North Korean Artillery Rockets
This situation led North Korean leaders to focus on other areas: Since the 1960s, the North Korean Army’s heavy artillery and rocket artillery have been liberated from direct front-line support missions to play a more offensive role against related weapons. This change is related to the adjustment of the grand strategy. As the equipment gap widens, North Korea is increasingly lacking confidence in defeating its opponents on the frontal battlefield. Since the 1970s, the North Korean army has placed its hopes on long-range artillery and rocket launchers, and increasingly the later.
The large-scale use of modern rockets began during World War II. For a long time after the war, the rocket launcher's range was gradually increased to tens of kilometers, and the accuracy was gradually improved. But overall, compared with contemporary artillery, rocket launchers are still mainly field-use "face-to-face" weapons. However, under certain circumstances, the role of rocket launchers can also be elevated to a strategic level.
The Artillery of the Korean People’s Army formally formed a rocket artillery unit in 1966, and soon realized that the large-caliber rocket artillery would be an important target for attacking the South Korean army and the US military in South Korea and even "turning Seoul into a sea of ??flames." Therefore, since the 1970s, the North Korean military industry began to develop 240 mm large-caliber rockets. Its first model, the M1985 type, uses 12 tubular directional devices with a maximum range of 43 kilometers. After that, the improved M1991 240mm rocket launcher increased the number of tube directional devices to 22, and the maximum range was increased to 60 kilometers. However, the artillery of the Korean People’s Army was not satisfied with this. In 2012, it publicly displayed the latest generation of M2012 240mm rocket launchers. The number of tube directional devices is the same as that of M1991, but the maximum range has soared to 100 kilometers. The first batch of rocket launchers with a range of 100 kilometers. Therefore, the artillery of the Korean People's Army referred to the M2012 240mm rocket launcher as the "main body 100 gun."
The international community strictly controls the proliferation of ballistic missile technology, and ballistic missile and rocket technology with a range of more than 300 kilometers are under control. Therefore, some countries have begun to develop long-range rocket launchers with a range of more than 100 kilometers. The power of this type of rocket is slightly less than that of a short-range ballistic missile warhead, but the range is sufficient to meet the needs of small and medium-sized countries to confront each other. More importantly, the manufacturing technology of missiles is relatively complicated, the price is high, and the quantity is limited. It mainly relies on high-precision, powerful warheads to carry out precision strikes on high-value targets. The development of rocket launchers is much simpler. When developing rockets, it is usually unnecessary to consider the costly guidance part. Even the new long-range rockets are only equipped with simple guidance devices. This makes the long-range rockets withstand a large number of equipment and use.
As far as North Korea is concerned, the characteristics of long-range rocket launchers are in line with its needs. Although North Korea has mastered ballistic missile technology, the manufacturing cost of ballistic missiles is relatively high. Even as legend has it, North Korea has hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles, which are not enough to cover all important targets throughout South Korea, not to mention the US bases in East Asia. In addition, if the United States and South Korea strengthen the construction of missile defense systems, North Korea's ballistic missiles may face a certain probability of being intercepted. If the original damage effect is to be achieved, North Korea will have to invest in the manufacture of ballistic missiles much larger than the current number. This may be unbearable for the North Korean economy.
The development of long-range rocket launchers can solve the above problems to a certain extent2: economically, it is cheaper to achieve the same damage effect; militaryly, it poses a deadly threat to big cities such as Seoul; technically, even if the United States and South Korea have ability to use the missile defense system to intercept North Korea’s long-range rockets is also a completely uneconomical business—a rocket is much cheaper than a "Patriot" or "THAAD." Moreover, in the face of tens of thousands of rockets, it is difficult for the anti-missile system to fully function.
The North Korean media reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided the army to test fire large-caliber multiple rocket launchers. Before and after, North Korea successively launched flying objects into its eastern waters, launching several consecutively each time. From the analysis of the trajectory of the flying object and the number of launches, this is a long-range rocket launched by the rocket launcher. Surprisingly, the range of this rocket reached 200 kilometers, far exceeding the range of tens of kilometers of traditional rockets.
For a long time, ballistic missiles and artillery have been an important means for North Korea to deter South Korea. The former can attack South Korean targets in depth and are difficult to intercept; although the latter has a short range, it can attack Seoul from a forward position in the north. The frequently unveiled long-range rocket launchers combine the characteristics of these two weapons - they have a range similar to that of short-range ballistic missiles and can cover South Korea's deep targets; they also have a relatively low cost and can be mass produced and used. Although the rocket is only a tactical weapon, in the special geographical environment of the Korean peninsula, long-range rockets may have a strategic deterrent effect and become a new "ace" in the hands of North Korea.
Affected by the Soviet equipment system, the North Korean Army has always been equipped with a large number of rockets. In the Yanping Island shelling incident, the North Korean army relied on a 122mm rocket launcher to complete rapid fire from a simple position and achieved fire coverage on Yanping Island. When the Korean army counterattacked based on the position measured by the radar, the North Korean rocket launch vehicle had already withdrawn. If Seoul and South Korea’s deep cities are targeted, North Korea’s long-range rocket force can play the same role.
As a result of technological progress, North Korea unveiled a new type of rocket launcher during its military parade in October 2015. At that time, people in the United States and South Korea inferred from the shape of the rocket that its caliber may reach 300 mm and its range is about 170 kilometers. What they didn't expect was that, according to the test firing data this year, this rocket has a range of 200 kilometers-covering much of South Korea.
While tapping the development potential of 240mm rocket launchers, North Korea's military industry has also begun to advance the development of larger caliber rocket launchers over 300mm. As a result, the 333mm large-caliber long-range rocket launcher officially known as KN-09 by South Korea was born. The rocket launcher of this caliber was originally an export model developed by the North Korean military industry for Iran, with a maximum range of only 75 kilometers. After that, the North Korean military industry adopted a large number of new technologies, especially high-performance rocket motors, inertial navigation/"GLONASS" satellite positioning composite guidance technology, duck-type aerodynamic rudder technology, etc., and developed KN- for the artillery of the Korean People’s Army Type 09 333mm long-range rocket launcher. Judging from the previous test firing of the gun, its maximum range can reach 200 kilometers, which is close to the range of some tactical ballistic missiles.
Just in 2019, North Korea’s official media released news pictures of the test-fired ultra-large-caliber guided rocket launcher. Like previous reports, North Korean state media did not announce the caliber of this super-large-caliber guided rocket launcher. However, by comparing with the size of the human body, the outside world generally believes that the caliber of the super large-caliber guided rocket launcher is about 600 mm, or even larger. In this regard, the author is more inclined to the statement of 600 mm caliber.
Judging from the pictures successively published by North Korean official media, the 600mm super large-caliber guided rocket launcher has two sub-models, namely wheeled and tracked. The wheeled 600mm super large-caliber guided rocket launcher adopts the "Tatola" 8×8 heavy-duty truck chassis with quadruple modular launchers. Because the chassis is higher from the ground, the wheeled 600mm super large-caliber guided rocket launcher is equipped with 6 hydraulic stabilizers.
The threat of North Korea’s new rockets does not only come from its range. According to the test firing photos released by the Korean Central News Agency, the 300mm rocket has a rudder surface at the nose and a tail fin, which shows that the rocket has a certain terminal guidance capability. As long as a simple guidance device is installed, its guidance accuracy will obviously be much higher than that of ordinary rockets. In addition, from the perspective of the military parade, the chassis of the new rocket launcher also uses a new type of truck chassis, and the engine is more powerful, so that the rocket launcher should have good maneuverability. These improvements mean that its damage capability to South Korea is much higher than that of traditional rockets, and its response speed and survivability are better.
North Korea's improvements to long-range rockets are not limited to accuracy and range, but also take into account the possibility of performing diversified missions. Not long ago, when the North Korean media released news about the test firing of the new rocket artillery, it mentioned that the North Korean artillery had launched "fragmentation mines, ground penetration bombs, and scatter bombs." The destruction and lethality of the warhead is amazing." If this news report is true, it shows that North Korea has developed a variety of warheads for long-range rocket launchers.
As for the warhead of "mixed high-energy materials" mentioned in the North Korean report, it may indicate that the rocket's charge uses a new type of explosive mixed with metal powder. This kind of mixed charge is so powerful that it is often used to fill aerial bombs. Through the combustion of metal powder, it can generate higher overpressure and temperature.
As for the "fragmentation mine bomb" in the report, it may refer to anti-personnel or vehicle landmine dispensers, which are mainly used to deal with attacks by infantry and armored groups. Generally speaking, a large-caliber rocket can be loaded with several or dozens of mines. After the rocket is launched, it opens the warhead after reaching the target area and throws anti-personnel or armored mines. This can set up a larger minefield in a short time to delay the enemy's attack.
The so-called "spread bombs" in the report should refer to the cluster munitions used against personnel and vehicles. In popular terms, it can be called "sub-munition". In addition, the "ground penetrating bomb" mentioned in the report is relatively new. If the warhead of the North Korean rockets can be used to accurately strike the "point targets" of fortifications, it is indeed unimaginable accuracy. How did North Korea achieve guidance? One theory is that North Korea may have used the Russian "GLONASS" satellite navigation system and installed satellite guidance components on the rocket warhead. Of course, North Korea may also use a composite guidance mode, such as inertial guidance after the rocket is launched, and satellite guidance correction at the end.
Generally speaking, when information technology, automation level, industrial capacity, financial strength and other aspects are not dominant, North Korea has selectively developed a new type of large-caliber rocket launcher with equal emphasis on mobility, range, accuracy and warhead type. The outside world often thinks that North Korea’s propaganda has some incomprehensible emotional tendencies, but from the perspective of the development of long-range rocket launchers, at least on the specific issues of equipment development, North Korea is not only good at calculating, but also knows how to develop equipment in accordance with its own conditions.
"The world's invincible North Korean artillery force large-caliber rockets are also in a state of ready to fire, so that the Blue House will instantly turn into scorched earth." "When the DPRK presses the button, it will turn into a sea of fire; when the North strikes, it will burn to ashes." The North Korean troops are fully prepared for "Storm Operation" and "Lightning Operation" to "infiltrate South Korean combat areas at any time and capture the Blue House and other major targets in one go." It can be seen from similar propaganda by North Korea that large-caliber rocket launchers have become an important bargaining chip for North Korea to deter South Korea. For South Korea, this problem is indeed difficult to deal with.
Although South Korean officials did not confirm the specific data parameters of North Korea’s 300mm rocket launchers, some South Korean military experts pointed out that if North Korea’s new rocket launchers have a range of 200 kilometers and are equipped with a simple guidance system, theoretically speaking, the North Korean artillery can be “military "Boundary Line" directly hit the Pyeongtaek base of the US military in South Korea and Gyeryongdae, where the command center of the South Korean military is located. Moreover, due to the intense firepower of the rockets, the US and South Korean forces "cannot completely defend against this threat."
The former commander of the US Army in South Korea Bell once said that the reason why the US headquarters in South Korea moved south from Seoul to Pyeongtaek, 120 kilometers away, was to avoid the long-range firepower of North Korea. At that time, this "long-range firepower" mainly referred to barrel-type large-caliber long-range artillery. But now, if the North Korean army’s 300mm rocket launchers become effective, it is tantamount to "returning to danger" for the US troops stationed in South Korea. In addition, the extended range also brings another advantage-North Korea can hide the new rocket launcher in the solid launch position in its own hinterland. Relying on the Dongku tunnel and preset position, it can block the trade "throat" of Incheon and other South Korea.
In addition, what may be the most worrying for the United States and South Korea is that the South Korean military did not have the technical capability to intercept large-caliber rockets. Even the South Korean anti-missile system under development and the "THAAD" system intended to be deployed by the US military are not applicable to deal with rocket launchers. Moreover, the South Korean anti-missile system, the so-called "kill chain" system, will not be implemented until around 2025 at the earliest, and the North Korean rocket launcher is likely to be upgraded to a new version.
Since it is difficult for South Korea to intercept, it is very likely that South Korea will only be able to eliminate this threat through tactical "preemptive strike." In other words, when North Korea intends to use such rockets, the Korean army must find ways to find and destroy North Korea’s launch positions early. Generally speaking, the North Korean artillery forces have a certain amount of preparation time and actions before firing. With advanced reconnaissance methods such as satellites and drones, the United States and South Korea can theoretically detect relevant signs in advance and conduct "preventive strikes."
However, the biggest advantage of the vehicle-mounted rocket launcher is its convenient mobility and rapid launch. The North Korean rockets probably only left the cavern a few minutes before the launch, and then quickly fired all the rockets on the position near the cavern exit, and then withdrew to the cavern at the fastest speed, "hit and hide. ". This process may take less than ten minutes in total. Therefore, the "preventive strike" of the United States and South Korea can only be a theoretical choice.
In short, the emergence of North Korea’s long-range rockets has posed a great challenge to South Korea at the tactical level, and it has indeed enhanced North Korea’s deterrence capabilities against South Korea. It is foreseeable that for a long time in the future, North Korea will continue to upgrade and display its long-range rockets to emphasize its military strength and strengthen its deterrent effect on South Korea.
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