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North Korea Keeps Making Tactical Missiles

April 22, 2022
Via North Korean media.

Another road mobile launcher and its munition was tested last week in what is now a regular pattern of demonstrations attended by Kim Jong Un. On April 17 the “new-type tactical guided weapon” as described by North Korean propaganda sent a projectile toward a rocky islet in a coastal area known for artillery exercises. The “tactical guided weapon” as seen on photographs is a short-range ballistic missile whose appearance is comparable to the US-made ATACMS. An interesting detail is the transporter was a new type of vehicle that probably used an 6×6 chassis to support the rectangular launchers on its bed.

Categorizing this latest weapon system requires a bit of imagination. The KPA and the separate “rocket force” branch have substantial inventories of large caliber surface-to-surface munitions and, judging by the past decade, there are now as many as eight or nine tracked and wheeled transporters for large caliber rocket artillery. The armed forces’ ballistic missile arsenal is even more intimidating as the short-range calibers are very diverse. A plausible reason for adding a road mobile SRBM to complement the Iskanders in service is having an overwhelming advantage in missiles that can maneuver past enemy air defenses and eliminate sensitive targets. Whether armed with cluster munitions, a “unitary warhead” of high explosive, and perhaps lethal chemical agents, having a multitude of SRBMs closes the “air power” gap in the peninsula.

An intriguing detail about this missile and its wheeled transporter is how the photographs from North Korean media showed four rectangular containers on the vertical launcher. The problem is if the containers are fully loaded with missiles the resulting weight should strain even the largest chassis. It’s why some North Korean missile launchers are designed to be mounted on immense vehicles, sometimes with as many as five axles and others fully tracked, and the beds are equipped with hydraulic jacks and mechanical spades for absorbing the pressure from the missile’s or projectile’s launch. For ease of transport most road mobile SRBMs today are reliant on an 8×8 truck, whose maximum capacity is just two missiles on its bed, and is accompanied by a similar vehicle equipped with a crane and extra missiles. The layout of the transporter used on April 17 suggests its munitions are carried loaded inside their rectangular containers by a separate vehicle and then installed on the TEL. The process is a characteristic of Chinese and Israeli SRBMs and it’s possible the “design bureau” or the manufacturer responsible for this SRBM considered such methods for transporting and loading as superior compared with a munition installed on a launch rail.

The same containerized method applies to the South Korean rocket artillery system called the K239 Chunmoo, which is manufactured by Hanwha Techwin/Hanwha Defense, and relies on an 8×8 transporter. The wheeled Chunmoo supports a tandem launcher similar to the one found on the US-made M270 MLRS and each are loaded with pods and their corresponding munitions. Hanwha Techwin offers large caliber munitions and a ballistic missile for the export approved Chunmoo and these are loaded into the launcher as pods. The difference is North Korea’s military-industrial sector designs rocket artillery to be loaded in cylindrical tubes regardless of the munition’s size. The shift to rectangular containers for SRBMs is a recent one. How this current munition and its transporter that were tested on April 17 fits into North Korea’s inventory of SRBMs defies easy assumptions. The first generation of North Korean SRBMs were locally assembled “Scud B” variants supplied by Egypt that were improved over the next 30 years. This stockpile is assessed to number in the hundreds and remains operational and serves as a deterrent–together with Pyongyang’s actual nuclear missiles–versus South Korea and the US. It has since been augmented by some of the most lethal large caliber rocket artillery ever made and improved copies of Russian SRBMs like the Tochka and the Iskander.

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