23 Aug 2023
An Amnok-class corvette of the North Korean Navy made an interesting appearance during a demonstration to the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang’s state media reported Monday without disclosing the date of his visit. Kim Jong Un inspected the Guards 2nd Surface Ship Flotilla of the East Sea Fleet of the Navy of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) honored with the title of O Jung Hup-led 7th Regiment.
A demonstration of the capabilities of a new warship which we see for the first time in such detail took place, the Patrol Ship (corvette) No. 661 of the Amnok-class. That day, aboard a warship, he watched the seamen of the corvette staging a drill of launching “strategic” cruise missiles, as South Korea and the U.S. kicked off joint military drills (the annual Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise) on August 21 which will run until August 31.
“The ship rapidly hit target without even an error,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state news agency of North Korea, said in an English-language report. This type of warship is by far the most modern main surface combatant in the DPRK inventory we have ever seen. The several photos published by KCNA, offer a rare look at this class.
At first glance, this 2,000-ton (?) vessel, features many of the attributes of a modern warship. There is a serious effort to reduce radar cross section (RCS) as much as possible and to add the most modern weapons and sensors available in North Korea. However, despite the fact that the majority of the weapons and sensors on board are severely obsolete in comparison with western or Asian designs, it is a major step forward for North Korea. From the equipment on board, which looks second-hand, with only few exceptions, we may assume that the North Koreans used systems and weapons from retired ships such as the Najin-class light frigates while China supplied the rest, probably also from retired ships. This new vessel has been spotted under construction for the first time in 2011 but was identified as new naval ship in late 2016. There is probably a second unit also in service or fitting-out with similar appearance to the “661”.
Regarding the armament, at the foredeck there is an old 100mm gun, perhaps a 100 mm/56 (3.9″) B-34 Pattern 1940 variant with a cupola similar to the Chinese 100 mm/56 (3.9″) Type 79, in an open-backed turret similar to the gun turrets that equipped ships in WWII. Behind the gun, there are four fixed quintuple rocket launchers for anti-submarine rockets, which resemble a lot the Russian/Soviet RBU-1200. These type of launchers can not be swiveled horizontally but they are targeted with the ship.
The aft angled superstructure houses, behind large hatches, eight launchers for Hwasal-2 long range (>2,000km) land attack/surface-to-surface cruise missiles, a cruise missile that is considered to carry nuclear warheads. Behind the missile launchers at what would be a helicopter hangar in modern designs, there is a small boat, an automated sextuple short-range SA-16 (Igla) SAM launchers and an AK-630 “style” CIWS (AK-230 cupola and AK-630 gun). At B-position and forward of the bridge, there are two manually operated 14.5mm 6-barrel gatling gun turrets. Amidships, and below these weapon systems, there are possible 533mm trainable torpedo tubes hidden behind large hatches. On this deck a small boat is accommodated there as well as six sextuple decoy launchers, a very interesting feature for a North Korean warship! At the quarter deck, where someone would expect to see a flight deck, there is a second AK-630 “style”CIWS.
The mast accommodates a main radar, which is identical to the Chinese Type 362 (MR36A) 2D X-band air and surface search and target indication radar, and two navigation radars of which the one is an S-band Furuno. Atop the bridge there are an EO/IR gimbal payload, a Nikhrom-RRM ESM/IFF and a fire control radar (FCR) similar to the old Russian/Soviet MR-104 to control the AK-630 based CIWS (a modified AK-230, that’s why the MR-104 FCR), all except the EOS probably from retired OSA-class FACM. A second FCR is installed above the part of the superstructure that houses the cruise missiles. There are also two optical naval artillery fire control systems, similar to the Russian SP-520 (SP-520 CS), one looking forward and one looking aft. The existence of decoy launchers indicate the existence of a dedicated radar electronic support measures system (R-ESM) and more likely a radio direction finder (RDF). We cannot verify the existence of a hull-mounted sonar or other equipment.
To sum up, as a surface combatant, the Amnok-class of corvettes isn’t really noteworthy. It is just a corvette with outdated and poor sensor and weapons fit. “611” is a game changer however in that it brings the unexpected capability to strike South Korea and Japan at stand off range with nuclear typed land attack cruise missiles. This is a new threat posed by the Korean People’s Army Navy which the two aforementioned Asian countries will have to consider moving forward.
23 Aug 2023