N. Korea’s “new large-caliber guided rockets” were actually SRBMs, S. Korean military says

Posted on : 2020-01-20 18:08 KST Modified on : 2020-01-20 18:47 KST
Military reveals code for categorizing N. Korean weaponry
An image of the test launch of a projectile that North Korea called a “new larger-caliber guided rocket” on July 31, 2019, broadcast by Korean Central Television.
An image of the test launch of a projectile that North Korea called a “new larger-caliber guided rocket” on July 31, 2019, broadcast by Korean Central Television.

The South Korean military believes that projectiles from the “new large-caliber guided rocket system” that North Korea reportedly tested on July 31 and Aug. 2 of last year were actually short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM), the Hankyoreh learned on Jan. 19. While North Korean official media published images of the launch at the time, the images were pixelated, an unusual step that piqued curiosity.

Given the strong likelihood that North Korea was testing SRBMs, rather than a multiple rocket launcher, the South Korean military has reportedly dubbed the two projectiles “19-2” and “19-3” and classified both of them as unidentified SRBMs. This is the first report indicating that the military has its own system of codes for categorizing North Korean weapons systems.

The South Korean military has identified and analyzed North Korea’s weapon systems through photography and videos about “new weapons” published in official North Korean media, including Korean Central Television (KCTV), on 13 occasions altogether between May and November of last year. As a result of this analysis, the military reportedly believes that what North Korea tested on July 31 and Aug. 2 was probably not a “new large-caliber guided rocket system,” as it claimed, but rather existing SRBMs.

After identifying the weapon systems that appeared in last year’s test footage, the military assigned its own classification codes, such as “19-1” and “19-2,” to those weapon systems. The number “19” refers to the year in which the projectile launch occurred (that is, 2019). What follows is a serial number based on the category of the projectile. The military has devised its own codes for the North Korean weapon systems to better manage its analytical results. The South Korea and American intelligence communities have previously used codes such as “KN-23” for North Korean missiles (“KN” standing for “Korea, North”).

The codes that the military has apparently used to categorize North Korean projectiles range from “19-1” to “19-6,” as of January 2020. The missile that North Korea test launched for the first time on May 4 and then again on May 9, July 25, and Aug. 6 has been named “19-1 SRBM.” This missile, which North Korea claimed to be a “new tactical guided missile,” is also known as “KN-23” and the North Korean version of the Iskander.

The “19-2 and 19-3 unidentified SRBMs,” sources say, likely represent the same category as other SRBMs that North Korea fired last year. On July 31, 2019, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported South Korean vessels equipped with the Aegis system had detected the launch of two SRBMs from the area around Kalma, in Wonsan, which were fired northeast, toward the ocean, at 5:06 and 5:27 am. The Joint Chiefs said at the time that “analysis is continuing with a view to the possibility that these projectiles are similar to [those launched on] July 25.”

But the very next day, North Korea’s official media described the projectiles in question as a “new large-caliber guided rocket system,” prompting some to wonder whether the South Korean and American intelligence communities had mistaken rockets for ballistic missiles. In its coverage of this story, North Korean media pixelated the footage in which the projectiles appeared.

The new tactical surface-to-surface ballistic missiles launched on Aug. 10 and 16, called “new weapons” by North Korea and also referred as to the North’s version of the US ATACMS surface-to-surface missile system, has been named “19-4 SRBM.” The “super-large multiple rocket launcher” that North Korea tested on Aug. 24, Sept. 10, Oct. 31, and Nov. 28 has been named “19-5 SRBM.” The submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that North Korea unveiled on Oct. 2, calling it the “Pukguksong-3,” has been named “19-6 SLBM.”

By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

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