Tag Archives: republic of korea

The North Korean Order of Battle

This article is a follow up to my article about the sinking of the South Korean Navy Corvette Cheonan and the subsequent developments on the peninsula. With North Korea continually raising the rhetoric following its sinking of the Cheonan on March 26th it is important that people in the United States know what this tiny, poor, aggressive, paranoid and mysterious, yet militarily savvy nation has in its arsenal and what its goals in a renewal of hostilities against the South and US Forces in Korea might look like. I will publish articles on basic North Korean plans and war aims, Special Weapons, and ROK/US Forces and plans in the next few days. All are from unclassified sources. Since this was originally posted the situation has continued to deteriorate and I have published an article entitled The South Korean Order of Battle



DPRK Forces are large, well trained in military tactics and political ideology

The according to the Library of Congress and unclassified Central Intelligence Agency estimates the make-up of the military forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is listed below:

Total Population: 23,479,088 [2008]
Population Available: 12,414,017 [2008]
Fit for Military Service: 10,280,687 [2008]
Reaching Military Age Annually: 392,016 [2008]
Active Military Personnel: 1,170,000 [2008]
Active Military Reserve: 4,700,000 [2008]
Active Paramilitary Units: 189,000 [2008]

Total Land-Based Weapons: 16,400
Tanks: 3,500 [2006]
Armored Personnel Carriers: 2,500 [2006]
Towed Artillery: 3,500 [2006]
Self-Propelled Guns: 4,400 [2006]
Multiple Rocket Launch Systems: 2,500 [2006]
Mortars: 7,500 [2006]
Anti-Aircraft Weapons: 11,000 [2006]

Total Navy Ships: 708
Merchant Marine Strength: 167 [2008]
Major Ports and Harbors: 12
Aircraft Carriers: 0 [2008]
Destroyers: 0 [2008]
Submarines: 97 [2008]
Frigates: 3 [2006]
Patrol & Coastal Craft: 492 [2006]
Mine Warfare Craft: 23 [2006]
Amphibious Craft: 140 [2006]

Total Aircraft: 1,778 [2006]
Helicopters: 612 [2006]
Serviceable Airports: 77 [2007]

Defense Budget: $5,500,000,000 [2005]
Purchasing Power: $40,000,000,000 [2007]

Oil Production: 141 bbl/day [2005]
Oil Consumption: 10,520 bbl/day [2006]

Labor Force: 20,000,000 [2004]
Roadways: 25,554 km
Railways: 5,235 km

Waterways: 2,250 km
Coastline: 2,495 km
Square Land Area: 120,540 km

The Same sources provide this data for South Korea

Total Population: 48,379,392 [2008]
Population Available: 26,721,668 [2008]
Fit for Military Service: 21,966,367 [2008]
Reaching Military Age Annually: 696,516 [2008]
Active Military Personnel: 687,000 [2008]
Active Military Reserve: 4,500,000 [2008]
Active Paramilitary Units: 22,000 [2008]

Total Land-Based Weapons: 8,325
Tanks: 1,060 [2004]
Armored Personnel Carriers: 2,480 [2004]
Towed Artillery: 4,000 [2004]
Self-Propelled Guns: 500 [2004]
Multiple Rocket Launch Systems: 185 [2004]
Mortars: 6,000 [2004]
Anti-Tank Guided Weapons: 58 [2004]
Anti-Aircraft Weapons: 1,692 [2004]

Total Navy Ships: 85
Merchant Marine Strength: 812 [2008]
Major Ports and Harbors: 4
Aircraft Carriers: 0 [2008]
Destroyers: 6 [2004]
Submarines: 20 [2004]
Frigates: 9 [2004]
Patrol & Coastal Craft: 75 [2004]
Mine Warfare Craft: 15 [2004]
Amphibious Craft: 28 [2004]

Total Aircraft: 538 [2004]
Helicopters: 502 [2004]
Serviceable Airports: 150 [2007]

Defense Budget: $25,500,000,000 [2007]
Foreign Exch. & Gold: $262,200,000,000 [2007]
Purchasing Power: $1,206,000,000,000 [2007]

Oil Production: 17,050 bbl/day [2005]
Oil Consumption: 2,130,000 bbl/day [2006]
Proven Oil Reserves: 0 bbl [2006]

Labor Force: 24,220,000 [2007]
Roadways: 102,062 km
Railways: 3,472 km

Waterways: 1,608 km
Coastline: 2,413 km
Square Land Area: 98,480 km

According to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of the Republic of Korea (ROK) the balance of forces between the South and the North is listed below.

Ground Forces

North Korea possesses a total of 996,000 ground forces in twenty corps units (12 infantry, 4 mechanized, 2 artillery) plus a light Special Forces command, which oversees special warfare units.

Its heavy equipment consists of 3800 tanks (T-55, T-62, T-72, light tanks), 2270 armored personnel carriers, and 11200 pieces of field artillery, with a major percentage self-propelled for purposes of speedy artillery support. The units are geared for mechanized warfare reminiscent of the Nazi blitzkrieg.

Last but not least, 100,000 Special Forces troopers stand ready to engage in sabotage behind the lines, sowing confusion and turning the whole ROK into a battlefield.


Yono Class Midget Sub

The DPRK Navy is divided into East Sea (10 squadrons) and West Sea fleets (6 squadrons) with a total manpower of 48,000.

North Korea’s fleet consist of approximately 430 combat vessels (Patrol craft, guided missile boats, torpedo boats, fire support craft), 40 submarines (15 midgets), and 340 support craft (landing craft, hovercraft). Like the ground forces 60% of the vessels are stationed near the demarcation line.

North Korea has constructed and is operating up to 130 hovercraft, each one capable of transporting a special forces platoon and operating freely in difficult terrain such as tidal flats, and able to be used for multiple landings by special forces troops at the onset of the war.

Air Force

The air force has a total of six divisions (103,000); 3 for combat (fighter/bomber regiments), 2 for transport and helicopter, and one devoted exclusively for training.

Most of the 1670 aircraft are obsolete, with only sixty modern aircraft (MiG-23, 29). The mainstays consist of 470 old Soviet aircraft (MiG-19, MiG-21, IL-28, SU-7, SU-25) and 320 of ancient type (MiG-15, MiG-17). But it does possess a whopping 820 support aircraft and helicopters.

The aircraft that causes the most concern is the 300 AN-2, flying at 100 mph at low altitudes, that makes detection by radar very difficult, and its transport of Special Forces troopers deep behind the lines is a very definite threat.

The NIS provides the following comparison between the forces of the two Koreas.

ROK (South Korea)       DPRK (North Korea)

Ground forces
Air Force
Combat vessels
Support vessels
Combat aircraft
Support aircraft

North Korea’s regular army consists of 4 corps in the front area, 8 corps in the rear area, one tank corps, 5 armored corps, 2 artillery corps, and 1 corps for the defense of Pyongyang, a total of over 80 divisions and Brigades. Almost all of these forces are based near the DMZ and require little time to be ready for an offensive. In fact because the North Koreans maintains these forces on a continuous state of alert there will likely be little appreciable warning before a commencement of hostilities.

DPRK Special Operations equipment, the SILC Submersible Landing Craft, a Mini-Sub captured in 1996 while attmptign to land commandos in the South and the AN-2 Colt transport aircraft

North Korea has approximately 120,000 troops assigned its Special Forces, the largest Special Forces organization in the world. The Special Forces of the DPRK are grouped into 25 brigades of various types to include light infantry, attack, airborne, and sea-born commando units. They have the support of the Navy and Air Force and use high speed hovercraft and other fast maritime craft, miniature submarines and the AN-2 “Colt” which can transport a squad of soldiers and is virtually undetectable to radar.  These troops will be tasked to open a “2nd Front” by attacking US military installations in Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Guam as well as by disrupting South Korean headquarters, logistics centers, communications facilities, media outlets and government agencies in particular targeting members of the National Command Authority.

The Korean Peninsula is rugged and crisscrossed with numerous streams and rivers.  The climate is difficult hot summers and very cold winters.  The one time that the North has invaded the South it did so in the summer, June 25th 1950.

To be continued….


Filed under Foreign Policy, Military, national security

The Sinking of the Cheonan and the Escalation of Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

The forward half of teh hulk of the Corvette Cheoson being raised from the Yellow Sea

On March 26th at 2110 hrs local the 1200 ton South Korean Corvette Cheonan (PCC-722) was torpedoed by a North Korean Submarine about 1 nautical mile from Baengnyeong Island. The assailant appears to have been a North Korean Yeono Class miniature submarine using a North Korean CHT-02D 21” torpedo using acoustic homing mechanism set for a detonation under the hull of Cheonan at 6-9 meters depth.  There is the possibility that a Song class coastal submarine could have been involved but the likelihood is a Yeono class boat based on the proximity to land and the observation of a number of “small submarines” departing base a few days before and returning a few days after to their tender. The blast created an underwater shockwave and bubble effect which broke the back of the ship causing it to sink in less than 5 minutes with the loss of 46 crew members.

The probable assailant a Yeono or Yono class Miniature Sub and an Iranian variant below

The sinking of Cheonan was the first sinking of a warship by a hostile submarine since the Argentine light cruiser the General Belgrano was sunk by the Royal Navy nuclear hunter-killer attack submarine Conqueror on May 2nd 1982 during the Falkland war.  The sinking of the Belgrano was controversial but occurred in the context of active hostilities and which posed no real threat to regional destabilization or a war that could easily escalate into a nuclear, chemical and biological conflict. The Cheonan was sunk by the North Koreans in a clear violation of the Korean Armistice and represents such a brazen move by the North Koreans that one has to wonder what purpose that it served.  There are reports that Kim Jong Il ordered the attack in retaliation for a confrontation in the same area in November 2009 in which a North Korean ship was heavily damaged.

The last warship sunk by a hostile submarine

The effects are now being felt following the May 20th release of the international investigation of the sinking which confirmed with hard evidence that the torpedo was North Korean and that there were no other possibilities for the sinking. (http://www.mnd.go.kr/mndEng_2009/WhatsNew/RecentNews/index.jsp#wrap ) The North Koreans reacted with anger toward the report while South Korea, the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and the UN made statements condemning the sinking.  In the following days the US and South Korea announced naval exercises (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/asia_pacific/10150379.stm ) (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2010/0524/Pentagon-dials-up-pressure-on-North-Korea-for-Cheonan-sinking ) and on the 24th the South Koreans suspended economic relations and assistance to the North and announced the renewal of psychological warfare against the North. The North Koreans have responded in kind severing all relations with the South, threatening to attack sites broadcasting into the North and announced that it gave its military the order to prepare for war.  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100525/ap_on_re_as/as_skorea_ship_sinks;_ylt=Alwl3biZwLFab7TyXX4HwRz9xg8F;_ylu=X3oDMTM5NTExM2R2BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwNTI1L2FzX3Nrb3JlYV9zaGlwX3NpbmtzBGNjb2RlA21vc3Rwb3B1bGFyBGNwb3MDMgRwb3MDMgRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3JpZXMEc2xrA25rb3JlYXNldmVycw

North Korean Torpedo components from the sinking of the Cheonan

The North on the 21st announced that “From this time on, we will regard the situation as a phase of war and will be responding resolutely to all problems in North-South relations,” and that “If the South puppet group comes out with ‘response’ and ‘retaliation’, we will respond strongly with ruthless punishment including the total shutdown of North-South ties, abrogation of the North-South agreement on non-aggression and abolition of all North-South cooperation projects.” (http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/asia/3725039/North-Korea-declares-phase-of-war-with-south )

Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon said that the Security Council should take action against North Korea stating “I’m confident that the council, in fulfilling its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, will take measures appropriate to the gravity of the situation.” (http://www.undispatch.com/node/9910 )

The situation seems to escalate by the hour as additional nations condemn the North Koreans and movement in the UN to do sop as well.  With the problem of succession in the North Korean leadership and potential struggles for internal power between the North Korean military and others within Communist Party and government it is hard to say who might gain in this situation. There are reports that part of the reason for the attack was the need for Kim Jong Il to secure the place of his son to leader the regime if he is incapacitated or dies.  The succession of Kim to the leadership was unusual as it was the first time in a Communist nation that the son of the national leader succeeded his father.  It is possibility that senior military or party leadership could oppose such a move.

There are a number of scenarios for this to play out.  Of course one would be for the North to stand down however that would be an act of weakness and loss of face for the regime after sinking a South Korean warship.  The other alternatives include the full fledged resumption of the Cold War on the peninsula or even the outbreak of a regional war which could draw in other nations and involve the use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons on a large scale.   Any such situation would devastate the economies of much of Asia which in tour could cripple the world economy at a time when the European Union is in crisis, the United States is struggling its way out of a recession and many other nations are experiencing economic crisis or downturn.

This is a very dangerous situation and as one who has spent time on the Korean DMZ I can imagine almost nothing worse for the world than a war in Northeast Asia, perhaps a major showdown in the Arabian Gulf with Iran or a major conflict involving Israel and Iran or other Middle Eastern states, but not much other than those scenarios.  The situation has also demonstrated the threat to warships in the littorals from comparatively simple, cheap and deadly platforms firing weapons based on World War Two technology.  The reality for naval surface forces be they in the Korean littorals, the Arabian Gulf or Gulf of Oman is that low tech weaponry on low tech platforms in congested waters can deal deadly blows to unsuspecting warships.

This situation will need to be watched as it has the potential to get worse with dire consequences.


Filed under Foreign Policy, Military