Weapons: Putting a Spike in North Korean Aggression


March 16, 2024: Recent aggressive North Korean announcements regarding South Korea have led South Korea to upgrade their defenses against North Korean attacks. The last time the North attacked South Korea was in 2010 when North Korea bombarded Yeonpyeong Island. North Korea is preparing to attack with the same weapons they have used before despite the South Koreans having superior weapons and more of them. North Korea also has a problem with China, which announced in 2014 that China would no longer automatically come to the aid of North Korea if the North Koreans got involved in another war with South Korea. There were disagreements in North Korea over the 2024 aggressive announcements, with some North Korean generals pointing out that their military is in bad shape, North Korean weapons are old and there are fewer artillery shells because of sales to Russia for their war in Ukraine. This brought in much needed money and food, but that did not solve North Korea’s acute economic problems. What caused these problems is North Korea putting so many resources into their ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons programs. Both these programs produced poor results. Nuclear weapons are crude and unreliable while ballistic missiles are not much better.

The Russians complained that the munitions and weapons they purchased from North Korea in 2023 were defective and substandard. About half the artillery shells purchased were duds. That was because of sloppy manufacturing practices. It was later revealed that such sloppy practices were tolerated as long as they were not made public. North Korea could not punish the Russians for complaining, although the north refused to give the Russians any refunds for unusable munitions and shabby production standards for weapons. These are the same munitions and weapons the north threatened to use against South Korea and the United States. South Korean intelligence knew the economic situation was bad in the north, but not as bad as the recent revelations described. The South Koreans had evidence of poor living conditions for North Korea soldiers. The southerners had cell phone photos of malnourished North Korea soldiers in shabby uniforms while working in factories or on farms where they grew their own food. North Korea has nearly a million men in the military but only about ten or twenty percent are combat ready.

When all this was recently made public, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fired his top general and threatened several others with demotion or dismissal if they did not make needed improvements in the North Korean military. That is not possible given the current economic conditions in the north. The weapons are old and, as the Russians pointed out, often ineffective. The North Korean army has ancient tanks and artillery that is unlikely to remain operational after firing a few shells. The air force has no modern aircraft and the ones they do have are poorly maintained and are rarely able to fly. The navy is equally ramshackle, and the many North Korean submarines are poorly maintained. These subs are often spotted on running the surface, but they rarely submerge because the crews fear these subs won’t be able to surface.

The Rocket Forces have lots of missiles and often launch them from west coast bases. The missiles launched are usually older ones that have become too old and in danger of losing their ability to operate at all. Instead of scrapping the elderly missiles, North Korea launches them. Many are no longer capable of that, and this is not noticed because the North Koreans consider the fact that so many defective missiles exist to be a military secret. This delays the South Koreans from finding out, but the southerners do eventually learn the truth because such information leaks into China and eventually to South Korea. The United States also provides South Korea with high-resolution photos of North Korea military assets and activity. The Americans also have a fleet of intelligence gathering aircraft that often operate off the North Korea coast. South Korea has obtained some of those aircraft in the form of UAVs equipped for collecting intelligence on the situation in the north.

To make matters worse, democratic South Korea is far more prosperous than the north and has a smaller but much better equipped and armed military. Over the last few decades, the south has developed modern and productive arms industries. Now South Korea is a major arms exporter of high quality weapons. These are being sold to nations in East Asia and around the world, especially in Europe where the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 led to European nations rearming. There was not enough arms production capacity in Europe and the United States to meet the demand, so the South Koreas stepped in and supplied what was needed, especially in terms of armored vehicles, artillery, and guided missiles similar to the GLMRS missile used by the Americans Himars system.

Although South Korea produces many weapons, it still imports systems that it does not yet produce. One of these is the Israeli Spike NLOS short-range guided missile. South Korea received the first of these in 2023 and used them to augment the South Korea artillery systems defending the coastline and DMZ demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. Spike NLOS has a range of 50 kilometers with an extremely accurate Israeli guidance system that has been around for decades, and is combat proven. Spike NLOS has been exported to ten countries and all versions of the Spike missile family are exported to about forty countries. Spike NLOS is economical with each 72 kg missile costing about $230,000. The missiles are carried in storage/launch containers that come in systems containing four missiles or individually from pylons under the wings of aircraft. The four-missile containers can be used on trucks or ships.

Spike missiles are also available as smaller anti-tank guided missiles. Spike NLOS began in the 1980s as a classified system that was used in combat but not discussed in the media. In the 1990s the missile system was revealed as the Tamuz system and that was eventually changed to Spike NLOS, the largest of the Spike family of missiles and one with the longest range and best accuracy because of its sophisticated guidance system. South Korea became a major export customer for Spike NLOS as well as the shorter range versions of Spike that are used as anti-tank weapons or portable artillery for the infantry. About 30,000 Spike missiles have been sold to export customers.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close