“We should not look down on North Korea’s human torpedo attacks.”
Shortly after the Cheonan incident occurred, the possibility of a North Korean “human torpedo attack” was reported by a South Korean daily newspaper. Thereafter, pro-Kim Jong Il regime media sources and Internet users devalued the story, saying that it was imaginary and could have come out of the latest James Bond movie. After the investigation team revealed the results of the investigation, human torpedoes disappeared from the media completely.
However, one defector, Kang Myung Cheol, who came to South Korea on a wooden boat via the West Sea, believes, “In the West Sea, there is always the possibility of human torpedo attack.”
Kang is a former lieutenant major in the North Korean navy. He was formerly the trainer of squads of sharpshooters; namely numbers 8, 11 and 34 squadrons attached to the North Korean naval headquarters.
Kang, based on his experience, believes, “Although the Cheonan was not attacked by a human torpedo, we shouldn’t say there is zero possibility of a North Korean human torpedo attack.”
In an interview with The Daily NK, Kang explained, “The North Korean navy have been training for human torpedo attacks: whereby groups of three, five or six special forces pilot a small submarine into the West Sea, and attack a ship with a torpedo.” He added, “Attack by a human torpedo is a really corny idea, but if you use the tides well, you can achieve a lot relative to your effort and costs.”
He also explained that since guerrilla combat is considered a major military strategy in North Korea, human torpedo attack is a valid tactic.
Those who are trained for the work of a human torpedo all belong to the North Korean naval headquarters. When recruitment for military service starts in spring and fall each year, the naval headquarters selects soldiers directly from the military mobilization department.
Some 300 soldiers are generally selected for the training each year, but it is whittled down to 30 after basing training. Of course, the standards are physical strength and family background. Once a man is picked, he is treated as being among the highest soldiers in the North Korean military, even higher than a combat pilot or crew member on a submarine.
Human torpedo attackers have to take 60 % sea training and 40% ground training. The core sea training involves survival training for three days adrift, being submerged in deep water, and underwater explosions. The ground training involves target practice, infiltration and returning to base, just like that of the special attack corps.
Basic training is held in the vicinity of Sukseom in Pyongyang, while Cho Island at the southern tip of Cape Beepa, which also hosts a submarine base, is the place for adaptation training. Then, finally, practical training is held on Mahap Island, South Hwanghae Province, which is the location of the training station of the General Department of Reconnaissance.
According to Kang, North Korea’s chosen infiltration route is around Hwarin Island in the West Sea. By using the tide, agents depart Hwarin Island, which is close to the Northern Limit Line (NLL), put a magnetic bomb containing four kilograms of explosive on a target, get away from the target using the ebb tide and then detonate the explosives by remote control. After completing the operation, they come back to base by small submarine around Cape Jangsan.
He said that, “Especially, the South Korean navy should be careful of the route around the back of the NLL by semi-submersible, in which a vessel with a crew of six can reach 60 knots, and the shipping lanes around Baekryeong Island using midget submarines in an area where there are lots of rocks and small islands.”
The North Korean navy believes that a midget submarine can carry ten to twelve crew members and move fast, so it has them stake out around rocky areas and then approach targets. Therefore, it is hard for the South’s navy to note an approach.
He explained, “The South Korean military is digitized and scientifically advanced, so it is easy for them to ignore North Korea’s primitive ways.” He described his experience when he stepped onto South Korean soil as an example. When he floated into the West Sea on a wooden boat, there was no monitoring by the South Korean navy. Upon stepping onto land after a long period of hesitation, he encountered a South Korean soldier, and told him, “I have come from the North.” He did not meet any opposition from the South’s navy.
Kang pointed to the No. 11 squadron as the main force behind the Cheonan attack because it maintains the right firepower and has a high capacity to wage guerilla war. It is located in Walsa-ri, Kwail, South Hwanghae Province.
However, he says of the North’s navy, “It is most on the level of the 1970s. They cannot train for a lack of fuel, so corrosion and equipment failures are commonplace.”
“When I went to the No. 11 squadron for an inspection in 2005, soldiers ate merely half the standard ration of grain with only salted radish.”
Kang concludes that North Korea’s interest in unusual forms of warfare is a rational appreciation of its limitations, “Although there are hundreds of torpedo boats and warships in North Korea, they face being destroyed at anchor due to a lack of fuel if it comes to a war. That is the reason why North Korea has so much interest in underwater guerrilla attacks.”