North Korean Special Forces 200,000 Strong

The North Korean military’s special operations branch, which forms the basis of its asymmetric warfare capability, reportedly has 200,000 soldiers under its wing.

The Ministry of National Defense in the 2010 White Paper of National Defense published today assessed the North’s special operations forces to be 200,000 strong, with the ability to use underground tunnels and military equipment such as the AN-2 plane to infiltrate rear areas and carry out an assorted range of attacks on main targets, assassinate agents, and employ harassing tactics.

It also reported that the North has been continuously strengthening its special operations capabilities. It had already reassigned a light infantry division to be incorporated under a corps near the border with South Korea, while also adding a light infantry regiment to one of its divisions near the border.

The light infantry division that was placed under the forward-deployed corps is a special operations unit that can either contribute to the corps’ strategy of penetrating mountainous terrain, or independently carry out an assorted range of strategies and rear harassing tactics.

The number of soldiers comprising North Korea’s special operations forces has continuously been on the rise, with the totals for 2006 and 2008 standing at 120,000 and 180,000, respectively.

On the number of soldiers in North Korea, the report estimated the total to be 1.19 million, with the army, air force, and navy accounting for 1.02 million, 110,000, and 60,000, respectively. The army was reported to consist of 15 corps, 90 divisions, and around 70 mobile brigades.

Since the 2008 White Paper was published, four more divisions and one more brigade have been added.

The White Paper also noted that the main weapon in the North’s cavalry is a tank known as the “Cheonma”, which is a modified version of the T-54/55 and T-62. The North also modified the T-72 to develop a new prototype, named the “Pokpoong” (storm), which it has deployed to forward units. The old tanks are being used in the rear units, said the report.

Overall, the Ministry of National Defense viewed the North Korean military, having reinforced the mobility and strength of its mobile units, as maintaining readiness for a blitzkrieg attack.

North Korea currently has 4,100 tanks, an increase of 200 compared to two years ago, 2,100 armored vehicles, 8,500 field guns, 5,100 rocket launchers, and 100 ground-based guided munitions, according to the White Paper.

It also stated that their 170mm self-propelled artillery and 240mm rockets could be used in a sudden attack on the Seoul metropolitan area from their current deployment sites.

North Korea’s Air Force currently has approximately 820 fighter aircraft, 30 surveillance control planes, 330 transporters, 170 trainers, and 300 helicopters, among others. Compared to 2008, the data showed a decrease of 20 fighter aircraft and 10 trainers.

Around 60 percent of North Korea’s naval forces are forward deployed (south of the line connecting Pyongyang and Wonsan), with a total of around 420 fighting vessels, 260 amphibious assault ships, 30 mine-warfare ships, and 70 submarines in its inventory.
With regards to North Korea’s air defense system, SA-3 ground-to-air missiles are installed in the regions of Pyongyang and around main military facilities, while the SA-2 and SA-5 missiles are installed along the military demarcation line and the coasts.

Tactical and strategic anti-aircraft artillery are concentrated to provide cover for ground forces as well as major cities, ports, and military industry facilities. The strategic deployment in 2007 of the Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile, which has a range of more than 3,000 kilometers, has given North Korea the capability to directly strike countries near it, including South Korea, Japan, and Guam.

North Korea’s 1.19 million-strong military far outnumbers the 650,000-strong South Korean military, and this trend continues when comparing the two countries’ reserve forces; the South’s 3.2 million is more than outnumbers the North’s 7.7 million by more than double.

The Ministry of National Defense estimates that the North is continuing to develop nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and biochemical weapons. It also believes that the North has reprocessed the spent fuel rods that it obtained by activating the five-megawatt nuclear reactor at least four times from 1980 to 2009, and that it thus now possesses around 40 kilograms of plutonium.

It estimated the amount of North Korea’s arsenal of chemical weapons to be in the range of 2,500 to 5,000 tons.

“Despite difficulties in the areas of energy supply and the economy, North Korea is nurturing its munitions industry in order to maintain its capacity to carry out a war and provide for the military. There are about 300 munitions factories, as well as civilian factories that can be quickly transformed into munitions factories during times of war,” stated the report.

“Most of the war supplies are stockpiled in pits or mines, which are estimated to store around two to three months’ worth of supplies.”

The White Paper did not use the expression “main enemy” in describing North Korea.

“North Korea poses a grave threat to our security through continuous military provocations such as attacking the Cheonan warship and Yeongpyeong Island as well as maintaining a large conventional military force and weapons of mass destruction. As long as such threats continue, the subjects that carry out such acts, namely the North Korean regime and its military, are our enemy,” described the report.

The report consists of ten chapters, and this marks its 19th edition since first being published in 1967.