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North Korea Has A Brand New Portable Missile

May 31, 2022
Via North Korean media.

Outside its growing inventory of nuclear missiles a broad rearmament is taking place to a granular degree. The army in particular are being issued new weapon systems to be shown off and these are now appearing whenever spectacular public events are scheduled. The latest military parade on April 25 saw a welcome change in how it was filmed and broadcast through official propaganda. But the tiniest details such as an unnamed portable anti-tank launcher provided to one unit (pictured above) are the most intriguing. Apparently, North Korea’s armed forces have quit looking like relics from a bygone era.

The new weapon never appeared until the April 25 parade and its media coverage. What can be gleaned from the available footage is it represents a departure from the army’s traditional anti-tank recoilless launchers and, judging by its size, is possibly a single use missile launcher. A convenient parallel is drawn between this weapon, which was carried by an entire formation of soldiers at the April 25 parade, and the Saab NLAW that received a boost to its popularity from the war in Ukraine.

Via North Korean media.

Another resemblance it shares is with the Rafael Spike-SR, a portable ATGM whose maximum range is 2 kilometers, although the bright red caps on these North Korean launchers–the color preference is for aesthetic purposes–conceals the munitions behind them. Determining the type of projectile carried by this launcher would inspire less speculation if its warhead were exposed; a clear lens indicates it’s a fire-and-forget missile with a potential top attack function and a proximity fuse. A standard conical shape for its missile means shorter-range and a less advanced guidance system.

The visible external characteristics on this ATGM are easier to discern. Thick rubber shock absorbers are attached to both ends of the launch tube. On the left side is a curved grip although the trigger assembly can’t be discerned. The bottom of the ergonomic grip is attached to what looks like a rectangular case for a battery. The location of the launcher’s optics are hidden from view. Once again, it helps knowing if it carries a basic optical sight and rangefinder or a more elaborate interface. Browsing other North Korean propaganda imagery of this weapon system reveals a small optical sight that suggests it has a short-range missile with a 120mm diameter–a measurement shared with the older wire-guided “Bulsae” ATGM. One reason the army embraced a portable ATGM less bulky than other top attack missile launchers is firing from total concealment was prioritized. Hence, an easy-to-carry portable launcher with a simple optical sight.

Via North Korean media.

North Korea’s military-industrial sector manufactures every known type of anti-tank weaponry in the former Communist Bloc. This includes the production of outdated medium caliber field guns. Since the mid-2010s, however, there’s been a shift toward portable missiles and a breakthrough in this effort was adding non-line-of-sight guidance. During the April 25 parade an entire formation of soldiers–288 in total–carried the new portable ATGMs. If these are assembled on the scale of hundreds each month this marks a technical breakthrough for the military-industrial sector’s expertise at harnessing composite materials, optoelectronics, and microelectronics and miniaturization. It isn’t too surprising since North Korea’s state-owned armaments enterprises have decades of experience in assembling ATGMs and MANPADS.

Now that its military technology is flourishing against the odds Pyongyang will have stronger incentives to profit from them. As with all weapon systems emerging from North Korea their biggest risk is always in deliveries to foreign operators regardless of sanctions. Pyongyang maintains an active arms trade with its allies and often works in coordination with different brokers who organize and schedule shipments abroad. The sudden arrival of North Korean anti-tank missiles in an ongoing conflict does shape how these events unravel.

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