Kumsong-3; Why North Korea’s Adversaries Fear its Mobile New Coastal Defence Missile Batteries
Asia-Pacific , Missile and Space
19 June 2018
In the early stages of the Korean War, North Korean forces were able to engage the Untied States and their fast growing coalition of allies almost exclusively on the ground - with the U.S. Air Force and Navy facing little opposition in gaining uncontested control of the air and sea. While the North Korean military, numbering approximately 70,000 soldiers at the time, managed to push an enemy force over twice its size into a weeks long retreat, its inability to contest air superiority or threaten enemy warships bombarding its positions from the sea made operations considerably more difficult. Indeed, it was the U.S. Navy’s unchallenged naval dominance which was key to the success of the Inchon landing, under which tens of thousands of U.S. Marines landed behind North Korean lines. This cut off supply lines while compounding the already vast American numerical advantage, forcing the North Koreans themselves onto a retreat and thereby turning the tide of the war.
The importance of controlling the air and sea have been critical to North Korea’s military doctrine ever since the end of the Korean War, and alongside country’s vast investments in what would become one of the world’s most capable anti aircraft missile networks, the military also begun to invest heavily in defending its vast coastlines from enemy attacks. The North Korean Navy today fields by far the largest submarine fleet in the world, which is primarily compromised of short ranged indigenously designed Sang O Class attack boats which are extremely quiet and potentially lethal when patrolling the country’s territorial waters. The country’s air force itself trains regularly to target enemy warships with overwhelming force - deploying air launched anti ship missiles such as the Silkworm capable of engaging warships at ranges of several hundred kilometres. More recently, an advanced land based long range anti ship missile platform entered service to further strengthen the defences of the country’s coasts - the Kumsong-3.
The Kumsong-3, also known as the KN-19, is deployed from highly mobile tracked launch vehicles which each carry four missiles. Able to redeploy rapidly, and move off road over almost any terrain due to its tracked wheels, the mobility of the launch vehicles make seeking out and destroying KN-19 missiles extremely difficult for enemy aircraft - particularly when operating under pressure from North Korean air defences. Indeed, even in the open desert terrain of the Middle East the U.S. Air Force had trouble hunting down the far larger and more conspicuous mobile Scud missile launchers used by Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War - and when operating in forested or mountainous terrain the Kumsong-3 is likely to prove considerably more survivable still. Able to ‘shoot and scoot,’ the missiles are able to inflict considerable damage to enemy warships at extreme ranges and quickly relocate to avoid being located and destroyed. With North Korea’s terrain being the most extensively tunnelled in the world according to a number of reports, missile batteries may well even be able to disappear underground to avoid detection by enemy forces - striking at the opportune moment before again disappearing. The missile can thus significantly enhance the country’s costal defence network.
The Kumsong-3 is, according to a number of Western sources, derived from the Russian Kh-35 anti ship cruise missile, though these claims have yet to be verified. While the missile system has previously been sited during military parades, a demonstration of its capabilities in June 2017 was met with much apprehension among North Korea’s potential adversaries. The Kumsong-3 is in fact significantly more capable than the standard Kh-35, and contains important evolutionary guidance and manoeuvrability improvements making it both more precise and more difficult to intercept despite its subsonic speeds. According to U.S. sources, the missile test carried out in mid 2018 demonstrated successful waypoint manoeuvres and a considerable in flight at a range of at least 240 kilometers - as well as a more advanced guidance suite in its seeker than the Kh-35. Seekers reportedly made use of sophisticated active radar and infrared homing for terminal guidance. With the Kh-35 having entered Russian service in 2003, and today considered the country’s most capable subsonic anti ship cruise missile, the fact that the Korean platform can surpass its capabilities bodes ill for the country’s potential adversaries.
During the June 2017 combat test, Kumsong-3 missiles were launched from Wonsan to strike a target near Mayang Do island. The missiles demonstrated the advanced capabilities of their guidance systems, flying into the Sea of Japan perpendicular to the coast, further east than the location of the target, before turning at low altitude to minimise chances of detection. The missiles proceeded to turn towards the target and launch a successful strike. The platforms’ high manoeuvrability and resulting survivability against ship based missile defences was demonstrated adequately. The assessment, as reported by Western sources, align with those of North Korea - with Korean state broadcaster KCNA reporting: “the launched cruise missiles accurately detected and hit the floating targets on the East Sea of Korea after making circular flights.” Maps indicate that the precise location of waypoint at which the missiles changed course was preplanned. The ability of the missiles to successfully carry out in flight waypoint manoeuvring makes them a lethal threat to the U.S. Navy and the surface warships of other potential adversaries near Korean coasts. Combined with heavily fortified coastal radar arrays, the missiles would provide the North Korean military with the ability to strike hostile targets hundreds of miles out to sea with impunity.
The Kumsong-3 represents one of several highly sophisticated asymmetric weapons systems North Korean has invested heavily in developing to be able to effectively deter hostile attacks, and the missile’s testing came at a time of peaking tensions between the country and the United States. Much like neighbouring China has done with its own anti ship missile platforms, in the face of a growing threat from the U.S. Navy, North Korea is also likely to continue to invest in improving the range and accuracy of the Kumsong-3 - a highly cost effective means of protecting the country’s coasts from hostile attacks. In this way, that country can avoid ceding undisputed control of the surrounding seas to the United States as it did in the Korean War - meeting an enemy attack on land, in the air as well as at sea and thereby posing a far greater threat to a potential attacker than it did during the previous war.
F-35 vs. Su-57; Which is the Better Fighter for Turkey? (Infographic Comparison)
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
19 June 2018
Amid growing tensions between Turkey and the Untied States over a number of critical issues, conflicting interests in the Syrian theatre and Turkish defence cooperation with and acquisition of advanced arms from Russia being key among them, lawmakers in Washington have with the support of a number of influential lobbyists groups pushed for the blocking of sales of the F-35 light stealth fighter to Ankara. Support for the sale's cancellation have gained growing momentum, with 44 member of the U.S. House of Representatives signing a joint letter calling for such action on June 15th. Turkey’s planned acquisition of the Russian S-400 surface to air missile system over Western made alternatives in particular has led to a number of key figures in the United States leadership to call for reprisals against the country for stepping out of line with the West’s pressure campaign against Russia, with the U.S. even threatening economic sanctions against the country under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was signed into effect in August 2017 and imposed penalties on states which made large purchases of Russian weapons. The threat of cancelling F-35 deliveries remains a secondary means for the United States to press Turkey to abandon its plans to acquire the S-400 and fall into line with other NATO members.
Further complicating Turkey’s planned acquisition of the F-35 light fighters to modernise its air fleet, Israel has raised concerns with the United States that should Ankara acquire the stealth fighter it would negate the Israeli Air Force’s advantage in a potential conflict between the two powers in the Middle East. Israel has thus requested that the United States, should it proceed with sales of the fighters, should deny the Turkish military the latest software for the stealth fighters - thus ensuring a continued Israeli advantage while providing Turkey with a downgraded variant of the F-35.
A number of Turkish sources have indicated that as a result of threats by the U.S. to cancel the sale of the F-35, Ankara could acquire the Russian Su-57 fifth generation air superiority fighter in its stead. By cancelling the F-35, not only would the United States lose one of its oldest clients for combat aircraft, but Israel, Greece and other potential Turkish adversaries would also find themselves facing a considerably more dangerous Turkish air fleet than they would have had Ankara purchased the American stealth fighter. While the Su-57 and the F-35 are both fifth generation fighters, the two are hardly comparable in their role or their capabilities. The F-35 designed as a lighter and less costly complement to the elite F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter, a platform no longer in production and banned from export, and itself lacks the specialisation of heavier fighters and retains poor air to air combat capabilities. The Su-57 by contrast was designed as a heavy twin engine air superiority platform, much like the F-22, and was intended to contend with American Raptors over Europe and the Pacific. Much like the F-22 Raptor is considerably more capable in an air to air combat role than the F-35, with the latter maintaining only limited defensive air to air combat capabilities, the Su-57 too retains a considerable advantage over the F-35 in the air. This is reflected in its speed, altitude, sensors, missile carriage, engagement range, and manoeuvrability - all fields in which the heavier Russian fighter is far superiority.
Turkey’s Air Force today fields a sizeable light fighter fleet, comprised of approximately 250 F-16 and 40 F-5 multirole platforms. The country’s air superiority capabilities however leave much to be desired, with the Vietnam War Era third generation F-4E Phantom remaining the country’s fastest, highest flying and most heavily armed platform and its only heavy fighter. While the F-35 would provide a considerably more modern light fighter for the Turkish fleet, it is arguably the country’s air superiority capabilities which are most in need of improvement - hence why the Su-57 could be the ideal platform for Turkey. While a fourth generation air superiority platform such as the F-15C or Su-30 would be sufficient to considerably enhance Turkish air superiority capabilities, a more advanced fifth generation heavy platform would provide the country with the most capable air superiority fighter in the Middle East or Europe. The Su-57 can also be equipped to function as a high end strike fighter - deploying advanced munitions such as the Drel fire and forget glide bomb, the Kh-59MK2 cruise missile as well as the highly sophisticated Kh-58 and Kh-38M. Many of these missiles are capable of travelling at several times the speed of sound, and are significantly more capable than the subsonic air to ground munitions relied on by the F-35 - a platform which relies heavily on low speed subsonic missiles. The heavy fighter's strike capabilities, coupled with its high survivability, could make it a highly value asset for operating in the Middle Eastern theatre. Should the U.S. proceed to terminate sales of the F-35 to Turkey, not only would Ankara move to rely more closely on Moscow for its defence, but the Turkish Air Force would also field a considerably heavier more capable and aircraft for its fleet. Acquisition of the Su-57 could also pave the way for Russian involvement in Turkey's indigenous fifth generation fighter project - thus effectively backfiring and severely undermining American interests.
New Fighters for Sudan; Khartoum to Aquire Chinese JL-9 Jets Amid Air Force Modernisation Drive
Africa and South America , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
18 June 2018
Sudan’s Defence Ministry has announced that the Air Force is set to acquire six new Chinese JL-9 twin sight fighter trainer jets. The acquisition of the aircraft comes shortly after an order was reportedly placed for Su-35 supermanoeuvrable air superiority fighters, ‘4++ generation’ platforms which are set to provide Khartoum with the most advanced air to air combat capabilities in Africa and the Middle East once they enter service. With Sudan notably lacking sufficient trained pilots to fly the advanced new Russian built aircraft, particularly considering the reported size of the order of up to 40 fighters, placing an order for the JL-9 trainer is was likely done to prepare new batches of Sudanese pilots to operate the Su-35. With its previously relatively meagre air fleet lacking any air superiority platforms whatsoever, relying on dated Soviet era platforms mostly purchased second hand from Belarus and which rarely flew, a new trainer could well be a much needed asset to facilitate the Sudanese Air Force’s modernisation efforts.
Sudan has long been a client for Chinese arms, though its acquisitions of Chinese fighter jets has been relatively limited with Khartoum appearing to favour Russian made combat aircraft.The JL-9 is widely used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Air Force and Navy, and a variant to train carrier pilots, the JL-9G, has also been developed. Low operational costs were prized in the fighter’s development process to maximise the hours pilots can spend in the air while minimising overall training costs. Flying trainers, pilots can gain flight experience at a fraction of the cost as those operating high end combat aircraft. With the JL-9 having been designed to train Chinese operators of the J-11B and Su-30, fighters similar to and based on the same original airframe as the Su-35, the platform is ideal to train Sudanese pilots to operate their new combat aircraft ordered from Russia.
Alongside its role as a trainer, the JL-9 can also double as a single engine light fighter and can reach speeds of Mach 1.5 - only a little slower than the U.S. F-35 fifth generation stealth platform's speed of Mach 1.6. The JL-9's 16,000m operational altitude exceeds that of the U.S. F-16 and F-35, granting the light Chinese made fighter a considerable degree of survivability. It retains a high climb rate of 260m/s. The aircraft can deploy advanced air to air and air to ground munitions on five hard external points, and can carry up to three fuel tanks to extend its range. The use of an advanced pulse doppler radar give the platform high situational awareness, and makes it potentially formidable in medium range air to air engagements. The fighter’s 2000kg payload can include missiles for air to air and air to ground strikes, bombs and rocket pods. Considering Sudan’s need to often perform basic counterinsurgency strikes within its borders, the JL-9 is likely to see combat missions alongside its training function. With Khartoum currently the only party to have acquired the JL-9 from China, whether other parties will follow suite in future due to the aircraft's attractive combination of low acquisition and operational costs and advanced combat capabilities remains to be seen.
Rampage; The Israeli Air Force’s Deadly and Precise New Standoff Missiles and Why They Are Key to Enhancing its Strike Capabilities
Middle East , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
18 June 2018
Amid growing threats to Israeli air superiority and the ability of the country’s Air Force to launch strikes against hostile targets in the Middle East, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is set to commission a new air launched standoff missile to enhance the strike capabilities of its combat aircraft. The new weapon, dubbed ‘Rampage,’ can be deployed by the Israeli Air Force's elite F-15I Ra’am strike fighters and the lighter and shorter ranged F-16 and F-35 single engine multirole fighters. It is designed for precision strikes on enemy targets at long ranges, in most cases beyond retaliation range, which is ideal for countering advanced enemy air defence networks. The missile travels at supersonic speeds, making it both more difficult to intercept and more dangerous upon impact as it imparts substantial kinetic energy onto its target alongside the strength of its sizeable 570kg warhead.
The Rampage has been developed as a joint project by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Israel Military Industry (IMI) in response to the needs of the Israel Air Force to counter sophisticated anti access area denial (A2AD) missile networks. The platform's origins lie in IMI's Extended Range Artillery guided rocket (EXTRA), which has been extensively modified into an air launched platform. Amit Haimovich, director of marketing and business development for IAI’s Malam, stated regarding the purpose of the weapons system: “If you take the Middle East arena and areas protected by air-defense systems, the whole point of this missile is that it can hit targets within standoff ranges” - all without threatening the launching platform. With Israeli aircraft having increasingly resorted to striking Syrian targets from well beyond its borders, particularly given the vast investments made by Damascus in strengthening and modernising its air defence systems near its Western border, superior indigenous standoff weapons will come as a much valued asset to the Israeli Air Force. With a strike range of 145km, the missile can be delivered from beyond the range of almost all Syrian and Iranian Air Defence platforms.
Considering that a number of missile strikes have reportedly been blunted by Syrian air defences in recent months, with basic subsonic cruise missiles failing to bypass the country’s surface to air missile network, a new air launched missile designed specifically to improve survivability is invaluable. As Director Haimovich stated, due the Rampage’s combination of speed and specialised physical profile, “it can be detected, but it is very hard to intercept." According to Israeli media, the Rampage is set to be a weapon of choice for striking high value enemy targets such as command posts, airfields and maintenance depots. Its specialised capabilities give it the ability to do so even in a war’s early stages when enemy air defence networks remain strong. The Rampage does not have a straight ballistic trajectory, and is designed to be highly manoeuvrable to be able to better evade interception. With a GPS guided internal navigation system, it is capable of striking with high levels of precision in both day and nighttime conditions and is relatively resilient to electronic interference.
While the Rampage is set to pose a far greater challenge to Syria’s heavily upgraded Cold War era air defence systems than previous weapons platforms, how it will far against more sophisticated surface to air missile systems such as the S-300, S-400, BuK and Pantsir which are set to widely proliferate across the Middle East remains to be seen. At the very least, should the Rampage prove vulnerable to interception by these new Russian made surface to air missile systems, its long range will markedly increase the survivability of Israeli fighter jets by allowing them to conduct strikes from well beyond a country’s airspace. Even against state of the art surface to air missile platforms, the aircraft will be considerably more survivable at longer ranges where they have far more time to respond to and attempt to evade incoming missile attacks. With the Rampage set to enter mass production in 2019, and tensions between Israel and Iran fast escalating as the former threatens Iranian forces deployed in Syria and the latter threatens to restart enrichment of Uranium, a key facilitator of the development of nuclear weapons, the Israeli Air Force could well have much need for the new supersonic standoff missile in the near future.
War Profits; U.S. Defence Stocks Plummet Following Trump-Kim Summit - Second Major Drop After Moon-Kim Summit in April
North America, Western Europe and Oceania , Missile and Space , Foreign Relations
17 June 2018
The June 12 summit between North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, in which the American leader pledged his intention to bring a swift end to the Korean War almost 70 years after it began, has led to hopes for a new and unprecedented peace on the Peninsula - as well as a future of mutual recognition and closer economic ties between the two Koreas. While the U.S. President hailed the summit as a great success, proclaiming the following day an end to the threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear forces and remarking on the great chemistry between himself and Marshal Kim, in the United States itself the development was met with considerably less enthusiasm by the President's opponents. Media outlets aligned with the Democratic Party for one were heavily critical of the summit, while human rights organisations slammed the President for talking to a leader who they alleged was a ‘gross human rights abuser’ - criticising him in particular for not raising North Korean domestic issues at the summit and covering only the foreign relations of the two countries.
One party which arguably has the most to lose from the success of the Trump-Kim summit and an abating of tensions in the Korean Peninsula is the U.S. defence sector, and to a lesser extent those in Europe as well, which have seen sales skyrocket as a result of growing tensions between North Korea and the United States in 2017. U.S. defence stocks notably fell considerably on the day of the summit in Singapore. Raytheon, the producer of Patriot air defence batteries, radar and missiles used by American combat aircraft and a number of other missile and electronic warfare missile platforms, closed with stocks valued 2.8% lower. Lockheed Martin, the largest defence producer in the United States and manufacturer of a number of prolific combat platforms including the new F-35 stealth fighter widely exported across the Pacific, lost 1.3%. Northrop Grumman, which has produced a number of advanced drones combat aircraft and electronic warfare systems, itself saw a loss of 1.5%. Navy shipbuilder lost 1.6%.
The fall in stocks was hardly unprecedented, with the highly successful meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un in April having also hit defence manufacturers hard. Raytheon lost 3.9% in the aftermath of those talks, having been hit particularly hard as a result of North Korea’s heavy focus under its military modernisation program on ballistic missile capabilities which it the U.S. manufacturer specialised in countering by producing missile defences including the Patriot, GMD, and the Standard missile used by the Aegis system. General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin all lost over 2%. With the agreements signed under the Moon-Kim summit having been far more comprehensive, it was to be expected that defence stocks would take a greater hit in April than they did in June.
Explaining the cause of the losses suffered in the aftermath of the Trump-Kim summit, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham Brad McMillan stated: "If weapons are used they need to be replaced. That makes war a growth story for these stocks, and one of the big potential growth stories recently has been North Korea… What the (Trump-Kim) agreement does, at least for a while, is take military conflict off the table." Not are American arms clients across the Pacific likely lower military expenditures on arms imports, but the United States is also less likely to need to acquire weapons for a major war in the region.
A number of analysts have speculated that the United States may well have sought a peace agreement with North Korea to allow itself to better focus and ready itself for full engagement against the Islamic Republic of Iran, a far softer target in the Middle East. Lacking North Korea's regional support, unified population, mountainous terrain, nuclear deterrent, or massive conventional military - engaging Iran is far less dangerous for the United States and its allies than the risk of conflict with Pyongyang. Defence stocks could well see a considerable rise in the near future as American rhetoric escalates alongside preparations for war, and the Untied States' greater focus on cooperation with its defence parters in the Middle East is set to lead to more involvement in that region. This would very likely more than compensate for losses made by major defence producers in the aftermath of the peace process with North Korea, with some of the largest defence spenders in the world situated in the Middle East and acquiring ever growing arsenals of American made weapons as the U.S. military itself makes preparations for a potential armed confrontation with Tehran.
Taipei’s Amphibious Dilemma; Why U.S. AAV-7 Assault Vehicles are Wholly Inadequate Against Chinese Positions in the Taiwan Strait
Asia-Pacific , Ground
17 June 2018
The Untied States military has reportedly set aside 36 of its AAV-7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles for delivery to Taiwan, allowing its small East Asian defence partner to expand its fleet of armoured amphibious carriers to 90. The AAV-7 vehicles have reportedly been withdrawn from the United States’ own reserve forces, and represent the latest in a long line of many American older weapons systems provided second hand to Taipei. A Vietnam War era platform in service since 1972, the AAV has seen action in several U.S. military interventions abroad, including the Invasion of Genada in 1983 and the Gulf War in 1991. The vehicles were long ago expected to be replaced by considerably more capable Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) in the early 2000s, a platform with significantly enhanced firepower and twice the armour protection for vastly improved survivability, critical to surviving strikes from modern anti armour munitions, which the AAV-7 lacked. The EFV was cancelled due to post Cold War budgetary constraints and the perceived unlikelihood of needing to make a beachhead landing against a near peer adversary with the Soviet Union effectively out of the picture.
The AAV-7 is lightly armed with M2HB .50 caliber heavy machine gun and a Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launcher, and carries four crew and up to 25 marines. The lightly armoured vehicles are designed for beachhead landings, much like those performed by the U.S. and its allies on D Day in 1944, though whether they remain viable against fortified beachheads given their age and relatively poor armour remains highly questionable. In Taiwanese hands, the military is likely to deploy them for amphibious landings to capture or recapture outlying Islands off Formosa held by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). While the platform was designed for landing operations during the Cold War, its viability today against one of the most sophisticated armed forces in the world remains highly questionable.
Given the age and poor survivability of Taiwan’s assault vehicles, they are unlikely to pose a threat to China’s far more modern and sophisticated capabilities. Much like the M48 and M60 Patton tanks, platforms dating back to 1953 and 1961 respectively, the AAV-7 is will be an extremely soft target for the PLA’s heavily armed ground forces - which have developed capabilities to engage third and even fourth generation near peer adversaries against which the amphibious vehicle’s old and light armour will be of little use. Indeed, while Taiwanese Patton tanks have been heavily upgraded to somewhat enhance their survivability despite their age, the armour of the AAV-7 has seen no comparable improvements. While Taiwan’s former President Ma Ying Jeou, in light of the military’s dire need for the platforms, suggested that the armed forces supervise the production of an indigenous armoured assault vehicle, it was determined that Taipei lacked the industrial capacity to mass produce such platforms domestically. With Taiwan unwilling to acquire platforms from non Western sources for political reasons, this leaves the military with little choice other than to rely on an ageing American design which by the time of delivery will be entering its 50th year.
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