North Korea Tests a New MLRS: Don’t Expect Desert Storm v 3.0

The nature of North Korea’s latest missile test has become clearer, and it turns out, according to KCNA, to have been a test of the combat effectiveness of a new multiple launch rocket system or MLRS. Kim Jong-un oversaw the test firing, according to KCNA. We’re talking here of a North Korean long range Katyusha. That makes sense given the early reports, emanating from South Korean military sources, which cited a range (250km) and apogee (30km) for the test. It’ll be interesting to see whether those numbers hold up, and the ultimate configuration of the system. Russia’s 9A52-4 Tornado has a firing range of 90km. China’s A300 MLRS (depicted below) has a reported firing range of 290km, which is like the reported range of North Korea’s new MLRS.

At time of writing I have no access to photos of the test. The KCNA statement did say that the new MLRS “will play a main role in ground military operations.” Furthermore, Kim Jong-un himself is cited as saying of the new multiple rocket launch system that “it is very great and it would be an inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon.”

That bit about “fat target of the weapon” has attracted mirth, especially on twitter. What might this mean? Multiple rocket launch systems are area suppression weapons, and I suspect that this is what Kim means when he talks about US-ROK ground forces becoming a “fat target of the weapon.” If so, it seems to me that the test of a new MLRS, the unveiling of an SSB Mod to the Romeo class submarine, and the recent KN-23 SRBM tests are connected.

North Korean strategic planners are concerned with OPLAN 5015 the US-ROK operational plan, as opposed to contingency plan, for war with North Korea. Reports suggest that this plan includes an element of pre-emption, with South Korea’s KAMD (Korea Air and Missile Defence) and Kill Chain as important ingredients, and an enveloping attack to pincer Pyongyang so ending the regime. The Romeo SSB Mod provides planners with a capability to overcome THAAD because of the direction of its radar system, effectively flanking it from the sea with KN-11 SLBMs, the KN-23 has a pseudo ballistic flight profile designed to evade missile defence and to attack time urgent strategic targets critical to the implementation of the pre-emption options of OPLAN 5015. A long range MLRS may be designed, in part, to give the Korean People’s Army a means to suppress concentrations of manoeuvre formations crucial to enveloping Pyongyang.

The 250km range also means that the Korean People’s Army can direct artillery fire along the DMZ from a rear echelon, an important consideration given the ability of US-ROK ground forces to subject KPA artillery to counterbattery fire. The new MLRS will be beyond the range of US-ROK artillery charged with this counterbattery fire mission.

In short, this could be Pyongyang’s way of saying that a second Korean War won’t go down like Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Korean People’s Army won’t sit around and wait for the US to mass its forces; it will try to deter and to prevent the US-ROK from concentrating its forces prior to the delivery of a decisive, regime ending, blow.

Update: KCNA has released footage of the test, and it looks to be an MLRS system mounted on a tracked chassis. See pics below, some of which KCNA has pixelated. The warhead section appears to be affixed with fins, possibly of relevance for manoeuvrability.

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