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The Chunmoo Is Elite Rocket Artillery

June 5, 2022
Via South Korean media.

Some of the most potent weapon systems in the global commerce for armaments are made in South Korea. Since the 2010s there’s been a persistent effort by Seoul, through its own diplomacy and full support behind its chaebols, to win large deals in Asia and Europe. Results have been encouraging, if sometimes mixed, as South Korean manufacturers won some high profile contracts. However, the quality of South Korean military products is beyond reproach and this is apparent in the mobile rocket launcher called the K239 Chunmoo from Hanwha Defense.

Refusing to be outgunned by North Korea’s military the ROK Army adopted its own mobile rocket artillery system in the 1980s, the K136 Kooryong. Its appearance and function resembled the Soviet BM-21 Grad but with slightly heavier 130mm unguided munitions. (As opposed to the Soviet 122mm rockets that a single person can lift.) After acquiring the US-made M270 MLRS in the 1990s plans for a new rocket artillery system were drawn up and the program was officially launched in 2013 with Hanwha Defense as the main contractor. The K239 Chunmoo was unveiled soon after and the first units entered service by 2015. It’s now available for export.

The Chunmoo’s transporter is a four axle 8×8 truck with an armored cab for protecting the crew who don’t have to exit the vehicle when it’s firing. The pivoting launcher is mounted on the bed and four hydraulic jacks or “legs” help stabilize the vehicle before the munitions are fired. The Chunmoo marked a complete departure from mid-20th century rocket artillery systems in its launcher’s design–it’s divided into separate pods like those on the Brazilian Astros and the M270 MLRS. This feature cuts down on the time spent reloading the weapon system as fresh pods containing munitions are inserted with the help of a crane on a separate vehicle.

If Hanwha Defense is the main contractor for the Chunmoo its corporate parent Hanwha Corporation is responsible for the ammunition it uses. These are available in three calibers: the “light” unguided 130mm rockets, the heavier 239mm accurized rockets, and 400mm accurized rockets. (Hanwha describes the bigger calibers as missiles since they have GPS guidance and fin-stabilized flight.) When loaded with 130mm rockets the Chunmoo’s launcher is able to hold 40 of them, with 20 in each pod. But it can only be loaded with a dozen 239mm munitions and four 400mm munitions at a time. A short-range ballistic missile similar to the US-made ATACMS is also available for the Chunmoo and one can be loaded inside each pod.

For all its remarkable characteristics the Chunmoo is facing momentous problems as a South Korean “defense” export. The alliance network and diplomatic clout of the United States means the Lockheed Martin HIMARS enjoys a favorable position in the market despite the Chunmoo being able to carry more firepower by comparison. Israel’s homegrown success at developing medium and long-range rocket artillery–then modifying these for end users–eats into the Chunmoo’s global prospects too. Don’t forget militaries that operate Chinese and Soviet rocket artillery will stick to these out of habit. It doesn’t help that Norinco has delivered multiple batches of its SR5 rocket artillery system in less than four years and the SR5 boasts more choices in the munitions it can launch.

But Seoul and its national champions are undeterred in their efforts to reap huge profits from arms sales. It still hasn’t been confirmed if the Chunmoo found a customer in the Middle East where South Korea has cultivated enduring relationships across decades. A specific advantage of the Chunmoo is its size and layout allows for multi-caliber options that can keep growing in the years to come. In all probability the Chunmoo’s evolution as a weapon system continues this decade and Hanwha rolls out either an improved vehicle or fresh munition types for attracting new customers.

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