Thursday, 3 July 2014

North Korean anti-tank missiles in the Middle East

North Korea, well known for its ballistic missile programme, depends on its foreign relations to provide currency that allows the regime to maintain control over the country. Exports of ballistic missile and even nuclear technology to countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran and Myanmar have been much reported and draw a lot of attention from international observers. However, aside from delivering both conventional and strategic weaponry to sovereign states around the world, it appears North Korean anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) are now also showing up in the hands of what have been branded as terrorist organizations by the USA, a development which shows a broadening involvement of the DPRK in the arms trafficking market.

Imagery of a fighter loyal to the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, shows him operating an indigenous variant of the 9K111 Fagot, designated the Bulsae-2 in North Korean service. The al-Qassam Brigades is likely to have received the missiles from North Korea via Iran through an elaborate network of smugglers and backdoor channels ranging from Sudan to the Gaza Strip. This likely happens in a similar fashion to how this is done with other transports: after delivery to Port Sudan, the weaponry is transported overland to the Gaza Strip via Egypt, as was supposed to be done with the the delivery onboard the Klos C, which was intercepted by the Israeli navy near the coast of Sudan in the Red Sea.

More launchers and missiles have popped up in the inventory of the Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, which seceded from Hamas because of political differences. It is unknown whether other conventional armament was delivered alongside the ATGMs, but North Korea is also known as a major producer of MANPADS and rocket-propelled grenades, making it plausible some of these were exported as well.

To further support this theory: in December 2009, a North Korean arms shipment aboard an Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane was discovered and seized by the Thai authorities immediately after landing in Bangkok. The cargo, which was marked as consisting of oil-drilling equipment, contained thirty-five tons worth of rockets, surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and other weaponry. Another similar shipment was impounded in the United Arab Emirates a few months earlier (July 2009). A large quantity of shipments to both Hamas and Hizbullah is believed to have been transferred unnoticed. With North Korea being a lead player in the arms trafficking business, ways of transport and smuggle routes are always evolving.

North Korea’s role is thus limited to being the manufacturer of the systems. Yet, even though both Iran and North Korea maintain the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy, it can be assumed North Korea has full knowledge of the destination of the Bulsae-2s. But with North Korea’s sole interest in this deal being the money, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The 9M111 wire-guided missile uses semi-automatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) to make its way to the target and can penetrate up to 460mm of armour, depending on the variant and target. Upgraded variants, including the 9M113 missile used by the 9K111-1 Konkurs system, can also be fired by the same launcher (with the exception of the earliest variant), providing cross-platform compatibility for both the 9M111 and 9M113 missile series. The DPRK is known to have received the 9K111 system from the Soviet Union first in 1988, a deal which supposedly continued with the Russian Federation until 2010 and entailed the delivery of some 4500 systems. Due to the interchangeable nature of the missiles, it can’t be said for certain whether or not only the 9K111 Fagot or also the 9K111-1 Konkurs was delivered. However, there is no known Korean designation for the 9K111-1 Konkurs, and the Bulsae-3 is most likely an unrelated system.

The North Korean launchers differ in a few key areas. Most notably, the optics have been extensively modified. While the operator’s scope of the 9P135 (the lower scope in above picture) is similar to the operator’s scope on the Bulsae-2, the scope auto-tracking the missile (the upper scope in above picture) has been swapped for two separate smaller optics. The way this works is unknown, as is whether or not it constitutes an up- or downgrade over the original design. Lastely North Korea appears to manufacture their own distinctly shaped batteries, which likely does not affect the quality of the system.

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Thursday, 12 June 2014

North Korean Kh-35 anti-ship missiles shed light on a modernizing navy

Even though a lot of categories of equipment of the Korean People's Army are known quite well due to satellite imagery and propaganda videos, the rare aspect of the Korean People's Navy (KPN) is often overlooked. Considering the scarcity of footage and high-quality satellite footage of KPN naval ships, this is hardly surprising. However, as is illustrated by the sheer amount of ships being produced over the years, the Korean People's Navy still does play an important role in the current day North Korean military.
The most recent developments of this secretive branch has been the introduction of so-called Surface Effect Ships (SES), stealth technology and even domestically produced Kh-35 missiles. The latter, a true game changer in the Korean peninsula, signifies the start of a new dawn for the Korean People's Navy.

 A North Korean Kh-35 launched from Surface Effect Ship. Note the 76mm OTO Melara copy in the lower left in the second shot.

The Korean People's Navy, commonly known to be solely operating ageing P-15 Termit (Styx), HY-2 (Sillkworm) and indigenous KN-01 anti-ship missiles, received two types of anti-ship missiles since the dissolution of the Soviet Union: Chinese made C-802s were supplied to North Korea from Iran in 1999 to help Iran producing this missile for its own navy and Kh-35s (also known as 3M-24) were received from Russia in the 90s.

The missile, the Korean designation of which is currently unknown, was also exported to Myanmar. Relations between North Korea and Myanmar reached a peak in the mid 2000s, and also seems to have led to the export of sophisticated weaponry to Myanmar. The Navy of Myanmar, along with other North Korean naval weaponry, installed the missiles on the frigate F11 Aung Zeya.

North Korean Kh-35 canisters aboard the F-11 Aung Zeya.

The import of Kh-35s was first unveiled in early 2012, when imagery of a North Korean SES was released as part of a military documentary, showing racks used to mount four Kh-35 canisters. The recent surfacing of imagery of the Myanmarian F11 Aung Zeya class frigate confirmed that the missiles are produced by North Korea and actively exported to friendly nations, along with other naval assets.

Originally developed by the Tactical Missiles Corporation, the North Korean missile differs in a few areas compared to the original Russian Kh-35. Most notably, the canisters have been extensively modified compared to the original Uran-E launcher. The number of mounts for the stowage of additional missiles has been increased to three and the canister has a much cleaner look compared to the Russian canister. It also appears the engine was modified, as is shown by the cone-shaped exhaust nozzle which appears to be unique to the North Korea design. Lastely North Korea appears to manufacture their own distinctly shaped mounting rack.

Kim Jong-un walking in front of a quadruple mounting rack on one of the Surface Effect Ships.

It is unknown if the indigenous Kh-35 constitutes an up- or downgrade over the original design. The
original Kh-35E is capable of destroying ships up to five-thousand tonnes at a maximum range of one hundred and thirty kilometres while under heavy electronic countermeasures. The missile enjoys a low signature due to its small size, sophisticated radar, sea-skimming capability and capability to resist the strongest of electronic countermeasures.

The indigenous Kh-35 missile, the Russian base variant of which is often regarded as the most cost-effective anti-ship missile in existence, is a huge improvement over other North Korean anti-ship missiles, and poses a massive threat to the navies of both South Korea and the United States due to its large range and countermeasure-defeating properties. While the measure to which it is deployed by the Korean People's Navy is as of yet unknown, the missile is likely used on a variety of newly produced naval platforms. This is certain to present a great challenge to opposing forces, and will definitely have serious implications on naval balance in the area.

Although it has only just been publicly confirmed the Kh-35 is in use by North Korea, their first usage by the DPRK dates back to the 90s, a testimony to the capability of the secretive state to keep prying eyes away from military projects.

The domestically produced Kh-35 is to form the spearhead of the Korean People's Navy striking power for years to come.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

North Korean Helical AK Magazines

Several new developments in North Korean armaments can be witnessed amongst the recent flow of propaganda released by Pyongyang after Kim Jong-un’s ascension to power.  One such development is what appears to be a new magazine model for the North Korean copy of the AK-74, the Type 88. This new magazine uses a staggered helix design, which allows for a high number of 5.45 x 39 mm cartridges to be carried without the notable increases in size and unwieldiness that characterise many other high capacity magazines. So far the only users of this helical magazine appear to be Kim Jong Un’s (and formerly Kim Jong Il’s) personal bodyguards. While in the picture above each bodyguard appears to be carrying only one magazine (which, given their high capacity, isn’t that surprising), other, earlier, footage shows a loadout of two spare magazines for each bodyguard, as seen below. The magazines appear to have been in service since 2010, and possibly earlier.
The North Korean Type 88 is usually seen issued with standard 30 round magazines and, aside from the standard wooden or synthetic fixed stock, a side-folding or top-folding stock (pictured). Two notable distinctions differentiate the North Korean helical design from other helical magazines that have been developed. First, and perhaps most obviously, this magazines was developed for a larger, more powerful rifle calibre than existing designs. Existing helical magazines have typically been developed for pistol calibre weapons, with designs having been produced in calibres such as 7.62 x 25, 9 x 17SR (.380 ACP), 9 x 18, and 9 x 19 mm. Secondly, whereas other helical magazines have typically been developed in conjunction with the firearms intended to make use of them, the recent North Korean example was instead produced for use with an existing weapon, appearing to make use of the bayonet lug for mounting. The top-folding stock, another North Korean innovation, allows the stock to be folded with the magazine inserted, which would not be possible with typical side-folding or under-folding AK stocks. Whilst there are persistent rumours of both Russian and Chinese developments of helical magazines for AK pattern weapons, no documentary evidence has emerged to date.

The nature of the post-production design and the inherent complexity of helical magazines (when compared to standard removable box magazines) suggest that while these magazines offer a greatly increased cartridge capacity, they may render the weapon more prone to malfunctions and misfires. It is unknown if similar magazines have been developed for other calibres, or to what extent the helical magazine has been integrated into the Korean People’s Army.

Magazine specifications:

The following specifications are estimated based upon measurements extrapolated from known dimensions, as well as a comparison with existing helical magazines. They represent the author’s ‘best guess’ at present. 

Calibre: 5.45 x 39 mm
Capacity: 100 to 150 cartridges
Weight: Approximately 2 kg
Length: Approximately 370 mm
Diameter: Approximately 85 mm

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