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The Elite Small Arms Of North Korea

March 10, 2023
Via North Korean state media.

With its parades serving as theatrical advertisements for national prestige this year’s effort didn’t let anyone down. In fact, the occasion was used to show a new ICBM transporter and the extent of nuclear-armed missile production Pyongyang is obsessed with. However, on the conventional side of things the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and its branches still follow the mold set by Kim Jong Un: only the best and most attractive types of equipment are seen, no more obsolescent tanks and rocket launchers. This has led to rare weapon systems appearing at these events and a total re-imagining of the infantry who march in impeccable formation.

The parade on February 9 marked the 75th anniversary of the KPA and remained true to the usual Stalinist format of having the synchronized march take place before the vehicles roll by in columns. Not enough attention is paid to how the KPA is maintaining the appearance of a technologically advanced ground warfare branch. Of course, there’s no doubt a gap between the propaganda and reality–North Korean conscripts are often pressed into manual labor rather than training–but the nuclear-armed pauper state does field very large forces aside from the army. This includes a worker’s militia and a separate reservist pool of school-age citizens. There’s also a separate elite “spetsnaz” formation that’s assessed to be the largest of its kind in the region.

The Soviet vintage AK-47 and its local copy is a mainstay with the KPA and the “Red Guard” militias. But since the 1990s and more so after Kim Jong Un assumed power the Type 88, or the local copy of the AK-74, is the most common small arm seen in North Korean propaganda. Now there are several AK-pattern small arms issued to the KPA and other branches. The strangest is an imitation of the failed OICW and its South Korean peer the K11. (Pictured above.) Neither of these hybrid weapons–a carbine integrated with a grenade launcher–were mass-produced. North Korea’s attempt at the same went the opposite direction and is a fixture in parades. Like its South Korean equivalent it has a bolt action grenade launcher with a digital rangefinder as its main optic. This same grenade launcher was spun off into a separate weapon, a lightweight bullpup, to contrast the muzzle-loaded grenade launchers the army seems to love.

North Korea’s military-industrial network has the capacity to roll out small arms and ammunition in volume. Portable large caliber weapons are included such as KPV heavy machine guns, shoulder-fired rocket launchers, and automatic grenade launchers. (A local equivalent of a Chinese or Russian 12.7mm heavy machine gun is scarce.) A few of these products are exported to several countries and appeared in the Middle East’s active conflicts throughout the 2010s–Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen. Central Africa is also a gray market for North Korean small arms and infantry equipment.

The KPA armor crews are issued a poor imitation of the AK-105 but with a shortened 20-round magazine carrying 5.45x39mm ammunition. Each carbine has a small foregrip, a flashlight attached near the barrel, and an optical sight mounted on its dust cover above the receiver. The furniture such as the pistol grip and the lightweight stock are made of plastic. Via North Korean state media.
KPA special forces are given bullpup Type 88 rifles (copies of the AK-74) that have a fixed stock, a basic optical sight, and a flash suppressor. These small arms feature a redesigned receiver located behind a new trigger group and upper furniture that supports a carrying handle. The appearance mimics the Russian-made ADS bullpup rifle but its functionality is similar to bullpup Kalashnikovs designed in Ukraine. Via North Korean state media.
Here’s another imitation of a Russian-made small arm. This North Korean formation in ghillie suits have submachine guns resembling the Vityaz but with an optical sight and a flash suppressor. The helical magazine carries 9mm ammunition. It’s strange they don’t carry sniper rifles as these are a better match for their attire and produced in multiple calibers. Perhaps the intended narrative is these soldiers are recce specialists who are adept at infiltration and close quarter fighting. Via North Korean state media.

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