Imagine this scenario. A number of North Korean tanks have broken through the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), quickly followed by a number of soldiers. Prior to the breach, an advance group of North Korean special operations troops laid the groundwork for the successful assault on the DMZ.
Though North Korea’s ancient armor likely wouldn’t survive against South Korea’s more modern anti-tank weapons for long, what could perhaps be more worrisome for Republic of Korea (ROK) forces would be huge masses of North Korean troops on foot and in armored personnel carriers spilling through the DMZ—and towards Seoul. Here’s what could help keep a North Korean invasion force at bay.
Extended Range, Greater Firepower
The open source intelligence group Jane’s reported that South Korea will begin manufacturing their own, indigenously designed 120 millimeter self-propelled mortar system. The new 120mm mortar will be a big upgrade for ROK forces. Here’s why.
The platform for the new mortar is a variant of South Korea’s K200A1 tracked armored personnel carrier, which appears to at least superficially resemble the American M113 APC though there are several key differences.
The ROK K200 family of vehicles feature a prominent bow on the front hull glacis that extends when in the water, giving the K200 some amphibious capabilities, though the platform likely has more limited capabilities during high sea states. The manufacturer website states that the platform is capable of a modest six kilometers per hour on water, which is under four miles per hour. Still, some amphibious capabilities are better than none—especially when combined with a giant 120mm mortar.
The 120mm mortar would replace the smaller 107mm mortar currently in service with ROK forces, and would allow for extended effective firing range, and greater explosive power. Jane’s reports that the new ROK mortar would also come fully equipped with an automatic fire control system and a “semi-automatic loading system,” which allows for a prodigious rate of fire.
Jane’s quotes S&T Dynamics, one of the ROK’s main weapons suppliers, saying that the new mortar’s maximum rate of fire is “10 rounds per minute for 3 minutes, a sustained rate of fire of 3 rounds per minute, and a firing range of 8 km for high-explosive rounds and of 13 km for rocket-assisted projectiles.” A neat video of the launcher shows how the automatic system works and is worth the watch.
Plugging the Gaps
Back to the DMZ. Mortars rely on concussive force and fragmentation and are therefore not optimized for use against tanks. They also lack the accuracy of other weapons systems and pinpoint shots are not generally possible. What they lack in accuracy, however, they make up for in suppressive power.
With a large and lethal blast radius, South Korea’s new 120mm mortar could be used to “plug” holes in the DMZ and keep North Korean soldiers at bay, preventing a rush through the line. Here’s to hoping it never comes to that.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.