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North Korean artillery systems

DESIGNATION Type Russian Analog Chinese Analog
M-1989 (KOKSAN)170mm SP gun-howitzer    
M-1978 (KOKSAN)170mm SP gun-howitzer    
M-2018155mm SP gun-howitzer    
M-1974152mm SP gun-howitzer    
M-1985 152mm gun-howitzer D-20 / M-55 Type 83
M-1975 130mm SP gun    
M-1992 130mm SP gun   130mm SPG
M-1981 122mm SP gun   Type 54 SPH
M-1991 122mm SP howitzer Type 70
M-1992 120mm SP combination gun    

North Korean ordnance factories produce a variety of self-propelled guns, howitzers, and gun-howitzers. In the 1980s, North Korea produced a significant amount of self-propelled artillery, mating towed artillery tubes with chassis already in the inventory. The following artillery systems are known to be in the North Korean inventory. No open source data is presently available concerning these systems, which were designed and manufactured in North Korea. Based on prior North Korean practice, and the reported calibers of these weapons, it may be assumed that they resemble and are derivative of similar Chinese and Russian systems.

The KPA uses an Integrated Fires System [IFS] based on the Soviet/Russian model of a regimental artillery group or division artillery group, and consists of a standing C2 structure and task-organized constituent and dedicated fire support units. While not specifically stated or named, most division-level and higher KPAGF organizations possess at least one IFS C2 structure—staff, CP, communications and intelligence architecture, and integrated/automated fire control system—at their headquarters, while brigade-level units and below do not. The unit commander will coordinate all available indirect fire resources through one leader, while consolidating the assets in a regimental or division artillery group for maximum effect.

The Military Training Bureau serves as the KPA’s military think tank and has studied conflict from World War II to the present. With that knowledge, the KPA has developed a military ideology based on its experiences from 1950–53 fighting the U.S.; Soviet/Russian military theory; and Chinese light-infantry tactics, modified by more-recent U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other locations around the world. Due to the United States’ ability to overwhelm almost any opponent with technology and firepower, the KPA emphasizes asymmetric warfare in conjunction with large numbers of SOF units.

Even with this emphasis, the KPA plans the use of large amounts of artillery, including multiple rocket launches in lieu of air support, heavy reliance on antitank guns, and antiarmor support by a variety of first- and second-generation wire-guided antitank missiles. The KPA plans to overcome the technological mismatch by getting in close to a more advanced force, where weapons standoff ranges are no longer a factor. The KPA will attempt to concentrate and coordinate the firing of large numbers of older weapons systems in order to make up for a shortage of the latest technologically advanced equipment.

The KPA will use indirect fire as part of its massing operations. Like the old Soviet Union/Russian doctrine that dates back to World War II, KPA doctrine expounds the use of large quantities of artillery fire on a single target. The KPA will use massed fires—including chemical weapons—from artillery, missiles, or multiple rocket launchers to both psychologically frighten the enemy as well as destroy its position. The KPAGF field over 10,000 artillery pieces of all types and the KPAAF is focused on support of the ground forces. With this large amount of indirect fire support available on the battlefield, the KPA can ensure that almost all targets receive the emphasis they deserve. When not otherwise employed, KPAAF aircraft will fly in support of ground troops.

The large and diversified North Korean artillery forces would provide normal fire support in the context of the above threats. But, the North Koreans are also especially well-equipped to neutralize the ROK artillery on which the defense greatly depends under the current attrition strategy. Much of the heavier North Korean artillery is deployed in hard emplacements (the so-called "Y" emplacements) which no current U.S. munitions can reliably destroy. There is as a result a serious counter-battery threat since almost all ROK artillery must operate within the range envelope of North Korean guns in order to support front-line forces. (Soviet-built 130m guns in North Korean service outranged all U.S.-built howitzers in ROK service, except for the small number of M-107 175mm guns.)

The NATO code-named M1991 152mm self-propelled howitzer is actually a combination of the D-20 howitzer and the ATS-59 crawler tractor commonly used in North Korea. Juche-Po are self-propelled artillery version of the Ch'onma-ho copy of the T-62 tank, using a modified version of the Tok-Ch'on artillery piece, formerly mounted on the ATS-59 chassis. Four versions at least were developed, ranging from the D-30 122 mm and D-74 122 mm, to the M-46 130 mm and the ML-20 152 mm howitzer. The latest is the SM-4-1 130 mm howitzer (1992). All these guns are turret-mounted with the rear open to left recoil cylinder, and a stretched 6-wheeled chassis.

The guns still used an open layout, with poor protection and weak battlefield survivability. In fact, this was a common problem with North Korean self-propelled artillery in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, the M1977 type 122 mm self-propelled howitzer also uses an open layout, while the M1981 type 122 mm self-propelled cannon and the M1974 type 152 mm self-propelled howitzer use a semi-open turret layout, but only relatively improved protection conditions.

Nowadays, with the development of North Korean military technology, the new generation of large-caliber self-propelled artillery all adopt a fully enclosed armored turret layout. For example, two new large-caliber self-propelled guns appeared in the military parade around Jianguo 70 in North Korea, the new 122mm self-propelled cannon and the 130mm self-propelled cannon. Usually, the outside world will name a certain artillery in North Korea after the year when it was first discovered. Therefore, these two new self-propelled guns can also be temporarily named M2018.

From the layout of the open and semi-open turret to the fully enclosed armored turret, it is not just the change of the turret structure. It must involve changes in the internal structure of the artillery, the addition of smoke extraction devices, the artillery loading system and Recoil protection design. It can be said that the emergence of the M2018 122mm self-propelled cannon and 130mm self-propelled cannon marked a revolutionary leap in North Korean artillery technology.

In addition, these two types of large-caliber self-propelled artillery are also equipped with dual 20mm grenade launchers and dual portable air defense missile launchers, which are still rare in the world of similar weapons. This also means that these two types of large-caliber self-propelled artillery will be deployed forward and accompanied by armored forces assaults, thereby deliberately strengthening the self-defense capabilities of enemy ground and air targets. Moreover, from the two large-caliber self-propelled guns equipped with data transmission antennas, it can be inferred that the performance and information level of their fire control systems have been greatly improved.

On 23 November 2010, North Korean artillery units fired over 150 shells onto and around Yeonpyeong Island, across the North-South disputed western sea border. North Korea claimed that the South Korean military had fired first, during routine U.S.-ROK exercises in the area. According to one report, about half the North Korean shells hit the island. The barrage killed four South Koreans (two marines and two civilians), wounded dozens, and destroyed or damaged scores of homes and other buildings. It was North Korea’s first direct artillery attack on ROK territory since the 1950-1953 Korean War. South Korea responded by shooting 80 shells at North Korea. An official North Korean media outlet later said that the South Korean civilian deaths were “regrettable.”

The Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army stated: "The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK standing guard over the inviolable territorial waters of the country took such decisive military step as reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike. It is a traditional mode of counter-action of the army of the DPRK to counter the firing of the provocateurs with merciless strikes."

The North Korean attack is a violation of the Armistice Agreement signed in 1953. It follows the North Korean sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan in March 2010 -– an attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors. There have been many North Korean breaches of the armistice over the years, but it is one of the first to target civilians. The attack had a chilling effect on the people of South Korea.

North Korea has publicly declared on more than one occasion that its heavy artillery "is capable of turning Seoul (Seoul) into a sea of flames." The distance problem is best solved by looking at the map: the distance from the nearest Panmunjom to the suburbs of Seoul is about 41 kilometers, and the straight-line distance to the center of Seoul is about 61 kilometers. The average distance of the entire Seoul city from the military demarcation line is more than 50 kilometers. At the same time, considering that it is impossible for North Korea to line up its artillery along the military demarcation line, it must be deployed behind its own position in order to be able to effectively conceal and protect the position. Therefore, the average distance of North Korea’s artillery from the front line can be calculated. At about 5 kilometers. Based on this calculation, North Korea’s artillery must have a range of more than 55 kilometers in order to be called "turning Seoul into a sea of flames."

The artillery of the powerful countries in the world today is also generally equipped with anti-artillery radar, which means that when the enemy’s artillery fires, its own radar can already capture the trajectory of the enemy’s artillery shells, and then reverse the position of the enemy’s artillery position. Troops can quickly command their artillery to launch a counterattack, and the whole process is fully automatic, which does not exceed 1 minute. Even before the enemy's shells hit the ground, one's own counter-attack shells are shot out first.

In this state, North Korea’s old-fashioned towed artillery is basically a dead target—because the deployment and withdrawal of the towed artillery takes about 5-10 minutes, which is enough time for South Korean and US troops to directly attack North Korean artillery. The North Korean artillery is very likely to be "dumplings" by the U.S. and South Korean aviation before deploying. Even without air support, the attack speed of the US and South Korean fully automated artillery is several times that of the North Korean army. North Korea basically cannot do preemptive strikes.

Therefore, even in theory, the "Gushan Cannon" does not have the ability to "turn Seoul into a sea of fire". Among North Korea's existing weapons, except for short-range surface-to-surface missiles, only the 240-mm heavy rocket with a range of 70 kilometers has the ability to strike Seoul. Moreover, the rocket launcher is mobile, can be deployed and retracted quickly, and does not require a preset position. As long as the vehicle is stopped, it can be launched, and after the shooting, it will turn around. The survivability is much higher than that of the slow "Gushan Cannon".

If the North Korean side suddenly launches shelling on South Korea, it must be the first fire from the long-range artillery deployed near Panmunjom. However, after the first round of salvos, the "Tanisan Cannon" takes 5 minutes to reload, and South Korea's K9 can be deployed in a depth of about 25-30 kilometers from the military demarcation line. It only takes one minute. The radar can detect the position of the North Korean artillery, and the K9 artillery group counterattacks the North Korean artillery group at a speed of 5 rounds per minute.

Since North Korea has been preparing for war for many years, the artillery positions near Kaesong must be protected by strong reinforced concrete bunkers. The power of the Korean K9's 155 shells is too small and may not pose a serious threat to the North Korean artillery bunkers. However, the advantage of the K9 is that it shoots. Fast, dense volleys can also suppress the scale and intensity of North Korean artillery counterattacks. Once the North Korean artillery is suppressed by the South Korean artillery and cannot respond in time, the South Korean Air Force can take off calmly, and then use heavy open ammunition to name the North Korean artillery bunker until the entire North Korean artillery position is destroyed.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:42:27 ZULU