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Ukraine military official: half of all North Korean shells are duds

155mm artillery shells. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brian Bolin Jr.)
March 05, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Russia has imported more than 1.5 million artillery shells from North Korea to cover its insufficient arms production as the war with Ukraine rages on, but about half of the shells are duds, a Ukrainian military official said.

South Korean military analysts also told Radio Free Asia that the shells that do fire cannot be aimed precisely, and sometimes even cause casualties among the Russian ranks.

“As of today, based on available statistical data, the Russians have already imported one and a half million shells from North Korea,” Maj. Gen. Vadym Skibitskyi, deputy chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, told news outlet Interfax-Ukraine. 

“But these munitions are from the 1970s and 1980s,” he said. “Half of them do not function, and the rest require refurbishment or verification before use.”

South Korea said last week that the number of artillery shells North Korea has sent to Russia could be as high as 3 million. 

Kyiv has also alleged that North Korea has sent missiles to Russia and these have been used against Ukraine, which Pyongyang and Moscow deny. The transfer of North Korean arms to Russia has been condemned by the U.S. and almost 40 other countries.

Skibitskyi said that in exchange for the dated Soviet-era ammunition, North Korea is getting missile and submarine tech from Moscow.

“And the most important thing here for the international community is that North Korea is definitely asking for technologies related to nuclear weapons,” he said. 

“It is necessary to call Russia to responsibility, because the whole world is fighting for non-proliferation, and Russia is openly starting to work in this direction in exchange for receiving additional ammunition, missiles and other types of weapons.”

The poor quality of North Korean ammunition used by Russia in Ukraine has been widely discussed.

In December, the Ukrainian Armed Forces Chief of Staff said on Facebook that the shells were so shoddy that often they exploded in the barrels of Russian cannons and mortars.

Lee Il-woo, secretary-general of the Seoul-based Korea Defense Network, told RFA Korean that the North Korean shells cannot be fired accurately.

If you look at the craters where the shells [fired by the Russian military] landed, they are spread out in a circular pattern with no consistent impact group,” Lee said.

 “The fact that the shells are spread out like this means that the accuracy of the shells is very low,” he said. “Low precision means that when the shells are fired, they may even fall on the heads of their allies.”