M1985/M1991 MLRS

The M1985 and M1991 are 240 mm Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) produced by North Korea. These along with other artillery systems represent a key means by which North Korea holds Seoul and South Korea at risk, supporting its deterrence posture.

M1985/1991 at a Glance

Originated From: North Korea
Possessed by: North Korea, Iran, Myanmar
Class: Multiple Launch Rocket System
Basing: mobile launcher, 6X6 chassis
Payload: 12 or 22 X 240 mm rockets
Weight: ~ 85 kg (rocket)1 Range: 40-60 km
Status: Operational
In Service: 1985-present

M1985/1991 Development and Deployment

hwasong-12Little information is available on the origins of the M1985 or M1991. It is possible they are derived from the 200 mm BMD-20 or the 240 mm BM-24 rocket artillery systems that North Korea imported from the Soviet Union during the 1950s. North Korea has imported other MLRS system over years, including variants of the Russian BM-21 Grad and Chinese Type 63 rocket artillery, which may have also provided technology to the M1985 and M1991’s development.

Military analysts estimate that North Korea possesses roughly 200 M1985 and M1991 launchers in total.2 Many of these systems are deployed along the DMZ and, according the U.S. Department of Defense, “pose a constant threat to northern parts of the Republic of Korea.”3 Besides the M1985 and M1991, North Korea possesses as many as 5,000 other 107, 122, and 200 mm rocket artillery pieces, as well as a long-range 300 mm MRLS known as the KN-09.4

Lacking any form of guidance, North Korea’s 240 mm MLRS systems would be primarily used to carry out saturation attacks against large targets, such as forward military positions, military bases, and urban areas.5 A North Korean M1985/1991 battery would typically consist of five launchers, with three batteries assigned to each battalion. They are often seen stationed in semi-hardened artillery sites.6

In 2012, North Korea claimed to have doubled the range of its 240 mm rockets to over 120 km. A senior rocket expert at the Defense Acquisition and Program Administration contested this claim, however, arguing that it would represent an advance in rocket artillery beyond even what Russia or the United States has been able to develop.7

M1985/1991 Specifications

The M1985/1991 are truck-mounted 240 mm MLRS.8 Depending on the specific munition employed, the range of M1985/1991 is approximately 40-60 km. Both systems can fire a single salvo in 45 seconds, and take approximately ten minutes to reload.9

The M1985 is mounted on a Japanese Isuzu 6X6 truck and has twelve 240mm launch tubes organized into two rows of six tubes. The M1991 is also mounted on a 6X6 truck and carries twenty-two 240 mm launch tubes organized into three rows; two rows of eight and one row of six. Both the M1985 and M1991 fire unguided, spin-stabilized 240 mm high-explosive, smoke, or incendiary rockets. They may also be capable of delivering chemical munitions.10

Exports

North Korea has exported the M1985/1991 to Myanmar and Iran. Reports in 2008 and 2010 indicate that North Korea had completed two deliveries of larger caliber truck-mounted MLRS to Myanmar.11

North Korea also exported the M1985 to Iran in the late 1980s, where the system was slightly modified and reproduced by Shahid Bagheri Industires as the Fajr-3.12

    1. This figure is an assumption based on the reported weight of the Fajr-3 rocket, the Iranian variant of the M1985. See: Anthony H Cordesman, Iran’s Rocket and Missile Forces and Strategic Options (Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2014), 56, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/141218_Cordesman_IranRocketMissileForces_Web.pdf/.
    2. Roger Cavazos, “Mind the gap between Rhetoric and Reality,” Nautilus Institute, June 26, 2012, http://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-special-reports/mind-the-gap-between-rhetoric-and-reality/.
    3. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Report to Congress, 2015), 1; Simon Scarr, Weiyi Cai, Wen Foo, and Jin Wu, “North Korea’s other threat,” Reuters Graphics, May 26, 2017, http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/NORTHKOREA-MISSILES/010041BR2VH/index.html.
    4. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 2016 (London: Routledge, 2016).
    5. Cavazos, 2012.
    6. “240 mm (22-round) M1991 multiple rocket launcher,” in IHS Jane’s Land Warfare Platforms: Artillery and Air Defense 2016-2017, ed. Christopher F Foss and James C O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2016), 361.
    7. “North Korean army unveils a new upgrade of its M1991 Multiple Launch Rocket System Juche 100,” Army Recognition, March 2, 2012, http://www.armyrecognition.com/weapons_defence_industry_military_technology_uk/north_korea_army_unveils_new_upgrade_of_m1991_multiple_rocket_launcher_systems_juche_100_0203122.html.
    8. Scarr et al.
    9. Cavazos, 2012.
    10. “240 mm (12-round) M1985 Multiple Rocket Launcher,” in IHS Jane’s Land Warfare Platforms: Artillery and Air Defense 2012-2013, ed. Christopher F Foss and Christopher C O’Halloran (United Kingdom: IHS, 2012), 304.
    11. Bertil Lintner, “Burma’s WMD Programme and Military Cooperation between Burma and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Asian Pacific Media Services (March 2012), 27, http://www.asiapacificms.com/papers/pdf/burma_dprk_military_cooperation.pdf; Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, An Atlas of Trafficking in Southeast Asia: The Illegal Trade in Arms, Drugs, People, Counterfeit Goods, and Natural Resources in Mainland Southeast Asia (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013); Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Report to Congress, 2015), 23.
    12. David Hambling, “Decisive Weapons of the Next Korean War,” Popular Mechanics, November 24, 2010. http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a6211/north-korea-conflict-weapons-available/.