North Korea now has rocket-armed civilian trucks in disguise

In a move that appears to be designed to keep military assets hidden in plain sight, North Korea has developed a series of "transforming" rocket-armed "civilian" vehicles.
Christopher McFadden
Screenshot from the parade on the 9th of September 2023.

KCNA/The Japan Times 

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) unveiled a new "secret" weapon at its 75th anniversary parade on Saturday (9th of September, 2023). In what appears to be a move to conceal deadly weapons in plain sight, North Korea's "Worker-Peasant Red Guards" (North Korea's paramilitary force) are now equipped with concealed rocket launcher-equipped civilian trucks. Paraded through Pyongyang’s Kim Il-Sung Square, the box trucks and dump trucks appear to be fitted with 12-tube launchers that can be deployed via pop-up or slide-door roofs.

Hidden in plain sight

While difficult to confirm from images and video footage alone, the launchers appear to be loaded with 122mm artillery rockets. The parade also featured tractors pulling rocket launchers and anti-tank guided missiles on trailers. The tractors are a clear indication, reports The Drive, of North Korea's operational tactic of using civilian instruments for war if a conflict arises. The display of heavy weaponry also highlights North Korea's significant firepower and its capability for civil defense.

Military analysts believe the use of trucks is a sign that old methods of deception are being revived to hide military equipment on the battlefield by nations like the DPRK. However, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shown that the definition of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets has also evolved. For example, the proliferation of affordable unmanned systems has made ISTAR capabilities more accessible to a wider range of users.

In addition to gathering intelligence, using kamikaze drones and drone-dropped bomblets from a first-person view has significantly increased the danger for military forces positioned behind the front lines. Precision-guided air-to-ground weapons, once the preserve of richer nations and available in limited numbers, can now be acquired for the price of a hobby drone and some ingenuity. Moreover, a single drone can act as a hunter and a killer. And very effectively, too.

The DPRK has recognized that surveillance would increase to unprecedented levels if war broke out on the Korean Peninsula. To this end, North Korea apparently aims to exploit the inability to differentiate between civilian and military vehicles, vastly increasing the number of potential targets that the US and South Korea would need to counter.

Weapons in disguise

And this could prove pivotal. As we've seen in Ukraine, any visible and identifiable objects near the front can, and likely will, be targeted for destruction. For nations like North Korea, this creates a significant need to keep equipment out of sight or mislead the enemy about what they see. Taiwan, for example, has also employed a strategy of hiding its armored vehicles as construction equipment during exercises to protect against a potential invasion by China.

Whether this tactic will prove viable is yet to be seen, but given the DPRK's investment in such deception, it shows they are at least taking such a potential scenario seriously.

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