North and South Korea are both supplying arms to Ukraine now.
The Pentagon announced that it will buy 100,000 rounds of 155mm howitzer ammunition from South Korea to feed Ukraine’s artillery units. This comes on the heels of recent news that Russia has bought “millions” of rounds 152mm shells, rockets, and even artillery pieces from North Korea. This is an indication of Russia being unable to replenish its stocks from Russian suppliers which is a combination of a lack of industrial capacity and sanctions imposed on it by the West.
The same could be said of the US and NATO’s capacity to supply Ukraine with reloads for its 155mm guns which make up the bulk of their artillery pieces. In actuality though, 100,000 rounds bought from South Korea would supply Ukraine for about 20 days or so given that its daily expenditure in 155mm rounds is 5,000-7,000 a day. The difference is that Russian sanctions against the West have no practical effect and the production of US/NATO 155mm shells is much larger than Russia’s own capabilities.
As reported in the Wall St Journal yesterday, the Pentagon is contracting with a South Korean company to produce the 155mm rounds to replenish US stocks of these shells. The US in turn will be able to send more to Ukraine under the lend/lease arrangement made with Kyiv.
South Korea has a stated position of neutrality in the conflict, stating that it will not directly supply Ukraine with arms. Given that the end user for this order will be the US, South Korea is able to maintain this position of neutrality.
The quality of these shells is expected to be very good and up to US military standards. South Korea is a major industrial nation in Asia capable of very tight tolerances in heavy manufacturing. It also operates the K9 Self-propelled gun in 155mm so they have long experience in producing these rounds for its own military. Since the war in Ukraine began in February of this year, the US is estimated to have provided more than 1 million rounds of 155mm rounds to Ukraine which is a staggering number that speaks to the size of US military stocks.
While it is not disclosed in reports about the sale, the South Korean company mostly likely tapped for these orders is the Poongsan Corporation with operations in Buson and Angang, South Korea. Their retail ammunition business is well known to US consumers under the name PMC which makes pistol and rifle ammo in various calibers.
In July, Canada also placed an order with South Korea for 155mm rounds to replace the 20,000 rounds they sent to Ukraine from their own military stockpile.
The South Koreans are not alone in producing 155mm rounds for NATO and the US, this particular caliber is widely used in Western towed and self-propelled artillery systems used by most NATO countries. As a result, 155mm rounds are produced around the world to the tune of some $3.5 billion a year in annual sales. Major manufacturers include BAE Systems(UK), KNW Nexter Defence Systems(Netherlands), Northup Grumman and Raytheon(US), Thales,(France), Rheinmetall(Germany), Leonardo S.p.A.(Italy), NAMMO(Norway),RUAG Group(Switzerland), Israeli Aerospace Industries, and Munitions India LTD(India).
This is bad news for Russia, which has to rely on its own internal manufacturing for replenishment of its own stocks of 152mm ammunition or buy it from India(not selling), China(secretly selling) and North Korea(openly selling). The 152mm rounds these countries are producing are all “dumb” unguided munitions while nearly 30% of the western market in these rounds are boosted and or precision-guided munitions like the Excaliber, Assegai and BONUS type rounds.
In the case of these 155mm rounds, more is not always better. While Russia lobs 3 and 4 times the number of dumb rounds at Ukraine, in return it is getting back fewer but much more accurate precision guided rounds fired from Ukrainian guns. There are several advantages to this. It means fewer rounds are needed to hit their targets, that means fewer guns are needed as well. It means fewer trucks needed to supply these rounds. This means you use less fuel moving them to the front. It means far fewer explosive powder charges laying around in piles as well. It also means that there is far less wear and tear on the barrel and mechanisms of the gun itself making it last in the field much longer before needing to be overhauled.
For these reasons the US and NATO are switching over to these guided 155mm munitions while Russia is struggling to resupply itself with millions of dumb rounds for barrels that are surely in need of being replaced by now.