North Korea’s firing of two short-range projectiles over the sea from the Wonsan area on the east coast on Mar. 2 was aimed at testing new rocket artillery systems, Daily NK sources have reported.
“Specifically, the drill was aimed at showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il a tactical firepower system that combined traditional and new weaponry,” a North Korean military source told Daily NK on Mar. 3.
“The drill was connected with an order issued by Kim last November to update weapons deployed throughout the country’s frontlines [areas facing South Korea],” the source added.
In November, Kim had visited a military unit on Changrin Islet and ordered that the military put together “new tactical plans” to improve the North Korean military’s “ability to fight in combat” and “improve its equipment” to respond effectively in “modern warfare.”
Daily NK also reported on Feb. 18 (in Korean) that the North Korean military leadership had handed down orders in early February concerning where new tactical weapons would be deployed and who would man the new weapons.
“The main gist of the order was to combine conventional and newly developed weapons to increase the firepower available along the front,” one of Daily NK’s military sources said.
“Kim’s on-the-spot visit to the base on Feb. 28 was aimed at inspecting our conventional weapons. Kim then visited units equipped with new artillery weapons on the country’s frontlines on Mar. 2 to see how powerful they were,” he added.
North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Feb. 29 that the purpose of the Feb. 28 drill was to examine the “mobility and firepower strike ability” of defense units on the front and in the “eastern area” of the country, and to inspect the ability of the central command to conduct “joint strikes” across “different branches of the military.”
KCNA also published a photograph of about 90 self-propelled artillery and rocket launchers lined up for the drill.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FEB. 28 DRILL
Some observers have downplayed the significance of the Feb. 28 drill because its scope was small relative to other “joint strike” drills conducted in the past – namely in Jan. 2015, Mar. 2016 and Apr. 2017.
Daily NK military sources reported, however, that the smaller scope of the Feb. 28 drill was because the military did not deploy the entirety of its artillery weaponry in the drill. Military leaders reportedly already knew that Kim Jong Un was set to inspect the combined firepower of both conventional and newly-developed weapons four days later on Mar. 2, so they purposefully conducted a small-scale drill.
During the Mar. 2 drill, North Korea appeared to have tested a rocket artillery system with 12 launch tubes and another with four launch tubes, according to a photograph published in the Rodong Sinmun on Mar. 3.
“The range of a 300mm mobile multiple rocket artillery system with 12 launch tubes extends over 200 kilometers,” one military source said. “From November last year up until now the military has positioned these rocket artillery systems in units along the front, in the east, west and central regions.”
The 300mm rocket artillery systems that North Korea finished development on in 2017 are difficult to intercept, due to the fact that the trajectory of its rockets resembles that of a missile and because they launch multiple projectiles.
At the moment, neither the South Korean nor the US military have a viable defense against these rocket launchers. South Korea’s military remains the most apprehensive of North Korea’s 300mm multiple rocket launcher.
The four-tubed multiple rocket launcher fired on Mar. 2 is an updated version of a large-scale 600mm multiple rocket artillery system, which was tested on Nov. 28 last year. The Mar. 2 launches were aimed at showing that the interval times had gotten shorter, Daily NK sources said.
“The new [four-tubed] multiple rocket artillery system succeeded at firing in ten-second intervals,” one military source said. “I think they’ll probably be deployed soon.”
The two rocket artillery systems used on Mar. 2 have been equipped with advanced GPS capabilities to improve their precision, Daily NK sources further reported.
“Past rocket artillery systems focused on shooting mass amounts of firepower to destroy everything in their path. The new weapons, however, have guidance mechanisms that enable them to precisely aim their firepower on specific targets,” the military source said.
“That means it’s possible for rocket artillery system operators to map out a trajectory beforehand to ensure their projectiles don’t get intercepted,” he added.
NEW WEAPONRY WILL BE DEPLOYED SOON
The favorable outcome of the firepower strike drill on Feb. 28 suggests that the military will both finish positioning its existing 300mm multiple rocket artillery systems as well as begin mass producing the newly developed 600mm multiple rocket artillery systems.
The military has regarded the “joint strike” drill as a success and will likely complete the deployment of its existing 300mm systems before starting efforts to mass produce the newer and larger 600mm systems.
“The military will soon move to deploy the new systems into the field,” one of Daily NK’s military sources said.
“Although the coronavirus has created a crisis in the country, the military needs to show that it is battle-ready in every way,” he added.
*Translated by Violet Kim
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