-industrial sector has solved all issues pertaining to range. But in this case, how far?

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