North Korea's M-1991 multiple launch rocket system
By Lee Tae-hoon
Military experts and insiders downplayed Monday media reports that North Korea has succeeded in doubling the range of its 240-millimeter multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) in time to celebrate the centennial of the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung’s birth in April.
They said it was nonsense to believe that the impoverished North has made significant progress in the development of a propulsion system that doubles the range of the rockets.
Citing an anonymous government source, media outlets, including Yonhap News Agency, claimed that the communist North recently completed upgrading its model of the 22-round M-1991, a truck-mounted MLRS.
They argued that the South’s entire capital area, home to more than 20 million people, will come under the range of the modified rocket, dubbed “Juche 100 Gun,” as it is capable of travelling more than 120 kilometers.
A senior rocket expert at the Defense Acquisition and Program Administration (DAPA) said the media reports were baseless unless the North has successfully developed a propulsion system that is a quantum leap ahead of advanced countries, including the United States and Russia.
“I’m highly skeptical that the North has technology that even the United States has yet to develop and the world has yet to witness,” he said.
“The range of the South’s 227-millimeter multiple launch rocket system is limited to 45 to 46 kilometers, despite the fact that it has employed the advanced technology of the United States.”
The expert said the range may be doubled if nearly all of the rocket’s explosives are removed to add more fuel. However, then not only the weapon’s accuracy, but its impact too would drop radically.
A senior missile expert at the Ministry of National Defense (MND) also downplayed media reports, saying military intelligence authorities have yet to recognize any noticeable improvement in the North’s 240-millimeter M-1991 rockets.
“If the North has already deployed such a long range rocket as reported, intelligence sources would have spotted it much earlier during the testing of such weapons,” he said.
An intelligence official at the MND concurred with him, saying no intelligence has been received on a major breakthrough in the improvement of the communist nation’s MLRS.
“I’m not sure how the news was generated. It is doubtful that the North has succeeded in doubling the range of a rocket,” he said.
“The North might have intentionally tipped off sources to such misleading information in an attempt to exaggerate its military might without actually having to prove it.”
He said the Pyongyang might have been pressured to do so to dodge criticism of failing to fulfill its pledge of becoming a “powerful and prosperous nation” by 2012.
Officials of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) declined to comment on the matter, saying they are not allowed to provide any explanation to North Korean weapons development.
The North is known to have been operating two types of 240-millimeter rocket launchers, the 12-round M-1985 and the 22-round M-1991.
According to media reports, intelligence officials here believe the Stalinist state will likely unveil an upgraded version of the M-1991 to the public during a massive military parade on April 15 this year, the 100th birthday of the late Kim.