North Korea has unveiled a new long range surface to air missile system in service in its armed forces, which was one of a number of new weapons platforms shown during a major military parade on October 10th to mark 75 years in power for the ruling Korean Workers’ Party. Although less conspicuous than other Korean weapons systems on display, including Hwasong-15 intercontinental range ballistic missiles, an unnamed new class of battle tank, and multiple very unique new rocket artillery and tactical ballistic missile systems as well as new uniforms for the Army, the air defence system is potentially one of the most significant additions to the Korean People’s Army’s (KPA) inventory made since the country’s last military parade in September 2018. North Korea has one of the most diverse defence sectors in the world, which produces a wide range of armaments and support systems to meet almost all the defence needs of the KPA with the notable exceptions of fighter and medium transport aircraft – although the country has produced MiG-29 fighters under licence after purchasing a production line from Russia.

North Korea S 400
North Korea S 400

Aside from reports from Russian and other sources that the country acquired an advanced variant of the S-300 surface to air missile system sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s, the most capable long range air defences system in the Korean inventory was previously the Pyongae-5 (KN-06) platform which took centre stage at its last military parade in 2018. The system used small mobile launch vehicles which each carried two missiles, and is thought to have entered service in 2016 or 2017 and to have an engagement range of around 160-180km. The Pyongae-5 did much to modernise Korean aerial warfare capabilities, particularly in light of the lagging capabilities of the KPA Air Force, and the unnamed new system is expected to have considerably superior capabilities still. The new missiles are deployed from larger mobile launch vehicles which carry four missiles each, with an outward appearance similar to that of the Russian S-400 system.

The new Korean air defence systems were displayed alongside mobile radar systems, although it is unclear whether each system uses multiple networked radars with different frequencies as the S-400 does to better detect stealth targets, or whether it uses a simpler detection system as Western air defences such as the American Patriot do. With Russia’s S-400 and S-300V4 having 400km engagement ranges, and the Chinese HQ-9B reportedly being able to engage targets up to 300km away, the rate of progress in Korea’s defence sector and the possibility of technology transfers from Russia means the new air defence system, which appears to fire lager missiles than the Pyongae-5, likely has an engagement range of around 250km. Other factors including the possibly of duel IR and radar guidance, the speed of the missiles and number of missiles each system can guide simultaneously cannot currently be estimated within a reasonable margin of error.

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