Is North Korea Producing Munitions for Export to Russia?
Asia Defense | Security | East Asia
A recent order called on factories to produce a variety of shells, including grenades, rockets, and anti-aircraft shells, while forgoing preparations for long-term storage.
North Korea issued an order to munition factories in late October to produce additional conventional artillery shells, Daily NK has learned.
Facing a new production order with the big end-of-year reviews approaching, munition factories are reportedly responding with bewilderment.
According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Thursday, North Korea issued the order to produce additional conventional artillery shells to shell-producing munitions factories nationwide at the end of October.
Daily NK determined that leading shell and warhead producing factories such as Kanggye General Tractor Plant and the Changjagang Machine Tools Factory in Manpo received the order.
The order called on the factories to produce a variety of shells, including grenades, rockets, and anti-aircraft shells.
It is fairly unusual to issue a new production task ahead of the end-of-year review. The period from late October to December — when factories prepare for the end-of-year review — is typically a time for them to engage in last-minute production to hit their annual goals, not a time for new production tasks.
Moreover, the munitions factories ordered to make the additional munitions usually produce half-finished products. But this time, they were tasked with producing finished shells in just a month or two.
Because shells are not used in peacetime, factories produce them in a half-completed state so they can be stored for long periods of time. This time, however, they were ordered to quickly produce completed shells.
The final production process reportedly differs from the ordinary production process, too. Munitions are usually moisture-proofed after they are produced; this time, however, that process is being omitted.
Because of this, workers at the factories are reportedly saying that the shells “don’t look like they’ll be stored for long.”
In the course of its investigation into this story, Daily NK learned that munitions factories — facing labor shortages with the new order to expand production — are mobilizing new work personnel.
A munitions factory usually operates on three shifts, but the plants in question need more personnel to complete the latest task. They are responding by temporarily hiring people with past experience in munitions factories on a three-to-four month basis.
In a statement announced through state-run media on November 8, North Korea’s Defense Ministry denied rumors that it was exporting weapons to Russia. North Korea has never engaged in arms deals with Russia, said the ministry, and had no plans to do so in the future.
However, U.S. Defense Department spokesperson Patrick Ryder said in a briefing on November 8 that “the information we have is that the DPRK is covertly supplying Russia with a significant number of artillery shells,” and that Washington “will continue to monitor that situation.”
This article first appeared on Daily NK, which contacts multiple sources inside and outside North Korea to verify information. The Diplomat was not able to verify the claims independently.