The Effect of Ammunition Shortages

Among other things, the North Korean Constitution stipulates the responsibility of the citizenry as follows;

“National defense is the supreme duty and honor of citizens. Citizens shall defend the country and serve in the army as required by law.”

The clause was added to the constitution at the 1st Meeting of the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) on September 5th, 1998, and is preserved in the revised constitution of 2009.

Accordingly, the North Korean authorities have a system of militarization by which to carry out this duty of protecting the Fatherland.

If one is born in North Korea, one has to join an organization called the Young Red Guards in the fourth grade of middle school (age 14) and undergo military training. From that point on, men are affiliated with various military organizations until their retirement, women only until marriage.

However, although North Korea forces its citizens to join military organizations for half of their lives, in reality people do not even learn how to fire a gun properly. This is due to the obvious fact that North Korea’s economy is not able to support the country’s Military-first ideology.

The amount of ammunition provided during marksmanship training in South Korea is usually two magazines. However, in North Korea just three bullets are provided for one round of training.

In the North Korean military, 10 years of service are required. Subsequently, when one is released from the military, one is marshaled into Local Reserve Forces or Worker’s and Peasant’s Red Guard.

While Local Reserve Forces are military training units for local defense, “Red Guards” are a training unit which prepares for emergency situations and are organised according to place of work. Usually, males are formed into “Local Reserve Forces” until age 45; the Red Guards require military training once a year for males and females until their retirement and marriage, respectively.

General training usually takes place in January and Red Guards tend to train at their place of work, sports field or school yard, but Local Reserve Forces set up camp in places designated by the Municipal Party or Civilian Defense Units and undertake further training which does not differ much from that of active soldiers.

Target practice, when done, is done with vintage 1958 machineguns at shooting ranges located in each county or district.

The number of bullets consumed at live fire training sessions which take place once a year is three rounds, but the Red Guards, due to a shortage of ammunition, take part in target practice without bullets.

In North Korea, the only factory which currently produces ammunition is the No. 95 Factory in Gusung, North Pyongan Province. In the mid-1990s, before the “March of Tribulation,” precision technology factories including the Precision Technological Factory in Gumsan-ri, Wangduk, in Hyesan, the Heecheon Precision Technological Factory (Jakang Province) and the Samjiyeon Precision Technological Factory (Yangang Province) produced a diverse range of items.

However, due to shortages of raw materials, food and electricity during the “March of Tribulation,” bullet producing facilities in several places were abandoned and others were combined into the No. 95 Factory.

Apparently, Kim Jong Il once said, “If Factory No. 95 produces 2 million rounds per month, then another machine gun bullet production base is not needed.” But it is difficult to confirm whether or not such a production goal has ever been achieved.

However, due to the lack of bullets within the Local Reserve Forces or Labor Red Guard Units and the absence of target practice over several years, one cannot help but presume that it did not, and that there is an overall shortage of bullets in the country.

The North Korean authorities also attempt to prevent the loss of bullets or their outflow to civilians. Weapons in North Korea can easily flow out of the country, so they are even more strictly regulated.

Soldiers usually cannot possess bullets. They must be stored in armories and can only be carried according to the orders of commanding officers during times of emergency.

If bullets are lost during active duty, every soldier is mobilized to find them and, if they are not found, then the soldier responsible for the loss can be subject to punishment, military trial or even discharge, while his direct supervisor may have to bear some responsibility.

So, it is clear that bullets are extremely strictly managed in North Korea and in the case of losses it is not uncommon for serious situations to result from trying to determine who must bear the responsibility.

Jung Soon Ae (age 38), who came to South Korea in March, testified, “Since college I have been involved in Local reserve forces. One day I lost my ammo while on duty. I was on guard duty in the fuel storage room from midnight until 2AM carrying live ammo in its case.”

The Local Reserve Forces are made up of university students which, in contrast to the Red Guards, carry out strict military training under the orders of commanding officers. Consequently, despite the fact that the university Local Reserve Forces training only lasts six months, the students have to abide by strict military regulations comparable to soldiers on active duty.

They also do guard duty comparable to that of active soldiers, and end up carrying live ammunition while on duty. Approximately five rounds are loaded in two clips, one in a machinegun and the back-up in a pouch.

Jung lost the pouch.

It was not until his replacement came that he returned to his lodgings, only to discover that the back-up ammo had disappeared.

Despite the fact that it was 2am, the chief guard immediately ran to the quarters of the platoon leader and woke up not only the platoon leader, but also the entire squadron. They looked for the ammo all night.

Unable to find it, the search party set out to look for it yet again the next day. It was not until lunchtime when a shift change occurred and they were returning to their lodging that they found the pouch on the roadside.

Although they found the bullets, they were taken to the Security Agency head and received concentrated criticism.

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