On New Year’s Day North Korea’s armed forces conducted three launches batteries of the new KN-25 600mm rocket artillery system, as 30 newly built units of the systems were delivered to the Army in a major early morning ceremony. Attended by the Chairman of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party Kim Jong Un, the ceremony saw the defence sector honoured and praised for its new deliveries as the East Asian state continues to expand and modernise its arsenals. The KN-25 first entered service in 2019, and has the longest range in the world other than the larger PCL191 system fielded in neighbouring China. Its ability to engage targets up to 400km away, including with nuclear warheads, provides a reach greater than that of many ballistic missile classes while allowing for saturation of targets in ways more costly ballistic missiles cannot achieve. Chairman Kim stressed at the ceremony that the new rocket artillery systems could strike key targets across South Korea, where the United States retains a large military presence of close to 30,000 personnel, with airbases and command centres expected to be priority targets in the event of renewed hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.
“These [MLRS] will serve their militant mission to overwhelmingly subdue their enemies, as our armed forces’ main offensive weapon… These armed equipment that the munitions working level presented to the Party and the revolution today are … equipped with great capabilities to to overcome topographies, manoeuvrability, as well as ambush multiple-launch precision attack capabilities,” Chairman Kim stated regarding the significance of the delivery. Reports at the time that North Korea would exponentially increase its production of tactical nuclear warheads led to speculation that a significant portion of new warheads would be reserved for the KN-25 and other battlefield assets. Although previously reserving its nuclear weapons for strategic use, changes to North Korean nuclear doctrine in 2022 allowed for the tactical use of such weapons. The KN-25 entered service in parallel to two new classes of tactical ballistic missile, the lighter KN-24 and the large KN-23 – the latter which is closely related to the Russian Iskander system but has been assessed to have surpassed the capabilities of its Russian rival most notably with its significantly larger engagement range. Multiple new derivatives of the KN-23, including extended range and rail launched models, have been unveiled since the system entered service in 2019, providing a highly potent complement to the expanding rocket artillery arsenal.
North Korea fields the largest artillery force in the world and one of the largest arsenals of tactical ballistic missiles – particularly as Russia’s rival missile arsenal has been significantly depleted by ongoing operations in Ukraine where missiles such as the Iskander have provided a key advantage. The East Asian state has been reported by U.S. sources to be supplying artillery rounds to the Russian Military, with some speculation that the KN-25 or the lighter KN-09 could eventually be delivered to provide a significantly superior strike capability than existing Russian artillery assets can. Artillery is seen to have played a particularly central role in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian War, which may have vindicated North Korean’s longstanding emphasis on these kind of assets. Advantages in artillery and ballistic missiles are seen as key to compensating for North Korea’s lack of modern manned combat aircraft, with a UN arms embargo imposed in 2006 preventing acquisition of modern fighter classes from neighbouring China and Russia. North Korea has notably taken steps towards modernising its older fighters with modern glass cockpit displays, with sophisticated indigenous air to air missiles also observed, although it is ultimately expected to rely very heavily on missiles and artillery for strike operations and on advanced new surface to air missile systems for air defence due to the constraints imposed by the age of its fighter fleet.