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North Korea Is All Missiles, Less Tanks

May 18, 2022
Via North Korean media.

This year’s first big parade marking the armed forces’ 90th anniversary continued the main themes of its predecessors since late 2020; the emphasis is on advanced weapons and ballistic missiles. It looks like Kim Jong Un is justified in organizing these displays when his military always puts on a lavish show crowded with impeccable infantry squares and their assorted vehicles. The spectacle on the evening of April 25 was broadcast with dramatic editing, explosive excerpts, and an updated musical score in a clear departure from the usual script. This didn’t spare the equipment that rolled by in columns from observation; some of them were strange to behold like the small trucks carrying eight missile launchers behind their cabs. (Pictured above.)

The arrival of another road mobile missile launcher follows a trend going back at least five years when ATGMs were combined with newly designed vehicles. North Korea’s ground force always had a strange concept of ATGM employment. In keeping with Soviet doctrine huge quantities of short-range portable missiles–the local copy of the Malyutka or Sagger comes to mind–were supplied for specialists. Some armored vehicles were tailored for carrying multiple ATGMs in the Soviet fashion. This grew to include recent copies of the Fagot and Kornet ATGMs and, in a departure from the norm, their weapon stations were added on different vehicles such as tanks and self-propelled artillery. Then from 2018 onward missile launchers were put on a new 8×8 recce vehicle that doubled as a “tank destroyer” and a strange tandem launcher was added on the turret of the M-2020 prototype battle tank. As this trend progressed the KPA stopped parading their original tanks like the T-55, the T-62, two other locally made tanks, and other models as missile carriers enjoyed the limelight. (On paper, the KPA does keep 4,000-4,500 operational tanks.)

It’s been established that North Korea mass-produces a full range of portable anti-tank missiles. Its current non-ling-of-sight (NLOS) model, which resembles a Chinese missile, isn’t exactly man-portable but can be adapted for different transporters and vehicles. During the April 25 parade the same NLOS missiles, still housed in eight containers on a turret, appeared on a well-known 6×6 armored vehicle and then on a fresh spin on an off-road van carrying the same weapon system. The usefulness of this variant appears perplexing but if concealment and movement are its best attributes, especially when targeting the enemy, then a “missile van” does seem practical. Armies improvise all the time and examples of cheap innovations are common.

It does look as if the vehicle was adapted from either a camper van or a mobile kitchen. This makes sense if it’s supposed to use forests and terrain for cover in remote areas such as coast lines or even the DMZ. But if the KPA’s engineers responsible for developing its latest weapons have the advantage to pursue whatever lethal solution they see fit assembling a more suitable vehicle for NLOS missiles could have been a worthier goal. Installing the same launchers on a tracked APC or even the hull of a main battle tank gives the KPA something lose to China’s AFT-10. North Korea’s military-industrial sector includes automotive manufacturing and a “light tactical vehicle”–the army does have LTVs for ceremonial purposes–along the lines of the Chinese Dongfeng CSK181 or a 4×4 truck analogous to the Humvee is well within reach.

Other improvements on the missiles are certainly possible. Since the larger varieties of NLOS missiles have extreme ranges compared to other ATGMs adding features such as a two-stage launch system is a practical step for a road mobile system. The hypothetical result is a vertical launched NLOS missile loaded on the bed of an armored truck. China and the US have perfected these types of vehicles and South Korea has something close in the works. North Korea’s grasp of missile technology is so broad nowadays that any munition type is achievable. But considering the selection of North Korean ATGMs that have been identified so far–at least three copied from Soviet or Russian models and another air-to-ground munition–there’s visual evidence a lightweight ATGM designed to be carried by individual soldiers is now being delivered in large quantities.

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