Following reports from the Donetsk and Luhansk self proclaimed people’s republics and from Russian state media that North Korea may dispatch tens of thousands of military personnel to support the Russian-led war effort in Ukraine.
With American military personnel reportedly being deployed to Ukraine to support the deployment of HIMARS systems more rapidly, and growing numbers of reports indicating that USA and Western personnel generally are playing a very large role in the Ukrainian war.
The deployment of North Korean forces would represent only the latest effort by Asia’s Pyongyang to counter Washington on the global stage.
The small East Asian state and the Western superpower have been at war for over 70 years, and have very frequently supported opposing sides of major conflicts.
While it was previously noted in the penultimate week of July that Russia could seek to acquire Korean rocket artillery systems, specifically the KN-09 and KN-25 platforms which comfortably out range both Russia’s own and the Western HIMARS recently supplied to Ukraine.
This implied not a sale of Korean artillery to Russia, but rather that Koreans dispatched to the front lines would bring their own systems with them, indicating just what kind of capabilities a military contribution from the country could emphasize.
Deployments of North Korean artillery units abroad, while it would have been almost impossible to predict when the Russian-Ukrainian War broke out in February, remains plausible and would hardly be unprecedented.
While North Korean military contributions to war efforts against American backed parties have varied widely, ranging from fighter pilots dispatched to Vietnam, Egypt and Syria to do battle with USA and Israeli air units to special forces supporting the Syrian government in the 2010’s, artillery officers and equipment have often been involved abroad.
Some notable examples include the provision of Koksan 170 mm self propelled guns to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, providing a very comfortable range advantage over the Iraqis, and the dispatch of rocket artillery units to aid Syria during the Lebanon War where its forces clashed with both American and Israeli units.
More recently North Korean artillery officers have played key roles in supporting Syrian Arab Army artillery operations against Western backed insurgents, notably at the strategically located city of Al Qusayr where an intense weeks long battle was waged against the Al Nusra front and other Islamist groups in 2013.
Korean artillery units and their weapons systems have thus deployed abroad several times in the past, meaning a deployment in Ukraine would hardly be unprecedented.
With both North Korea and the Donbass bordering Russia, the logistics of a transition across Russian territory likely by rail would be more straightforward than sending Korean assets to other regions, with the Russian Military having itself already rapidly redeployed assets from near Korea to participate in conflict on its western front.
The higher end KN-25 system first unveiled in 2019 boasts a longer engagement range exceeding 400 km and could be provided to supplement or instead of the KN-09, with both systems having been designed to maximize mobility much as the HIMARS was and use mobile launch vehicles allowing them to rapidly redeploy after firing in much the same way.
Other than the Chinese PCL191, the two have the longest ranges in the world.
While UN Security Council resolutions ban UN member states from purchasing North Korean weapons, deployments of North Korean forces to use their own equipment abroad would not be covered – neither would acquisitions by the Donetsk and Luhansk republics which are both non member states.
With artillery having come to play a particularly central part of the Russian-Ukrainian War, and being a longstanding specialty of North Korea’s armed forces, there thus remains a significant possibility that Korean artillery units will soon appear in the Donbass regions fighting alongside Russian and local forces against the Ukrainian government.
Military Watch Magazine / ABC Flash Point News 2022.