In August 2019, the Philippine Army (PA) revealed that they and the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) are acquiring the K136A1 Kooryong Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) from South Korea. Three batteries will go to the PA while one battery will go to the PMC.1
Each battery consists of six units, so for four batteries that is a total of 24 units for both the PA and the PMC. Two months later, the PA activated its 2nd MLRS Battery and provided more details of the acquisition saying that SK donated two batteries back in October 2018.2
The PA had earlier activated its 1st MLRS Battery but did not announce it publicly. I did accidentally come across it on Social Media, it already had its own unit logo and unit motto “Longe Mortiferum” which is Latin and translates to English as “Far more Deadly”.3
Western and South Korean sources4 5 6 tend to differ a little bit on some details about the Kooryong, but I would put a little bit more premium on the South Korean sources for this blog.
Most (if not all) western sources for example use the name “Kooryong”, but South Korean media also use the name “Guryong”.7 Nevertheless I will continue to use the term Kooryong for now, and I will also try to combine the details from both sources whenever there are gaps in one.
Anyway, the Kooryong is a mobile MLRS mounted on a wheeled chassis which fires 130 mm caliber (or diameter) rockets that are typically 2.4-2.55 m long and weigh 54-64 kg. At least 150 units have been produced with each launcher having 36 launch tubes arranged in a 4 x 9 array.
The launcher was initially mounted on KM809A1 trucks but later moved to K711 vehicles, although the launcher can reportedly be mounted on any wheeled or tracked vehicle.
Each launch tube imparts a spin on the rocket as it is launched to stabilize it, and Stabilizing Jacks need to be lowered to the ground before the system fires its rockets. Extra rounds were initially carried on KM813A1 trucks, but later moved to K711 vehicles. Each Reloading Truck carries 72 rockets or two full salvoes for the K136.
The Kooryong was developed to counter North Korea’s Russian made BM-21 Grad 122 mm caliber MLRS and the Kooryong itself was based on the BM-21. It was made by the South Korean company Daewoo Heavy Industries Limited.
The initial model was designated the K136 which first entered service in the early 1980s. An improved model, the K136A1 entered service in the late 1980s and all units produced before were reportedly upgraded to this standard.
The K136A1’s improvement over the K136 include the use of more corrosion resistant Stainless Steel tubes, use of Hydraulic controls and the ability to control the launcher from within the vehicle’s cabin.
The Kooryong is in the process of being replaced by the newer and more advanced K239 Chunmoo MLRS in South Korean military service, which is one reason they were able to donate some of them to us.
The PA already has existing Howitzers that it uses for long range artillery, but an MLRS like the Kooryong is designed to complement it since it does have its own strengths and weaknesses also. This is why armies have both of these weapons in their inventories at the same time rather than just choosing one over the other.
’Rate of Fire’
The main strength of an MLRS is its ability to deliver its rounds to a target in a very short amount of time, giving anything within that target much less time to react by trying to take cover or fleeing from the bombardment. The K136A1 can launch its rockets at a rate of two per second, meaning it will only take it 18 seconds to launch it entire salvo of 36 rockets.
Howitzers on the other hand fire at a much slower rate of fire, like the PA’s M-71 Soltam for example which can only fire 5 rounds per minute.8 To put this into perspective, the M-71 will need at least 7 minutes or 420 seconds to fire the same 36 rounds, or 23 times slower.
However, reloading the K136A1 is a bit slow, it will take four soldiers around 10-20 minutes to manually load a full salvo of 36 rockets from the reloading vehicle to the launcher.
The Kooryong uses two types of rockets, the older K30 which has a range of 23 km and the newer K33 which has a further range of 36 km. This is better than standard North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) 155 mm caliber ammunition like the General Purpose, High Explosive (HE) M107 which has a range of only around 18 km.9
However, there are special 155 mm caliber ammo that can travel much further, like Rocket-Assisted projectiles which can reach up to 40 km.10 The Italian company Leonardo is even offering their Oto Vulcano Guided Long Range (GLR) rounds which go as far as 80 km.11
These special 155 mm ammunition though are more expensive than the standard ammunition commensurate to their improved capability.
The K37 warhead of the Kooryong’s K30 rocket weighs 20 kg of which 6.5 kg of it is the explosive filler while the remaining 13.5 kg is the fragmentation casing. The K38 warhead of the K33 rocket weighs the same at 20 kg, but has a lower explosive filler of only 2.8 kg. However, it does contain 16,000 Steel Balls for improved fragmentation effect.
The warhead of both rockets though are lighter than those found on 155 mm caliber ammunition, like the M107 round for example which weighs 43 kg with 6.6 kg of explosive filler and 36.4 kg of fragmentation casing.
Unguided Rockets like the K30 and K33 of the Kooryong are not as accurate as Artillery Guns like Howitzers, they are estimated to have an approximate Circular Error Probable (CEP) of 2% of their range, which at 36 km would be 720 m for the Kooryong.
CEP is a measure of accuracy that estimates the area where 50% of the rounds are expected to land. 155 mm Howitzer rounds on the other hand generally have an estimated CEP of 273 m at 30 km.
The Kooryong does have a wide “Kill Area” estimated to be at least 250 m wide by 250 m long, which I assume is for a single 36 rocket salvo up to its maximum range of 36 km.
The K136 right now only fires the unguided K30 and K33 rockets. The South Korean company Lig Nex1 is offering a guided rocket with the same caliber as the K30 and K33, but it is longer by at least 0.95 m at 3.5 m and heavier by at least 16 kg at 80 kg.13
It doesn’t seem like these could be safely loaded and fired from the Kooryong’s launch tubes as Lig Nex1 itself hasn’t offered it for the system.
On a side note, guided munitions are available for 155 mm caliber Howitzers like the GLR mentioned earlier. A much cheaper version called the Precision Guidance Kit (PGK) consisting only of a Fuze with a Steering and Guided capability is available, although its Global Positioning System (GPS) guidance system only limits its use to static or fixed targets.14
The “Combat Weight” (or weight loaded with ammo) of the Kooryong is around 19 tons, which is about the same as the combined weight of an M-71 with a Towing vehicle. The M-71 weighs around 9 tons15 plus add in a vehicle weighing 10 tons to tow it then the total weight of the system is around 19 tons also.
I actually also wanted to get the cost of the Kooryong rockets, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find them in time in the internet for this blog.
’Shoot and Scoot’
I think the biggest contribution of the Kooryong to the PA will be the ability to conduct a much improved “Shoot and Scoot” capability, which is an Artillery Tactic consisting of firing at a target (the “Shoot” part) and then moving away as fast as possible from that firing position to evade enemy counter battery fire (the “Scoot” portion).
The PA can do this with its towed Artillery, and the PA reportedly even has plans to buy Self Propelled Howitzers (SPH), but neither of those can bring the same amount of firepower in such short amount of time like an Rocket Artillery system like the Kooryong.
’Project Santa Barbara’
The Kooryong reminded me a lot of the Project Santa Barbara (PSB) program in the 1970s under the Administration of President Ferdinand Marcos that I blogged about back in 2015.16 The PSB aimed to develop an indigenous military rocket program for the Philippines, and some of products that came out of it were the Sumpak and Bukang Liwayway (BL) Rocket Launchers and the Bongbong Rocket (BR).
The Sumpak was a towed or vehicle mounted rocket launcher that fires standard 2.75” or 70 mm Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR). The Bukang Liwayway on the other hand was a vehicle mounted six tube rocket launcher that fired the 152-180 mm caliber Bongbong Rocket.
These and all the other PSB products didn’t seem to have progressed beyond the prototype stage as none were known to have ever entered official service with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) despite the fact that the project started in 1972 or 14 years before Marcos left office in 1986.
A sample of the Sumpak can still be viewed today at the indoor display of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) Aerospace Museum. It doesn’t seem like any sample of the BL exists today, but in 2015 I did see samples of the BR at the Naval Station Pascual Ledesma in Cavite.
I wasn’t able to take pictures of the BR back then since it was strictly forbidden, but they are reportedly still there today. I hope that the Philippine Navy (PN) finally unveils those rockets soon to the public as they are an important part of our history.
In a way the Kooryong finally partly fulfilled one dream of the PSB, and that is for the AFP to have Rocket Artillery weapons. But only in part since the Kooryong is of course not locally made.
This is the first time ever that the PA will have a rocket weapon officially into service, and will usher the PA into the “Rocket Age”. Of course most armies around the world have done that for quite some time already and we are a little bit late to the game, but as the saying goes, “Better Late than Never”.
The Kooryong is a good start for the Philippines in terms of having Rocket Artillery, hopefully we can “graduate” and acquire even better Rocket Systems with longer range and Guidance capability in the future.
- Army to activate Aviation Regiment within this Year ↩
- Philippine Army to acquire Rocket Systems from South Korea ↩
- 1st PA MLRS Battery Facebook Page ↩
- Kooryong 130 mm Multiple Launch Rocket System – Archived 3/2003 ↩
- K136 Kooryong Multiple Launch Rocket System ↩
- 견인포 같은 K136A1 구룡 ↩
- Army to deploy new MLRS this Year ↩
- Soltam M-71 Howitzer ↩
- 155mm M107 HE High Explosive ↩
- 155 mm HE ERFB RA/BB Very Long Range Artillery Projectile (VLAP-Rocket Assistance/Base Bleed) ↩
- Oto Vulcano 155 ↩
- Explosive Weapon Effects ↩
- 130 mm Guided Rocket System ↩
- PGK and the Impact of Affordable Precision on the Fires Mission ↩
- M-71 155 mm 39 caliber Towed Howitzer ↩
- The Mystery of Marcos’ Rocket Program ↩