Korea: Supplying the Ukraine War Effort

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September 12, 2023: In North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un traveled on his armored train into Russia to meet with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and discuss trade issues related to the Ukraine War. Russia needs more munitions, as in artillery ammunition and unguided rockets. North Korea can also supply rifle and machine-gun ammunition but Putin is most interested in the artillery munitions, which Russian troops do not have enough of in Ukraine and Russia cannot produce enough to meet the demand. North Korea wants technology related to advanced nuclear weapons. Russia is able to send more food, but the nuclear tech is another matter. North Korea uses its primitive nuclear weapons to threaten South Korea and Japan. North Korea is militarily belligerent but has relatively primitive military capabilities compared to South Korea, Japan and the United States. China has long refused to supply North Korea with this kind of tech because of fears that North Korea would use it carelessly and recklessly. China disapproves of Russia providing this tech to North Korea. As a major economic trading partner with Russia, Putin can not ignore the Chinese concerns. In the long term Russia needs China more than North Korea, but in the short term Russia needs more ammo, which North Korea will supply but China won’t. It may take a while for the outcome of the Putin-Kim discussions becomes public.

In the last week North Korea revealed Hero Kim Kun Ok, a large (2,000-3,000 ton) diesel-electric submarine with a large structure behind the conning tower said to hold three ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads. These claims are exaggerated, and South Korean officials pointed out some reasons why. North Korea has been working on similar subs and SLBM (Sea Launched Ballistic missiles). In early 2022 North Korea launched a SLBM from its only sub equipped to do so. This SLBM appeared to be a version of the land-based KN23, which is based on the Russian Iskander ballistic missile. The North Korean submarine Gorae (Whale), is a 1,500-ton diesel-electric sub modified t0 include a single ballistic missile launch tube in the sail. This sub was used as early as 2016 for SLBM tests but most SLBM tests were still launched from an underwater platform. North Korea used Gorae for a SLBM test in 2021 and that test apparently failed and damaged the sub. The damage was soon repaired. This Gorae was modified to test the North Korean Polaris SLBM, a copy of the Russian Cold War R-27 but with a solid-fuel engine. North Korean missile subs are variants of the Russian Romeo-class conventional subs.

Since 2015 North Korea has been building a larger diesel electric sub that can carry three SLBMs. Progress has been slow because of growing shortages in North Korea, higher priority for land-based missiles and the difficult development of nuclear warheads that can work reliably on ballistic missiles. North Korea tends to exaggerate the capabilities of new weapons and submarines, even ones based on earlier technology that worked. South Korea is much more advanced economically and militarily and has built 3,000 ton submarines based on Western designs. These have the ability to carry and launch ten ballistic or cruise missiles with conventional or nuclear warheads. These missiles have ranges of up to 3,000 kilometers.

In 1991 the United States withdrew all its nuclear warheads from South Korea and the two Koreas agreed not to develop and deploy nuclear warheads. North Korea went ahead and developed nuclear warheads anyway, even though it was obvious that South Korea could do the same and produce more reliable nuclear warheads and more effective submarines to launch them. When North Korea violated the agreement, South Korea went ahead and produced SLBMs with conventional warheads launched from South Korean designed and built submarines. North Korea ignores the face the South Korea can develop more reliable missiles and submarines to launch them from. South Korea now has a growing fleet of locally built submarines that can carry ballistic or cruise missiles. Most South Koreans now approve of building nuclear warheads, just in case North Korea foolishly tries to use such missiles against South Korea or any other country. Since 2014 South Korea has been building nine 3,300 ton KSS-III submarines, each able to carry six or ten locally developed SLBM ballistic or cruise missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers.

September 11, 2023: North Korea keeps their software engineers’ content by allowing some to work in China and participate in lucrative hacking efforts that steal money and valuable information from foreign countries. North Korea may be a socialist state, but the leaders realized their skilled hackers would be more effective if provided with financial incentives. The North Korean hackers are a major source of foreign currency for their government as well as themselves. The North Korean hackers in China are accompanied by security personnel to protect the hackers and, more importantly, see that none of them seek to illegally move to another country.

While North Korea devotes a lot of special personnel and money to border security, the special police force working for the Ministry of Social Security concentrates on helping local police deal with disorder and increasing disobedience by civilians. Since late 2022 North Korea has been increasing the number of armed mobile police available. Units of 80 to 120 men serve in each mobile police company and these companies are assigned governments in each province, counties in the provinces and cities. These companies can also have communications or weapons specialists attached. The communications can monitor local civilian Internet and telephone activity while weapons specialists include snipers and explosives personnel who can deal with bombs to threats of bomb use. The armed mobile police are an elite organization that carefully screens applicants and those accepted are well paid and cared for. The government recently provided the armed mobile police units with surveillance UAVs and helicopters to quickly move more police to where they are needed. The helicopters can also transport supplies of equipment or evacuate injured policemen. The additional resources for the armed mobile police is a reaction to the growing resistance of civilians to regular police and new government mandates. Most North Koreans have good reason to resist and the government has responded.

North Korean snipers in army and police units are to receive the new M78 sniper rifle; which the government is producing under license granted by Russia. The M78 has a five round magazine for 7.64x54 ammunition. In addition, there is a new sniper scope and a pistol grip as well as an optional bipod. North Korea does not currently produce 7.64x54 ammunition and is modifying an ammunition factory to solve that problem. Meanwhile ammunition must be imported. The older sniper rifles will be smuggled to foreign customers who can afford such weapons.

September 9, 2023: North Korea commemorated its 75th anniversary as a nation. China and Russia sent delegations. China is North Korea’s primary trade partner and Russia has been purchasing more North Korean weapons munitions for its war in Ukraine. In return Russia supplies North Korea with desperately needed food supplies, oil and the promise of advanced military technology. China is less willing to support North Korean military ambitions and is already North Korea’s major source of food imports. Russia wants even more munitions and North Korea has substantial stockpiles of artillery munitions for Russian howitzers, mortars and MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems). Russia also needs replacements for artillery systems lost since early 2022. This includes 5,300 mortars and howitzers as well as 729 MLRS. Russia still has reserves of artillery weapons and is refurbishing as quickly as it can. Munitions for these weapons is another matter. The 122mm and 152mm howitzers are firing so many shells, a few thousand, that some of them have worn out their barrels and need replacement barrels. North Korea has a lot of artillery compatible with Russian models but money shortages have delayed needed refurbishments of these guns and access to refurbishment services is something North Korea will trade artillery munitions for. Russia can provide more food as well as assistance with refurbing North Korea’s elderly howitzers. What Russia needs most is artillery munitions and discussions with North Korea involve the details of how much of what caliber Russia can provide. At the moment, quantities are limited by how much Russia can transport over the Trans-Siberian rail line. The trip from North Korea to southern Russia takes about 10 days. Sending the munitions by sea is too risky, because of energetic NATO sanctions enforcement and the long distances the ships would have to travel, especially because these ammo vessels won’t be allowed to use the Panama or Suez canals. The trip involves leaving from a Russian or North Korean Pacific Coast port and traveling around southern Africa or South America to reach a Russian port in northwest Russia. Yet another problem is Ukrainian efforts to damage portions of the Trans-Siberian rail line. So far this year there have been at least six acts of sabotage, mainly to signal or rail switching equipment. There was much more of this in 2022 and that forced Russia to increase security in areas where the Ukrainian or pro-Ukraine Russian saboteurs were operating. There are millions of ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, too for Russia to monitor. There are also many pro-Ukraine Russians who are against the war and some are willing to act. Ukraine has a growing network of informants and operatives in Russia, something the Russian government would rather not discuss.

September 5, 2023: South Korea is introducing more effective methods for tracking and seizing cryptocurrency North Korean hackers steal in South Korea and then use it to pay for North Korean weapons production or development. In 2022 this hacking effort produced $1.28 billion worth of Bitcoin and Ethereum for North Korea. South Korea has long made an effort to track the activities of North Korean hackers. This led to the discovery that North Korean hackers were ordered to try to obtain useful tech on building nuclear weapons and reliable space satellites. Russia refused to provide this data in exchange for more North Korean munitions.

September 4, 2023: North Korean arms exports have significantly increased recently because of the Ukraine War and continued fighting in Syria and Africa. International sanctions prohibit these exports but they are regularly smuggled out. Except for weapons going to Russia. There is a rail link with Russia and once in Russia the weapons can continue on rail to Ukraine or to the Pacific port of Vladivostok for movement by sea. North Korea can also put the weapons and ships for movement to China. The Chinese generally obey the arms sanctions to avoid getting hit with sanctions and other penalties for assisting North Korean smuggling. China does engage in smuggling, but to move Chinese made products to customers no one is supposed to work with. North Korean weapons also go to Iran, Egypt and Qatar. The North Korean weapons are not the highest quality available but adequate for customers looking for low prices and delivery to anyone who can pay. North Korean weapons and munitions factories have had to add additional shifts because North Korea had to use wartime stockpiles to meet the growing Russian demands. North Korea shipped the oldest munitions to Russia first because these items degrade with age and after a few decades they are useless. North Korea has been exporting most of its oldest munitions and replenishing stocks with recently manufactured items. Russia accepted a lot of elderly artillery rockets which performed erratically in Ukraine. These rockets are unguided so the accuracy is not an issue. The more recent munition shipments have contained much less elderly shells and rockets, which reduces the malfunctions. Russian munitions are notoriously unreliable even when newly manufactured. Range and accuracy is erratic as is the reliability of fuzes. This causes many Russian shells to land and not detonate.

September 1, 2023: Poland announced a joint Polish-South Korean military exercise in Poland. This will take 60 kilometers from Russian territory and showcase the $13.7 billion worth of South Korean weapons ordered by Poland last year. This included a thousand South Korea K2 tanks, most of which will be produced in Poland under license. The 55-ton K2 is similar to the American M1 but without annoying American export controls. K2 has a 120mm gun that can also fire guided missiles as well as extensive electronic systems and an autoloader. That means the crew size is three. South Korean troops began receiving the K2 in 2014 and currently have 250 of them. Ten were sent to Poland in late 2021 for evaluation. The Poles were impressed and, after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, Poland increased its order from 180 to a thousand, with 180 still built in South Korea and the rest in Poland. By the end of the decade Poland will have the largest tank force of any European NATO member and superior in quality, if not quantity, to anything Russia has.

The K-2 replaced older American M-48 tanks, and completed the transformation of the South Korean tank force. Three decades ago, South Korea developed, and built, its own K-1 tank using assistance and licensed tech from the United States. The 51 ton K1 is based on the American M1 design, but is somewhat smaller and equipped with the same 105mm gun used by the U.S. M60 tank. The K1 has a 1,200 horsepower diesel, instead of a 1,500 horsepower gas turbine engine in the M1. Production of the K1 ended in 1997, with about a thousand built. There have since been some upgrades to the fire control and communications systems, as well as the development of the K1A1, which has the same 120mm gun as the M1, along with other equipment used by the M1, but not the K1. The K1A1 is apparently part of the K2 development project, as only two K1A1 prototypes were built, and successfully tested.

The K2 does not use any American tech and that means South Korea can freely export the K2 to anyone. The K2 has an improved 120mm gun, capable of firing an anti-tank missile, as well as the usual gun munitions. The K2 weighs 55 tons and outclasses anything Russia, North Korea, Japan or China has. The K1 outclassed North Korean tanks but the K2 is better protected and more capable. The K2 has a number of new electronic defenses. It will have a laser detector that will instantly tell the crew the direction the enemy laser beam is coming from. Most tanks use a laser rangefinder before it fires its main gun. The K2 fire control system also enables the main gun (120mm) to be used to hit low flying aircraft (helicopters, mostly). There are also numerous improvements to the K1 mechanical and electronic systems, as well as more armor (both composite and ERA). This will make the K2 easier to use and maintain. An autoloader reduces the crew to three men.

South Korean engineers will assist Poland in setting up the K2 production facility.

August 29, 2023: North Korean leader Kim Jon Un admitted that the North Korean navy was inferior to those of nations like South Korea, Japan and China and that something must be done to at least deal with the South Korean navy. Kim pointed out that the North Korean navy was small and using inferior ships. Kim does not like to openly admit that South Korea and Japan have larger navies with modern ships and submarines. South Korea and Japan have better navies because their economies and technology are much more advanced and capable than North Korea’s. Only recently has Kim admitted that South Korea has a larger and productive economy than the north. Before that, North Korea depicted the South Korean economy as inferior to North Korea. This comparison was less convincing as more North Koreans came to understand that South Korea was far more prosperous and technology advanced than the north. Any North Korean questioning why that is likely to end up in a labor camp or dead. A growing number of North Koreans understand why but don’t discuss it openly. North Korean per capita income is $1,600 while in South Korea it is $45,000. South Korea and Japan are both likely targets of any North Korean aggression and are working together to more effectively deal with any North Korean attacks. Previously South Korea was reluctant to cooperate with Japan because of lingering anger over Japan’s 40 years of harsh occupation in the early 20th century. That anger has abated and turned into cooperation with Japan against the North Korean threats.

August 26, 2023: North Korean smugglers are bringing in more Chinese video content for the children of the higher-class families that can afford more food and luxuries like electronic devices to view forbidden content stored on USB or MicroSD devices crammed with recent South Korean entertainment and news video. Chinese content is less likely to get you executed if you are caught distributing it. MicroSD cards are cheap, costing a few dollars for a Chinese or South Korean card that carries at least 32 gigabytes of data. Normally these tiny cards are used for smuggling South Korean movies and TV shows. Possessing one of these in North Korea is considered treason. The distribution groups will duplicate videos on USBs or MicroSDs and sell these for up to $12 each or an equivalent amount in Chinese or North Korean currency. While many of the distributors are crafty lower-class types, many of the buyers are children of the cadres. The police offer lenient punishment for the growing number of cadre kids they catch viewing forbidden videos if they will reveal who they got the forbidden material from. The distributors respond by developing more furtive operations and concentrating on the less dangerous, for the distributor, Chinese language content. Some of the cadre kids have become duplicators and distributors and are easier to catch. Lower class distributors are often executed but so far, the cadre class distributors have been spared that, although longer sentences in labor camps can be a death sentence for a cadre kid not accustomed to surviving on little food and a hostile atmosphere. The government is very upset at the growing lawlessness and defiance by the children of cadre and the providers of this content have responded by avoiding South Korean content in favor of Chinese content, with subtitles or dubbed in Korean.

August 22, 2023: The Japanese Navy which is already the second largest in East Asia, is second only to China. Japanese combat ships are all of modern design with well trained and experienced crews. Japan, along with China and South Korea, are the largest shipbuilding nations in the world and produce, in terms of tonnage, over 95 percent of the commercial shipping built annually. For centuries the major manufacturer of commercial ships tended to develop and build the most innovative and numerous warships. This is how the United States became the leading warship supplier after World War II (1945). European nations rebuilt their shipbuilding industries after World War II and became and remain major competitors. Later in the 20th century China, Japan and South Korea became and remain major commercial shipbuilders and that enabled them all to design and build their own warships. The U.S. is now a minor component of commercial shipbuilding and having problems building world-class warships and doing it on time and under budget.

August 16, 2023: North Korean police offer rewards to informants who report anyone possessing South Korea videos or pornography. North Korea recently designated possession of such items a major crime that can be punished by execution. The dealers of such items are often executed while just viewing it results in some time in a labor camp. Chinese police can usually spot and arrest the North Korean illegal migrants. The illegals don’t “look Chinese” because of the way they move in public and their inability to speak fluent, or any, Chinese. None of the illegals have valid ID documents. The police used to let the illegals go if they could pay a large enough bribe. Police will still accept the bribe, but now will not release the North Koreans. Because of the Chinese crackdown, few illegals are getting to South Korea. This crackdown began during the covid19 shutdown in North Korea and China when the illegals were seen as a health hazard.

 

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