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North Korean Explosive Threat: South Korea Ramps Up Defense Game

North Korea explores potential use of IEDs
Inadequate protection for operational vehicles

Amid reports of North Korea having improvised explosive devices (IEDs), there are growing calls for the South Korean military to expedite the deployment of mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs). According to military authorities, North Korea’s technological capabilities have advanced to the point where they can potentially supply their self-developed IEDs to Hamas.

The Israeli Defense Forces claim that Hamas used North Korean-made IEDs in their attacks on Israel. Akiva Tor, the Israeli ambassador to South Korea, asserted, “We know that there are North Korean weapons in the Gaza Strip and that Hamas is using them.” The Israeli military estimates that North Korea has supplied Hamas with over 500 IEDs.

North Korea denies the allegations of weapon supply. During a UN General Assembly on October 31st, North Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Song, stated, “There is no evidence, and it is a false rumor that North Korean weapons were used in the attack on Israel.” However, the theory of North Korean weapon support is solidifying as a fact in the international community. Ali Barake, a senior Hamas official based in Beirut, Lebanon, emphasized in an interview with Lebanese media last month that “North Korea is our ally.”

South Korean Military’s Equipment and Development Efforts

The South Korean military currently operates the K-151 (a.k .a. Hyunma), a small tactical vehicle, instead of the MRAP. The military developed the Hyunma to replace the previously used ¼ ton truck (aka Retona, Jeep). However, its defense capability is weak at STANAG Level 1. STANAG refers to the NATO standardization agreement divided into grades 1-4. Grade 1 can only defend against bullets, and defense against direct fire, mines, and IEDs is possible from grade 3 and above. This implies its vulnerability to North Korea’s homemade bomb attacks.

For this reason, our military has attempted to develop an MRAP to counter North Korea’s IEDs. In 2011, the government selected the development of a domestic MRAP as one of the seven new concept technology demonstration projects and contracted with Doosan DST. The government planned to invest 1.2 billion won (approx $1 million) in this company by 2013 for joint development. The domestic MRAP was designed to withstand up to 6.8kg of TNT. However, internal military debates advocating for the introduction of used MRAPs from the U.S. military led to the scrapping of this plan.

Comparison with U.S. Military Equipment

In 2008 alone, the U.S. military deployed an additional 7,700 MRAP armored vehicles for the war in Afghanistan. The performance was also exceptional. The U.S. military’s MRAP can transport four people and features an automatic tire pressure control device, enabling it to travel at 80km/h (approximately 50 mph) even with a punctured tire. It also has a jammer that can disrupt enemy signals and a 60cm X 30cm (approx 24″ X 12″) window for reconnaissance operations.

The problem is the cost. The annual maintenance cost for one MRAP vehicle ranged from $10,000 to $20,000. Unable to bear such high maintenance costs, the U.S. military could not return the MRAPs to the mainland after the war. As the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, they offered their allies the MRAPs used by U.S. forces stationed there for free, with some even being deployed to U.S. forces in Korea. A military official stated, “If North Korea has deployed IEDs, their use in wartime is highly likely,” and added, “This could be fatal for our military even during post-war urban stabilization operations.”

By. Nak Gyu Yang

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