The year 2017 marked a highpoint in U.S.-North Korean tensions with the United States continuing to maintain that the military option was still on the table. Though nuclear threats have also been exchanged, one of the oft-quoted retaliatory capability of North Korea has been its ability to devastate Seoul within a day by applying its conventional artillery fire power. This has been a powerful argument that supposedly adds to deterring the United States from military action. We contend that such an argument is misplaced and fallacious, and it doesn’t withstand tactical and technical scrutiny. We also believe that in a situation of a nuclear overhang, military options are challenged by unacceptable risks.
Way back in 2003, Time magazine reported that North Korean Artillery could flatten Seoul in the first half hour of any confrontation. A South Korean security analyst suggested that North Korean artillery pieces of calibers 170 millimeter and 240 millimeter “could fire 10,000 rounds per minute to Seoul and its environs.” There are many other such analyses and reports (before and after) that have reinforced and complemented this canard. The hype that has been created is now an amoebic prophecy which feeds on itself. It dominates the national thinking of South Korea and has created a fear psychosis. Attempts to argue otherwise or question this canard have lacked depth and are not conclusive. Hence, the canard has assumed delusional proportions. We have carried out an analysis to examine if North Korea can flatten Seoul with conventional artillery in any confrontation. We have given the best to North Korea. The benefit of any doubt was given to the team which argued that North Korean artillery can flatten Seoul. Our emphatic answer is: it cannot. This article is about logically proving that North Korean artillery can never flatten Seoul—leave alone in the first half hour of any conflict.
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Which North Korean Artillery Reaches Seoul?
The Korean People’s Army ground force has about twelve thousand pieces of tube artillery and 2,300 pieces of multiple-launch rocket launchers (or more). The country sets store by its huge arsenal of conventional artillery. However, Seoul is about forty kilometers from the DMZ. Only three weapon systems have a range that can reach Seoul from North of the DMZ. An analysis of the effectiveness of these weapons has been carried out using figures from open sources and planning data that other armies with similar weapon systems have used to arrive at some basic conclusions.
The Koksan 170 Millimeter Self-Propelled Gun
This gun has a range of forty kilometers with normal ammunition and fifty to six kilometers with rocket-assisted projectiles. With forth kilometers range, and need to deploy at a depth within the DMZ, the normal projectile is virtually ineffective. It is the higher range rocket-assisted projectile that can be used realistically. So, the availability of rocket-assisted projectiles ammunition in required quantities is a question. It’s rate of fire is only two rounds in five minutes i.e. twenty-four rounds in one hour. Further, the need to fire higher charges for sustained periods, heats up the barrels and has an adverse impact on gun serviceability and availability to fire. That raises a lot of questions.
There are reportedly five hundred guns (125 batteries of four guns each) deployed within the range of Seoul. Hence, a total of twelve thousand rounds can be fired. If the firing is not interfered with, then the lethal area works out to about 7,857 square meters per shell. That gives a coverage of about ninety-five square kilometers. That is if all guns are aimed at different points and spaced out and do not overlap each other at the target end in a grid pattern. However, guns are deployed in batteries of four to six guns, which fire together. Hence, lethal areas will overlap. The total lethal area after one hour of uninterrupted firing could be, at best, forty to fifty square kilometers.
The 240 Millimeter BM-24 Multiple Rocket Launcher
The 240 millimeter MBRL has a range of sixty kilometers. An improved version reportedly has a range of seventy kilometers. It has twelve tubes. It is believed that two hundred launchers are aimed at Seoul (thirty-four batteries of six launchers approx.). A max of 2400 rockets can be fired in one salvo. A Battery of 240 millimeter rockets (seventy-two rockets) can normally neutralize 1000 x 800 meters in one salvo. Hence thirty-four batteries can cover about twenty-seven square kilometers with one salvo. After that, the batteries must scoot, reload from secure positions in depth, relocate, and be ready to refire from another location. That is a minimum of a four to five hour tactical cycle under battle conditions. Hence, after the first salvo, this equipment cannot be used for another engagement of Seoul until the next four to five hours. In that period, it will suffer attrition since its signature is huge and it will be open to retaliation from South Korean air and artillery. Moving and redeploying during the day will be a very risky affair. But that will be a command decision by the North Koreans.