The Devastating Power of N.Korea's MRL Artillery

The 122-mm multiple rocket launchers North Korea fired on Yeonpyeong Island on Tuesday are fatal weapons that can kill people and devastate large areas with an extra-high penetration capability. They are among the weapons most feared by soldiers.

During World War II, the Soviet Union used a version called the Katyusha or "Stalin Organ" against the German forces, and in 1991, the U.S. military terrorized Iraqi soldiers by deploying a modern-day version called the Multiple Rocket Launch System. It is extremely rare for a country to use such weapons in peacetime and target unarmed civilians, which experts say deserves international condemnation.

North Korean 122-mm MRLs collected from Yeonpyeong Island North Korean 122-mm MRLs collected from Yeonpyeong Island

The so-called fuel-air shells the North used are believed to be filled with special gunpowder that causes massive conflagrations and horrible burns to victims.

MRLs can fire 30 to 40 rounds at once, compared to conventional artillery which fire one round at a time, and the projectiles are launched in rapid succession. The 122-mm MRLs can carry around 27 kg of explosives, compared to 3.6 kg that other conventional artillery of the same size carry. The North reportedly has 240-mm and 107-mm MRLs as well.

The North Korean military has a MRL brigade consisting of two 122-mm battalions and one 240-mm battalion at each corps, with each battalion having 18 MRLs.

The Fourth Army Corps, which is in charge of guarding the West Sea, has 36 122-mm MRLs that can launch 1,400 rounds at the same time. North Korean coastal artillery positions are not equipped with MRLs, so the Fourth Corps is believed to have supplied them for the latest attack.

The 240-mm MRLs is among the greatest North Korean threats facing the South Korean capital Seoul. They bundle 12 or 22 of those rounds into a single burst, with each round being capable of destroying an 80 sq. m area. There are 200 of these MRLs lined up near the demilitarized zone. In times of war, they could fire up to 6,400 shells on Seoul, capable of turning a 6 sq. km area into rubble.

South Korean military officials believe more than half of North Korea's MRLs carry chemical rounds that can cause even greater damage. The South Korean military also fields U.S.-made 227-mm and Korean-made 130-mm MLRS. But in terms of number, the South Korean military is outgunned by the North with around 200 MLRS as against the North's 5,100 MRLs.

englishnews@chosun.com / Nov. 26, 2010 12:35 KST