TechNorth Korean ammunition utilized by Russians against Ukrainians: A product of the "axis of evil"

North Korean ammunition utilized by Russians against Ukrainians: A product of the "axis of evil"

Russians with 120 mm mortar shells from North Korea
Russians with 120 mm mortar shells from North Korea
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | Ukrainian Front
2:29 PM EST, November 12, 2023

Increased evidence of Russians using North Korean ammunition has recently been found online. The focus is on 120 mm mortar rounds, the performance of which we will explore.

This development follows previously noticed instances of North Korean ammunition usage, namely 122 mm rockets for BM-21 Grad launchers and 122 mm artillery shells. This cooperation between Russia, Iran, and North Korea, referred to as the "axis of evil" 2.0, now includes large-caliber mortar rounds compatible with, for example, Soviet 2B11 Sani mortars.

Fascinatingly, this isn’t the only instance of Russia sourcing ammunition from unusual places. Just a few months ago, reports emerged of projectiles originating from the conflict-plagued regions of Burma/Myanmar.

The capability of North Korean mortar shells

The regime of Kim Jong-Un has supplied Russia with simple, fragmentation-explosive shells. These can reach distances of up to 4.35 miles and tend to weigh between 33 and 35 pounds. Majority of the weight comprises a cast steel body housing around 1.4 kilograms of trotyl, which is detonated by a basic impact fuse.

When these shells come in contact with the ground, the trotyl explodes, generating a shock wave and fragmenting the steel body into deadly shards affecting an area up to 230 feet in diameter. Thus, with a fairly lightweight platform such as a mortar weighing just over 440 pounds, a firepower comparable to a heavier 105 mm howitzer can be achieved, albeit with a shorter range.

Since these shells lack guidance systems, a large quantity is needed to achieve the desired destructive effect. This contrasts with modern projectiles from Western countries, which explode a few meters above ground level, scattering potentially lethal fragments over enemy trenches. Hence, the damage done by one or only a few of these more advanced shells equals that of multiple unguided ones.

The access of Russians to such ammunition, however, is limited. Consequently, they generally employ an "old school" approach of using large volumes of straightforward equipment, facilitated by supplies from North Korea.

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