North Korean Ammunition for Russia
North Korea may supply Russia with ammunition for artillery systems, and also send workers to Donbas, in exchange for energy and material support.
The Russian army is consuming extreme amounts of artillery ammunition in Ukraine, regularly firing between than 40,000 and 60,000 shells per day, according to Ukrainian sources. Even Russia’s large stocks are not unlimited, and its production capacity is not sufficient for replacing the consumed ammunition. Hence, Moscow needs imports if it wants to sustain the current operational intensity of its war effort over a long time.
The most attractive type of ammunition in North Korea’s inventory is the missiles for the BM-21 “Grad” multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), the same Soviet-era system Russia uses. North Korea also uses Soviet 152 mm M-1955 (D20) towed artillery and 122 mm D-30 howitzer. North Korea has also manufactured self-propelled guns from these originally towed systems by mounting them onto tracked, lightly armored chassis. There are also larger-caliber MLRS systems in North Korea’s inventory, whose missiles might well be compatible with the launchers used by Russia due to their common Soviet origins.
In addition to towed and missile artillery, North Korea also has large numbers of the Soviet-era M-1943 120 mm mortar, which is still widely in service in Russia too. Hence, its 120 mm mortar ammunition might also be attractive for Russia.
North Korea’s contribution to Russia’s war in Ukraine might not be limited to selling ammunition.
North Korea’s contribution to Russia’s war in Ukraine might not be limited to selling ammunition. There have been sporadic reports that North Korean workers will be sent to occupied Donbas to assist in reconstruction there in exchange for Russian energy supplies and machinery deliveries. Russian official sources have confirmed Pyongyang’s interest in sending workers.
There are also rumors of North Korea planning to send up to 100,000 soldiers to fight for Russia in Ukraine. However, this seems rather unlikely, taking into account the extreme difficulties regarding logistics and particularly interoperability with Russian forces. Besides, North Korea’s army has no experience in high-intensity, combined arms operations, despite the constantly high tensions in the demilitarized zone on the Korean peninsula. Hence, it is questionable whether deploying even large numbers of North Korean soldiers would create much added value for Russia’s war effort, while it would certainly alienate the population of the occupied Ukrainian territories even more.
Selling possibly millions of artillery shells and missiles to Russia might well be an attractive way for North Korea to obtain much-needed energy supplies and economic help without weakening its military capabilities, which sending fighting forces to Ukraine would do.
In order to please Russia, North Korea has recognized the “independence” of the Donetsk National Republic and Luhansk National Republic in Ukraine. Its ambassador in Moscow also recently met with representatives of the two separatist entities.
This online commentary was published on September 8, 2022.