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.