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North Korea's war strategy of massive retaliations against US attacks (Part III)
Han Ho Suk, Center for Korean Affairs
5/1/2003

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[What follows is the abstract to a piece written by Han Ho Suk, Director for the Center for Korean Affairs. It is currently featured on Korea WebWeekly. Part II was published on April 28, 2003.]

3. North Korea's Military Capability
All nations keep their military capability secret. North Korea is no exception and it is not easy to assess North Korea's military power. The US claims that it knows North Korea's military secrets. The United States collects intelligence on North Korea using a variety of means: American U-2, RC-135, EP-3 and other high-altitude spy planes watch over North Korea 24 hours 7 days a week. The US 5th Air Reconnaissance Squadron has U-2R, U-2S, and other advanced spy planes at the Ohsan airbase in South Korea. In addition, the US has 70 KH-11 spy satellites hovering over North Korea.

In spite of such a massive deployment of intelligence collection assets, the US intelligence on North Korea is faulty at best. Donald Gregg, a former US ambassador to Seoul and a 30-year CIA veteran, has admitted that the US intelligence on North Korea has been the longest lasting story of failure in the annals of US intelligence. Gregg said that even the best spy gadget in the US arsenal cannot read what's on Kim Jong Il's mind. US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said that North Korea uses underground optical fibers for military communication and that it is nearly impossible to plant human agents in North Korea.

Although North Korea's military secrets are impervious to US spy operations, one can draw some general pictures from information available in the public domain.

a) North Korea makes its own weapons

North Korea has annual production capacity for 200,000 AK automatic guns, 3,000 heavy guns, 200 battle tanks, 400 armored cars and amphibious crafts. North Korea makes its own submarines, landing drafts, high-speed missile-boats, and other types of warships. Home-made weaponry makes it possible for North Korea to maintain a large military force on a shoestring budget. North Korea defense industry is made of three groups: weapon production, production of military supplies, and military-civilian dual-use product manufacturing.

North Korea has 17 plants for guns and artillery, 35 plants for ammunition, 5 plants for tanks and armored cars, 8 plants for airplanes, 5 plants for warships, 3 plants for guided missiles, 5 plants for communication equipment, and 8 plants for biochemical warheads - 134 plants in total. In addition, many plants that make consumer products are designed so that they can be made to produce military items with minimum modification. About 180 of defense related plants are built underground in the rugged mountainous areas of Jagang-do. Several small to medium hydro-power plants serve these plants so that it would be nearly impossible for the US to cut off power to the plants.

b) North Korea has its own war plans

North Korea is mountainous and its coasts are long and jagged. The Korean peninsula is narrow on its waste. North Korea's weapons and war tactics are germane to Korea's unique geography. North Korea has developed its own war plans unique to fighting the US in a unique way. North Korea's military is organized into several independent, totally integrated and self-sufficient fighting units, that are ready for action at any time.

c) North Korean soldiers are well indoctrinated

The US commanders admit that North Korean soldiers are highly motivated and loyal to Kim Jong Il, and that they will fight well in case of war. Karl von Clausewitz said that people's support for war, military commanders' ability and power, and the political leadership are the three essentials for winning war. He failed to include the political indoctrination of the soldiers, which is perhaps more important than the other factors cited.

During the Iraq War just ended, the main cause of Iraq's defeat was the low moral of its soldiers. Iraqi soldiers had no will to stand and fight, and they ran away or surrendered without fight. Iraqi soldiers believed in Allah protecting them and became easy preys to the US military. North Korean soldiers are taught to fight to the bitter end. In September 1996, a North Korean submarine got stranded at Kangrung, South Korea, and its crew abandoned the ship. Eleven of the crew committed suicide and the rest fought to the last man except one who was captured. In June 1998, another submarine got caught in fishing nets at Sokcho and its crew killed themselves. Such is the fighting spirit of North Korean soldiers.

d) North Koreans are combat ready

One cannot fight war without military preparedness. North Korea's regular army is for offensive actions whereas its militias are homeland defense. 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, South Korea has 19 infantry divisions whereas North Korea has 80 divisions and brigades.

A North Korean infantry division has 3 infantry regiments, 1 artillery regiment (3 battalions of 122 mm rocket launchers and 1 battalion of 152 mortars), one tank battalion of 31 tanks, one anti-tank battalion, one anti-aircraft battalion, one engineer battalion, one communication battalion, one light-infantry battalion, one recon battalion, and one chemical warfare battalion.

North Korea's militias consist of 1.6 million self-defense units, 100,000 people's guards, 3.9 million workers militia, 900,000 youth guard units. These militias are tasked to defend the homeland. The militias are fully armed and undergo military trainings regularly.

i) Artillery

North Korea has 2 artillery corps and 30 artillery brigades equipped with 120mm self-propelled guns, 152mm self-propelled mortars, 170mm guns with a range of 50 km, 240 mm multiple rocket launchers with a range of 45 km, and other heavy guns. North Korea has about 18,000 heavy guns. North Korea's 170mm Goksan gun and 240mm multiple-tube rocket launchers are the most powerful guns of the world. These guns can lob shells as far south as Suwon miles beyond Seoul. The big guns are hidden in caves. Many of them are mounted on rails and can fire in all directions. They can rain 500,000 conventional and biochemical shells per hour on US troops near the DMZ. The US army bases at Yijong-bu, Paju, Yon-chun, Munsan, Ding-gu-chun, and Pochun will be obliterated in a matter of hours.

The US army in Korea is equipped with Paladin anti-artillery guns that can trace enemy shells back to the guns and fire shells at the enemy guns with pin-point accuracy. However, it takes for the Paladins about 10 min to locate the enemy guns, during which time the Paladins would be targeted by the enemy guns Gen. Thomas A Schwartz, a former US army commander in Korea, stated that the US army in Korea would be destroyed in less than three hours.

ii). Blitz Klieg

North Korea has tanks, armored cars, and self-propelled artillery for blitz klieg. North Korea has one tank corps and 15 tank brigades. The tank corps has 5 tank regiments, each of which has 4 heavy tank battalions, 1 light-tank battalion, one mechanized infantry battalion, 2 self-propelled artillery battalions.

US tanks are designed to operate in open fields. In 1941, Rommel of Germany defeated British troops in North Africa with tanks. The largest tank battle was fought at Kursk in 1943, in which the Soviets defeated Germans. In 1973, Egypt defeated Israeli tanks with anti-tank missiles. All of these tank battles were fought in open fields. The Gulf War and the recent war in Iraq saw US tanks in open fields. American and Western tank commanders do not know how to fight tank battles in rugged terrains like those of Korea. Tank battles in Korea will be fought on hilly terrains without any close air cover, because North Korean fighters will engage US planes in close dog fights.

North Korea has developed tanks ideally suited for the many rivers and mountains of Korea. These tanks are called "Chun-ma-ho", which can navigate steep slopes and cross rivers as much as 5.5 m deep. North Korea's main battle tanks - T-62s - have 155 mm guns and can travel as fast as 60 km per hour. The US main tanks - M1A - have 120 mm guns and cannot travel faster than 55 km per hour. North Korean tanks have skins 700 mm thick and TOW-II is the only anti-tank missile in the US arsenal that can penetrate this armored skin.

North Korea began to make anti-tank missiles in 1975 and has been improving its anti-tank missiles for the past 30 years. North Korea's anti-tank missiles are rated the best in the world and several foreign nations buy them. The US army in Korea relies on 72 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to kill North Korean tanks. Each Apache has 16 Hell-Fire anti-tank missiles. As shown in the recent Iraq war, Apaches are fragile and can be easily shot down even with rifles. North Korea has about 15,000 shoulder-fired anti-air missiles ("wha-sung") and Apaches will be easy targets for wha-sung missiles. On December 17, 1994, a wha-sung missile brought down an American OH-58C spy helicopter which strayed north of the DMZ.

North Korea has 4 mechanized corps and 24 mechanized brigades. Each brigade has 1 tank battalion (31 tanks), 1 armored battalion (46 armored cars), 4 infantry battalions, one 122mm battalion (18 guns), one 152 mm battalion (18 guns), one anti-aircraft battalion (18 guns), anti-tank battalion (9 armored cars with anti-tank missiles and 12 anti-tank guns), one armored recon company (3 light armored cars, 7 armored cars, and 8 motor-cycles), one mortar company (6 mortars), one engineer company, one chemical company, and one communication company. The US army has A-10 attack planes to counter North Korea's mechanized units. In case of war, the skies over Korea will be filled with fighters in close dog-fights and the A-10s would be ineffective.

The bulk of North Korea's mechanized and tank units are positioned to cross the DMZ at a moment's notice and run over the US and South Korean defenders. The attackers will be aided by SU-25 attack planes and attack helicopters. In addition, North Korea has 600 high-speed landing crafts, 140 hovercrafts, and 3,000 K-60 and other pontoon bridges for river-crossing. North Korea has 700,000 troops, 8,000 heavy guns, and 2,000 tanks placed in more than 4,000 hardened bunkers within 150 km of the DMZ.

iii. Underground Tunnel Warfare

North Korea is the world most-tunneled nation. North Korea's expertise in digging tunnels for warfare was demonstrated during the Vietnam War. North Korea sent about 100 tunnel warfare experts to Vietnam to help dig the 250 km tunnels for the North Vietnamese and Viet Gong troops in South Vietnam. The tunnels were instrumental in the Vietnamese victory.

North Korea's army runs on company-size units. Tunnel warfare is conducted by independent company-size units. Tunnel entrances are built to withstand US chemical and biological attacks. Tunnels run zig-zag and have seals, air-purification units, and safe places for the troops to rest. It is believed that North Korea has built about 20 large tunnels near the DMZ. A large tunnel can transport 15,000 troops per hour across the DMZ and place them behind the US troops.

iv. Special Forces

North Korea has the largest special forces, 120,000 troops, in the world. These troops are grouped into light infantry brigades, attack brigades, air-borne brigades, and sea-born brigades - 25 brigades in total. These troops will be tasked to attack US military installations in Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Guam.

North Korea has the capacity to transport 20,000 special force troops at the same time. North Korea has 130 high-speed landing crafts and 140 hovercrafts. A North Korean hovercraft can carry one platoon of troops at 90 km per hour. Western experts pooh-pooh North Korea's ancient AN-2 transport planes as 1948 relics, but AN-2 planes can fly low beneath US radars and deliver up to 10 troops at 160 km per hour. North Korea makes AN-2s and has about 300 in place. In addition, North Korea has hang-gliders that can carry 5-20 men each for short hops.

North Korea has developed special bikes for mountain warfare. Special forces use these bikes for fast deployments on mountains. Switzerland is the only other nation that has bike-mounted special forces trained for mountain warfare. The rugged terrains of the Korean Peninsula are ideally suited for special forces operations. North Korea's special forces will attack US targets in Japan, Okinawa, and Guam as well. Japan's self defense units are being reorganized to counter this threat.

How good are North Korea's special forces? In September 1996, a North Korean submarine was stranded near Kang-nung and the crew were forced to abandon the ship and land on South Korea. The sub had two special forces agents who had finished a mission in South Korea and were picked up by the sub before the sub ran into a rock. The two men fought off an army of South Korean troops and remained at large for 50 days, during which they killed 11 of the pursuers.

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