North Korean Military Aid in the Russo-Ukrainian War: A Russian Perspective

By | September 12, 2022 | No Comments

The recent New York Times story about Russia allegedly purchasing weapons from North Korea has drawn a predictable amount of speculation from Pyongyang watchers who specialize in military affairs. The general consensus among Western analysts as evinced by recent analyses published in The Diplomat and Reuters appears to be that the DPRK would most likely be sending small arms compatible with Russian technology based on the history of North Korea-USSR military ties. 

One Russian journalist, however, argues that North Korea could provide more heavy-duty firepower that could end up tipping the tide in Russia’s favor on the battlefield. Whether this reflects wishful thinking on the part of pro-Russian voices or could actually become a factor in Russia’s campaign against Ukraine, it is worth considering all possibilities. This is particularly true as Russia vows to draw closer to North Korea, a country flush with weapons but short of cash. 


Russia Is Buying Up Artillery From the DPRK: How Else North Korea Could Help Russia Speed Up Operations in Ukraine[1]


According to the American publication The New York Times, citing US intelligence, Russia is purchasing artillery from North Korea. They say that global sanctions, which have seriously limited supply chains, have forced Russia to turn to the DPRK to buy “millions of artillery shells and rockets”. Well, North Korea does in fact possess a powerful army and a considerable supply of effective military technology: North Korea is, in fact, ready to do battle with South Korea or the United States at any given moment, you see. Thus, the land of juche could use its arsenal to help Russia continue prosecuting its military operations in Ukraine. 


Raw power

Experience on the battlefield in Ukraine has shown that artillery is the god of war. In particular firepower from cannon can ultimately make or break an offensive or defensive operation. 

In that regard, without exception, various types of HIMARS and Excaliburs play a crucial role in striking high-precision targets. But combined firepower on the front lines provides an advantage. The most lethal weapons are not necessarily the most technologically advanced. Raw firepower can also be highly dangerous. An example of this system is the 170mm “Koksan М-1989” heavy artillery howitzer. These weapons can cause serious damage when used correctly given that they have a strike range of between 40-60 km. 

The absence of electronic components makes these howitzers appropriate against interferences and electronic pulses, allowing them to remain functional even amid the fiercest of fighting. 

The “Koksan M-1989” is mounted on a modified Type 59 chassis from China. This self-propelled gun can move at a speed of up to 40km/h on the highway with enough fuel to travel 300 km. 

Western analysts believe that the DPRK currently has about 720 “Koksan” self-propelled guns – that’s 20 brigades with 36 guns each. By and large, rather than acquiring howitzers outright, Russia could rent them if doing so would be more beneficial to the DPRK. Until North Korea’s missile capabilities came into the scene, these were the only weapons with which North Korea could launch serious strikes from its territory against major centers in the South, namely Seoul, the capital and the post city of Incheon. With the development of missile technology, the significance of the “Koksan” as a strategic weapon has decreased. Nevertheless, these self-propelled guns remain a critical component of the Korean People’s Army’s armaments. 

The most powerful piece is the KN-09 multiple rocket launcher. That’s a recently-unveiled piece of North Korean military equipment. It’s not a HIMARS, but it can launch a volley of eight 300 mm rockets at a radius of 200km. It looks like the Russian “Smerch”, but it has a more modern overload system, in which it’s necessary to overload each individual tube: each empty four-tube container fixed to the truck can be replaced with a full one. Like inserting a new clip. This significantly reduces reloading time.


Protected and dangerous

The main battle tank Pokpung-Ho III can effectively attack and break through the defenses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces: yes, this is possible for North Korean tanks. 

The Pokpung-Ho III contains some design features and equipment from some tanks from the Soviet era, as well as local improvements that make it considerably powerful so that it can face off against modern Western tanks. The fundamental structure is based on the T-72 tank and is outfitted with a standard 125 mm smooth-bored cannon. With a weight of 44 tons, the Pokpung-Ho is not a heavy tank, and belongs to the same weight class as the T-72. Yet in contrast to the Russian version, it contains more modern defenses: an inclined glass plate, overhead armor and ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor).

It is particularly well-suited for nighttime combat, insofar as it is equipped with infrared sensors, a laser rangefinder and searchlights. The latest version of this tank has been seen equipped with two anti-aircraft and two anti-missile rockets. And the 14.5 mm machine gun for the tank commander was replaced with a double-barreled 30mm automatic rocket launcher, while keeping the 7.62 mm machine gun with which it was paired. 


In addition to the “Iskander” and the “Kalibr” 

Besides, considering how actively the Russian Armed Forces are using medium-range missiles, Russian productive capacity could fall behind relative to the needs of the battle front. In that case, the North Korean medium-range ballistic missile “Nodong” could prove to be beneficial. 

That, in essence, is a modernized and expanded “Sklad” missile with a flight range of 1,500 km. It is said to be very precise. It is difficult for missile defense systems (American in particular) to intercept with insofar as it can force missiles to fly at an altitude outside of their strike range. 

This liquid fuel rocket can carry a regular warhead weighing up to 1,000 kg or a nuclear warhead. Well, Russia wouldn’t be using nukes in Ukraine. At least not yet. Yet even one ton falling from the sky is a powerful force. For comparison, the Russian Iskander carries a warhead weighing between 700-800 kg. 

According to experts, North Korea can deploy about 500 of these missiles, meaning Russia can convince them to sell a few hundred of them. 


Strategic forces

North Korea also has decent anti-aircraft missiles and submarines, but that would hardly be of use to us. As would the main calling cards of the DPRK’s firepower – the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile and the latest submarine-launched “Pukguksomg-5A” ballistic missile.

Aside from that, Pyongyang recently conducted a successful test of the Hwasong-8 ballistic missile. It is difficult to detect a warhead zooming toward its target at over six thousand kilometers an hour, and even more difficult to intercept one. In this case, North Korea has exceeded the US. Military experts believe that China assisted the DPRK with developing its missiles. But, as it turns out, they’re not the only ones! 

The funny thing is, North Korea is largely indebted to Ukraine for its successful missile program! It has a direct connection to the construction of the intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear warheads capable of threatening the United States. The New York Times, an American publication, made this assertion based on a paper from the International Institute of Strategic Studies and intelligence data. 

In any case, however, Russia is not going to buy ICBMs: Russia still has its own supply. Likewise, North Korea is not going to sell off its strategic reserves. 


Special subdivisions

However, military aid from Pyongyang in terms of personnel – if it were given to Russia – could be a decisive factor in urban warfare, even if it were only between a thousand and 1,500 troops. 

The DPRK has one unique subdivision – a brigade of snipers. It is capable of guaranteeing an operational breakthrough against Ukrainian defenses with the speedy liberation of any populated areas. 

The Ukrainian armed forces are turning entire cities into fortified areas housing tens of thousands of non-combatant civilians. A solid breakthrough in each of these fortified areas requires incredible effort and considerable time. The DPRK’s sniper brigade could in fact turn this tactic on its head. The presence of enemy machine-gunners and artillery operators hiding in residential buildings could significantly speed up the movement of allied troops. 

Even during the Great Patriotic War[2], Soviet forces stood up entire sub-divisions of snipers who took care of business especially during the Battle of Stalingrad, not simply by destroying individual targets, but by destroying entire enemy sun-units. From what we’ve seen, North Korea has drawn from this experience. 

Even a thousand seasoned experienced snipers (and military service in North Korea lasts 10 years) could bring down the tactic of urban warfare, which the Ukrainian armed forces are trying to impose on allied troops. 

Theoretically, the republics in the Donbas themselves could ask for such direct support. Indeed, North Korea has recognized the DNR and LNR as independent states. In response, Ukraine broke off diplomatic relations with the DPRK.


Original article by Aleksandr Pylev. Translated by Anthony V. Rinna.


[1] Source: Russia Is Buying Up Artillery From the DPRK: How Else North Korea Could Help Russia Speed Up Operations in Ukraine [Россия закупает артиллерию у КНДР: чем еще могла бы нам помочь Северная Корея для ускорения СВО на Украине], Bloknot.ru


[2] This phrase is used in Russia to describe the apsects of WWII in which the Soviet Union was directly involved.

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