North Korea Finally Unveils Test Firing of New ’S-400-Like’ Air Defence System

On October 1st North Korea conducted the first test launch of a new mobile long range air defence systems which had been unveiled in October 2020 - a yet unnamed weapons system which has been dubbed a Korean version of the better known Russian S-400 system which it closely resembles. 

The Academy of Defence Science which developed the weapons system reported that the test confirmed the practical functionality of the missile's launcher, radar and comprehensive battle command vehicle, according to a report by the state run Korean Central News Agency. 

It is possible that other test launches perviously took place, with this being the first to be revealed to the public. The missile fired was shown to have a twin rudder control and a double impulse flight engine.  KCNA reported regarding the test, citing the Defence Science Academy: “The remarkable combat performance of the new-type anti-aircraft missile with features of rapid responsiveness and guidance accuracy of missile control system as well as the substantial increase in the distance of downing air targets has been verified." 

The test follows three prior missile tests over the preceding three weeks including a hypersonic glide vehicle tipped missile on September 28th and preceding that a strategic cruise missile and a rail launched ballistic missile. 

North Korea has not released footage of a major test of long range air defences since 2017, when the Pyongae-5 (KN-06) system which preceded the current model is thought to have entered service. The Pyongae-5 is estimated to have a 200km range and be able to engage targets at all altitudes, providing a similar performance in some respects to the Russian S-300PMU series. 

Long range air defence systems play a vital role in helping to compensate for North Korea’s lack of modern combat aircraft, and provide an asymmetric means of countering air attacks by the Untied States or its allies. 

Air defence has had a central place in North Korean military thought since the Korean War, when Western aerial bombardment including indiscriminate use of napalm in very large quantities against civilian targets contributed to killing an estimated 20-30 percent of the population. 

Before developing its own long range systems, North Korea relied on modernised S-200 systems acquired in the late 1980s which, although boasting a formidable range and demonstrating the ability to tackle 21st century Western fighters, lacked the mobility or versatility to b survivable as the newer systems could. 

Ground based air defences not only provide a more cost effective means of securing Korean airspace relative to fighter or interceptor aircraft, but are also less difficult to develop domestically which is particularly important as UN embargoes prevent North Korea from importing new combat jets. 

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