I’ve been mulling a post over the recent North Korean launches of Scud and now Nodong missiles, but I want to draw attention to a wrinkle that’s been neglected — North Korea’s new 300 mm artillery system.
Some of the tests of the short-range rockets in recent weeks may have been tests of a new 300 mm artillery system, according to “military authorities” quoted by Chosun Ilbo:
“Military authorities here tentatively concluded that short-range projectiles North Korea fired into the East Sea on Feb. 21 were not missiles but 300-mm multiple rocket launchers.”
These may have been — may have been — the same launched that narrowly missed a Chinese airliner. Well, I should be careful about “narrowly missed” — this might be the South Korean Defense Ministry stirring up trouble. North Korea does seem to have neglected to file a NOTAM, which is not nice. Seeing the deep anger in China over MH370, Kim Jong Un has to think he dodged an artillery shell there. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Lips and teeth or not, Kim Jong Un does not want to shoot down a Chinese airliner.
If DOD previewed this system in either the North Korean Military Power Report (aka Military and Security Developments involving the DPRK) or Congressional testimony, I missed it. But the best explanation of the possible comparisons for this system that I’ve seen comes from John Grisafi writing at NK News.com:
There are two likely origins of this new MRL system. The more likely one is that the North Korean military and weapons industry developed it domestically by improving upon existing designs such as the 240mm MRL and copying and incorporating any components they may have acquired from other countries. North Korea has had some success developing its own weapons, including several missiles and the 170mm Koksan gun artillery system. The other possibility is that North acquired such a weapon system from another country, such as China, Iran, Syria or others – likely years ago – and has since copied and modified the design for domestic production. Either way, the weapon likely is based at least partially on similar MRLs of other countries, such as the Russian BM-30 Smerch, the Chinese PHL03 and A-100, and Iranian Fajr-5 and Falaq-2 rockets. Regardless of how they did it, North Korea has demonstrated they now have a form of rocket artillery with more than double the range of any other MRL previously in their military.
In case you are wondering about the Russian and Chinese comps for the system, here are pictures of the BM-30 and PHL03. I’ve seen reports that China sold the A-100 to Pakistan.
North Korea is making some efforts to upgrade its conventional weapons. It has reinforced long-range artillery forces near the DMZ and has a substantial number of mobile ballistic missiles that could strike a variety of targets in the ROK and Japan. However, we assess that the DPRK’s emphasis will be to leverage the perception of a nuclear deterrent to counter technologically superior forces
There are two possibilities that leap to my mind. The first possibility is that Pyongyang knows all this bluster about turning Seoul into a Sea of Fire with long-range artillery is, well, bluster. Roger Cavazos has actually tried to count launchers, count emplacements, estimate rates of fire and draw range circles for the DPRK artillery force. Although the expected casualties from an artillery barrage are nothing to sneeze at, Roger’s work suggests that the DPRK’s conventional artillery isn’t quite as formidable as popular rhetoric would suggest. Range is a major issue, something a 300 mm projectile helps out with.
Second, there is always the disquieting assertion by Pakistan that it has developed nuclear artillery. I’ve been skeptical of Pakistani claims because a few hundred millimeters is pretty slim for an early generation nuclear weapon. North Korea might be interested in nuclear artillery, might try even if the system is unreliable and isn’t above stretching the truth for effect. After all, North Korea also paraded a truckload of weirdos carrying chestpacks marked with radiation symbols through Pyongyang. The Strategic Rocket Force started life as the Artillery Guidance Bureau. Who knows. It’s something to ponder.