Header Ads

How powerful is North Korea's military? An in-depth analysis (28 Pics)

The Korean peninsula seems to be even more unstable and dangerous this year. North Korea, paranoid and reckless as ever, continues to make progress in their nuclear weapons and missile program. Their ICBM has improved from ‘totally useless shit’ to ‘unimpressive but usable’, northern China, Japan and U.S bases in the Pacific are now in range of N.K nukes, and Alaska will soon be next.
In a nervous and divided American, President Donald Trump announced the ‘era of strategic patience’ is over. The U.S defence budget rises as President Trump declares his administration is considering ‘all the options’ against the pariah state. Next to North Korea is China, no more democratic than the China 40 years ago, when it abandoned communism under Deng Xiaoping. Home to the world’s largest standing army and some of the deadliest fighting machines native to Asia, China technically still North Korea’s ally. Despite initial hopes of negotiation between Trump and China, China is unwilling to place sanctions on the hermit kingdom, even as 9 divisions of Chinese tanks are pointed towards Pyongyang. With so many things at stake, war in the Korean peninsula is still unlikely, but tensions are running high and I thought this is a good time to write on the military power of North Korea.

First, we’ll examine the four main branches of North Korea’s military, the Army, Air Force, Navy and Strategic Force (responsible for rocket, missile and long-range artillery) and their equipment. Then we will look at how North Korea, South Korea and the U.S would do in a war.
North Korea, or the ‘Democratic People’s Republic’ (Three lies in a row!) of Korea as they call themselves, is a country that operates around a single policy. That policy is called Songun, it means ‘military first’ and the entire country is focused around maintaining the Kim dynasty’s rule through military power. North Korea has both the highest proportion of GDP spent on defence and population serving the military. North Korea spends about $11 billion U.S dollars annually on its military, 1.2 million personnel are on active duty in the Korea People’s Army, and another 700,000 reservists could be mobilized. Most North Korean males are conscripted upon adulthood and serve for an average of six to eight years, and about half of the entire population has some degree of military training.
Let’s get started with a look at the Korea People’s Army (KPA) Ground Force. Unsurprisingly, the KPA is mainly based around its Ground Force branch. A war against South Korea would be mainly a ground campaign, and Ground Force equipment are more cost effective, which is important as North Korea is broke as fuck. The KPA Ground Force consists of 950,000 troops, organised into 4 infantry corps, 2 mechanized corps, 1 armoured corps and 1 artillery crops.

North Korea’s infantry gears are depressingly bad, comparable to a 1960’s Soviet infantryman or a 1980’s Chinese infantryman.  Most troops wield variants of the AK-47 or the AK-74. Anti-tank firepower is provided by the RPG-7 and the AT-5/Konkurs missile, both too old to kill modern tanks from the front. Personal body armour is virtually non-existent, troops are only issues old-fashioned steel helmets. 75% of the troops travel on unprotected buses (no shitting, civilian buses) and truck, whereas most South Korean troops travel in armoured vehicles.
The KPA’s 4,200 tanks are old but they can still dish out a lot of firepower against unarmoured targets. 2,000 T-55 and 1,200 T-62 tanks form the backbone of the KPA armoured corps, these MBTs are backed up by several hundred light tanks and perhaps a hundred T-72s. These old tanks are very vulnerable to modern missiles and South Korean tanks. South Korea build their own version of the M1 Abrams, and their K2 Black Panther is considered to one of the best in the world, comparable to the T-14 Armata and Type-10.

The above photo shows an upgraded T-62 tank with spaced armor and extra weapons.
Note the missile launchers bolted on to provide extra firepower, looks like a pair of Strela SAM nad a pair of ATGMs. The weapon in the middle looks like a pair of grenade launchers. Again these additions are unlikely to make the tank survivable against air attacks or South Korean K2 tanks.
North Korea has a fleet of 5,000 APCs (They don’t have many IFVs). These are either the Chinese Type 85 or the Russian BTR. Although both are solid designs packing a squad of troops and a machine gun in a steel shell, they will be sitting ducks once South Korea establishes air superiority, they are also vulnerable to 21st century IFVs and tanks. Nevertheless, these APCs will initially be able to rapidly deploy troops while protecting them from most infantry weapons.

Again, more bolted on missile and grenade launchers, Mad Max style.
The KPA has 24 Mi-24 Hind gunships and about a hundred transport helicopters. The transports could be used to deliver special forces, which could cause chaos, but those 24 Hinds are not enough.
Finally, the KPA Ground Force packs 12,000 artillery pieces, a huge array of cannons, mortars and rockets. Most notable are the 4,200 multi-rocket launchers like the BM-21. These artilleries aren’t the fanciest but they do pump out a very high volume of fire. Which is why the planned FEBA-Bravo (Forward Edge Battle Area) is about 45km away from the Demilitarized zone near the border, this helps to avoid at least some of the artillery. Also remember that a surprising large portion of the South Korean population live within artillery range, they would have to run away from the KPA as well as a hail of explosives.
Rocket artillery are inaccurate and takes a long time to reload, but their sheer volume of fire is appreciated in many situations.
The KPA Air Force is built around a fleet of 900 obsolete and a network of half-decent Integrated Air Defence System (IADS). Pilot training is generally atrocious, with fighter pilots flying on average 30 hours per year, compared to 130-ish for Russia, 150 for China and U.S/NATO 200 hours (The U.S wants to increase that to 250). So regardless of what they’re flying, N.K pilots will suck at their job.
The backbone of this Air Force consists of 230 MiG-17s pictured above, which are subsonic 1950s gun-armed fighters that are helpless against South Korea F-15s. Another 150 MiG-21s are also largely useless, as they only carry short ranged missiles.
The only decent fighters in the KPAAF are about 80 MiG-23ML and 40 MiG-29. Once again, poor training and lack of proper electronic equipment will render these planes very ineffective. The Air Force of North Korea is generally acknowledged as a nuisance, which would fail to deliver any offensive firepower.
This Serbian MiG-29 is vastly superior to the shitty NK MiGs. Due to embargoes and Soviet "Monkey-model" export policies, the North Korean MiGs lack many essential equipment like electronic jammers and threat warning receivers.
More problematic than the fighter jets are North Korea’s IADS, more capable than the IADS the U.S encountered during the Gulf war. It is a network of Surface-to-Air missiles, AA guns and radar sites linked up by redundant lines of communication. Some of these sites are built into bunkers or mountainsides, making them immune to small munitions like the AGM-88 HARM or the SDB. Once again, these sites will require bigger bombs and more sorties to destroy. Surface to Air threats primarily composes of the S-125/SA-3 and the 2K12/SA-6 missiles with thousands of dispersed AA guns and a handful of better missile launchers, like the 9K37 Buk. Most SEAD pilots will agree with me that killing these air defence sites will require precious time and resources. In addition, resources diverted on killing SAM sites means less planes are available to hunt down ballistic missiles and rocket sites, which will only worsen the slaughter of South Korean citizens.

The best-case assumption is that the U.S. Air Force is permitted to immediately begin a maximum effort mobilization immediately and divert all Air-superiority and SEAD assets to Korea. The NK air defence is to be destroyed as quickly as possible so that attack jets could quickly target NK ground units.
The Korean People’s Navy is, uh, actually not much better than the coast guard. It is so shockingly shit, that not a single North Korean ship is big enough to sail from one side of the country to another. The navy only has five reasonably sized ships, which are frigates based on the Soviet Krivak-class. A ragtag fleet of submarines, ranging from the 1950s Romeo class design to the tiny 270-ton Sang-O class poses are also practically useless once the U.S Navy gets involved. The only things with a slight chance of sinking Coalition ships would be North Korea’s 40 missile patrol boats and mine-layers. According to the DIA they are ‘a credible threat’ to any ships approaching the NK coastline.

Pictured above is a NK fast patrol boat armed with a cannon, AK-630 CIWS and missiles. Dangerous to South Korea corvettes perhaps, but utterly outclassed by larger ships.
Rusty 1950s hand-me-downs from the Soviet Union. Fat Kim can be seen in the grey suit.
We’ve come to the last branch of the North Korean military, the KPA Strategic Force, in charge of the country’s long-range rocket and missile arsenal. The rationale behind this branch is simple. If war erupts in Korea, they are going to kill as many South Korean civilians as possible. They effectively hold the population of South Korea as hostage, which is pretty much the only reason why North Korea still exists.

Note: The top image is probably a fake missile, there's no way in hell North Korea has such a compact ICBM as of 2016.
The most widely used and export missile of the Cold War was the Soviet Scud series of ballistic missiles. North Koreans purchased Scuds from Egypt and reverse engineered it as the basis of the Hwasong series of missiles. North Korea has nearly 1,000 Scud missiles, these missiles lack terminal guidance and are inaccurate, so they are aimed at population centres rather than military targets. Augmenting the Scuds are 1,000-1,200 more unguided long-range rockets, like the Soviet FROG-7. Chemical warheads are expected to be used against South Korean cities, and the recent assassination of Kim Jong-Nam proves North Korea is willing to use nerve agents like VX.

The OTR-21 Tochka is much more accurate than the Scuds and could be used to hit airfields, radar sites etc. North Korea has between 120-200 of these missiles launched from highly mobile TEL trucks.
As of 2017, South Korea only has 48 rounds of the much-hyped THAAD interceptor missile to defend itself against NK’s vast arsenal, the THAAD is expected to be supported by 8 batteries of short-ranged PAC-3 interceptors, still woefully short of the hundreds needed to stop a barrage from the North.
Kim’s InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program has been all over the news recently, and frankly I do not think they are the worst thing ever. North Korea can only manufacture a handful of nuclear-tipped ICBMs, they are unreliable and takes a long time (up to 2-3 days) to prepare for launch, so many of them will fail to reach the U.S. Even those that do reach the U.S would probably be shot down. The U.S ballistic missile defence may be ineffective against the hundreds of MIRV warheads from Russia and China, but it would be adequate against North Korea’s dozen or so unitary nukes. Japan, on the other hand, does have a good reason to be scared as North Koreans do have a lot more medium-range missiles.
Enough about military hardware, let’s talk about how a war would actually play out.
North Korea is about the purest form of dictatorship that still exists in the 21st century, Kim Jong Un has control over every major action his nation takes, so what does he want? Is Kim paranoid? Certainly. Is Kim insane, by our standards probably. Is Kim dumb? Hell no. Kim Jong Un and other North Korean elites are not brainwashed fools, they have internet access, they read western literature and knows that North Korea is by no means a normal country. Kim Jong Un is fully aware that his military is doomed once the U.S gets involved, he is fully aware that every other country in the world is annoyed and disgusted, if not outright hate him and his country.

Kim Jong Un just wants to stuff his fat face with expensive food, drink margaritas and bang hookers while his people starve. He doesn’t care about the ‘reunification’ of Korea or destroying American Imperialism, he only cares about maintaining his own power. So, Kim won’t start a war, unless he feels that someone is going to take away his position of power. South Korea simply wants to live peacefully, and U.S will certainly come to help once North fires its first shot towards the 30,000 American troops stationed in South Korea. Today’s China is unrecognizable from the pariah state that was China 60 years ago, which helped North Korea in the 50s. China certainly won’t help the U.S today, but they will be willing to kill North Korean refugees once the fall of the Kim regime becomes certain.
Major Cavanaugh is a U.S strategist and a fellow at West Point, and he stresses that “North Korea consistently seeks a rational end.” Democracy is messy and different domestic constituencies drive different objectives at different times. A dictatorship’s sole focus is the survival of its dictator. Kim Jong-Un is a disgusting shithead, but he’s also a rational, well-informed shithead.

So how will a North Korean attack begin? Certainly, with special forces infiltrating South Korea and cyber-attacks on digital communication networks. There has always been North Korean infiltrators in the South, and more will sneak in during periods of heightened tension. These infiltrators will try to report on troop movement, cause disruptions in Korean society and influence the democratic cycle. Both South Korea and the U.S are democratic countries, Democracies need time to debate and make decision. This will only give the North Koreans more time to prepare. First strike will begin with a massive barrage of artillery, rockets and missiles carrying chemical and biological warheads, perhaps nuclear. The U.S Department of Military Instruction estimates that 50,000 SK civilians would die within the first 3 days. Seoul is home to 11 million peoples (25 million including suburbs), and it’s just 50km away from the 38th Parallel border. The chaotic NEO (Non-combatant Evacuation Operation) of millions of civilians will be a nightmare to the South Korean and U.S military. Combined with the mountainous terrain, the logistics of moving towards the North Koreans is just straight up terrifying.
The KPA advance is a simple full speed charge towards Seoul, Inchon and other population centres. The opposing air forces will be stretched to the limit, too busy fighting against SAMs and WMD sites. Helped by curtain of artillery fire and millions of panicking refugees, North Korean troops will try to breach FEBA Bravo, the main SK defensive line set about 45km from the border. There is also supposed to be 150,000 SK troops at FEBA Alpha closer to the border, but the consensus is that FEBA Alpha doesn’t stand a bloody chance. At FEBA Bravo, the South Koreans is supposed to buy enough time (potentially 15 days) for U.S Airborne and Marines to arrive. A low-tech enemy can become much more dangerous in urban environments (as see in Mosul and Stalingrad), therefore FEBA Bravo must not allow North Koreans to reach major cities.

The Combined Force Command (CMC-ROK) has nowhere to retreat, the capital city of Seoul is just 10km behind FEBA, and there is no way in hell that 25 million people could be evacuated within 15 days. Kim Jong-Un would do everything he can to capture Seoul, that would both be a symbol of victory and a political bargaining chip. If he doesn’t, U.S airpower and expeditionary troops will arrive within three weeks and wage a ‘violent, short war’ to capture Pyongyang.
Above: U.S Marines and Korean armored forces

The assistance from the U.S will initially consist of an airborne division and Marine MEUs, later supplemented by a U.S Army unit based from Japan or the Pacific. Around the clock airstrikes will be expected.  U.S commanders aren’t stupid either, they know nukes and chemical weapons will fall on civilians, they know fleeing refugees will fuck up logistics, they know moving in reinforcements will take precious time.

Millions could die on the North Korean side in addition to the deaths in the South. The second Korean war would make Mosul and Aleppo look tame. Rear Admiral Stephen Baker (Formerly US Navy) estimates South Korean casualties to be 495,000 military and 1.2 million civilian, North Korean casualties was simply described as ‘enormous’.

That’s assuming nobody touches nukes.
Above: Chinese troops near the NK border, they won't be friendly to any North Koreans coming over

And what will happen after the war? Millions of North Koreans will be left without their dictator. The 110,000 Chinese troops are stationed across the China-NK border precisely to make sure they won’t flood over the Chinese border, and to South Koreans, the only thing more terrifying than chemical weapons from the North is millions of refugees from the North. Will North Korea be carved up between China and South Korea, and how will the millions of brainwashed Koreans feel about living in a democracy in the South?
"OP are you a goddamn spy?"
No I'm just a Revs history and Global Politics student, part of this is my homework. The obsession with weapons is just...hard to explain

"Where do you get all this info from?"
I recommended The Diplomat or RealClearDefense for some entry-level reading on foreign and military policy. For hardcore military nerds, I recommend War on the Rocks and Modern War Institute, two great websites featuring articles by active-duty ‘Warrior-scholars’, many of whom are West Point graduates. Think tanks like RAND, ASPI and the Heritage foundation can also be great. Yes, many of them are politically biased, but they’re obvious in their bias and allows you to judge from a wide spectrum of opinions.

"Why aren't you posting often?"
I'm in my final year of high school, will try to get into a good university and study a foreign policy course.

"Did you find a date for formal/prom"
Yes, at the last minute.

"Are you North Korean?"
No, but I grew up a few hundred km away from the NK border on the Chinese side (duh!). There was a Over-Horizon radar station and military airbase near my home that monitored all flights over Korea.
The bottom line is this, Kim Jong Un has no regard for human lives, except for his own. There is a very slight chance, nevertheless a chance, that the paranoid dictator will do something incredibly stupid. I think we westerners often joke and meme about North Korea’s outdated military, precisely because we aren’t on the receiving end. The terrifying possibility of ten million dead Koreans from both sides remains, and there is no solution.

No comments