Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

On the role of the military police in smuggling

Friday, June 12th, 2015

According to Radio Free Asia:

North Korea’s military police force, which operates outside of the control of the normal authorities, is the driving force behind smuggling in the country, despite a nationwide crackdown on the practice, according to sources inside the hermit kingdom.

Sources said that as a result of North Korea’s “military first” policy, the military police wield a vast amount of influence over a far-reaching network of contacts in the nation, which allows them to facilitate smuggling by soldiers along the border with China.

“Most smuggling has been carried out by soldiers, and it’s particularly difficult to smuggle in massive quantities without the help of the military police,” a source in North Hamgyong province on the border with China recently told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The military police smuggle precious metals, such as gold, silver, copper, nickel, industrial diamonds and molybdenum. They also smuggle resources belonging to the nation, and plants and animals, as well as historical items, cultural artifacts, drugs, and medicinal herbs,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Military police help smuggle the goods into China in return for consumer goods, such as food, fertilizer and daily necessities, which are then peddled inside of North Korea, he said.

North Korea’s military police force is divided into the Pyongyang Military Police under the direct control of the military’s central General Staff Department, the Mobile Military Police, the Garrison Military Police serving each provincial branch of the military, and the Train Crew Military Police, the source said.

The Garrison and Train Crew divisions are those most directly involved in smuggling, he said.

A second source living in Yanggang province, which also borders China, confirmed that the Garrison Military Police have been particularly helpful in furthering the work of the nation’s smugglers.

“There’s no problem using trains and cars [to smuggle] with the help of the Garrison Military Police, and people say, no matter how severe the crackdown is, all paths lie open if you have pull with that division,” said the source, who is a resident of Yanggang’s capital Hyesan.

“A few days ago in Hyesan, a military policeman stopped a vehicle and forced the people to get out and load [smuggled] goods sent for a military camp, but driver and passengers couldn’t say a word [in protest].”

Likewise, he said, smuggling has been carried out systematically by members of the Garrison Military Police along the border with China.

Sources in North Korea agreed that as long as the economy remains in shambles and the “military first” policy remains in effect, not only resources belonging to the nation, but historical items and cultural artifacts, will continue to flood out of the country into China.

Lucrative practice

In March, sources told RFA that authorities in North Korea were offering a variety of incentives, including increased food rations and Workers’ Party membership, to informants on would-be smugglers who try to cross the frozen Tumen River into China during the lean months of the winter season.

The sources said the rewards appeared to have been ordered by the Kim Jong Un regime as part of a bid to crackdown on the country’s pervasive smuggling problem.

In January, sources said that demands by North Korean border guards for a greater share of the profits of smuggling had slowed the movement of commodities across the border with China, causing hardships for North Koreans who earn a living by trafficking in goods.

They said at the time that because of tightened security measures put in place over the last year, the fees charged by guards delivering goods across the border had risen as high as 30 to 40 percent of the smugglers’ profit compared to 11 percent previously.

Read the full story here:
Radio Free Asia
Jieun Kim


New Satellite Control Center

Monday, May 4th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-7-10): New Google Earth satellite imagery (2015-5-20) shows the completed Satellite Control Center:


ORIGINAL POST (2015-5-4): On May 4, 2015, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un visited the “Newly-built General Satellite Control Centre”.

Imagery release on KCTV helped me identify the facility on commercial satellite imagery:




This is one of several large construction projects in Pyongyang that I have had my eye on for some time (I thought it was a new theater or stadium).

The new satellite control center is located in the Pothonggang District of Pyongyang. The size of the mission control room is approximately 570 square meters. Other facilities in the building, according to the DPRK media, include a revolutionary history room, auxiliary display and control room, and optical observation room, E-library, lounge, conference room, offices, dining room and bedrooms.

Based on commercial satellite imagery, construction began sometime between 2014-4-13 and 2014-7-3, meaning that if completed, construction took nearly one year.



This new control center may also be the administrative home of the National Aerospace Development Administration. Construction of the new satellite control center began shortly after NADA was publicly announced last year.

If completed, this new facility raises a question about the status of the older satellite control center in Ryongsong District at the Second Academy of Natural Sciences.


ROK report on DPRK military spending

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has increased its defense spending by 16 percent over the past five years despite a moribund economy, Seoul’s defense ministry said Tuesday.

The communist North is presumed to have spent US$10.2 billion for national defense last year in accordance with the calculation based on purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, the ministry said, citing figures by the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA).

The amount is about 16 percent more than the $8.77 billion in 2009, the ministry said, adding that Pyongyang spent $10.1 billion on its military last year.

The world’s most reclusive nation has not made public the exact amount of its defense budget.

“North Korea said in April that it spent some 15.9 percent of the total budget last year for national defense, which translates into a mere $1.15 billion. But the amount was solely for maintenance and does not include costs for its military build-up and investment,” a ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

South Korea’s defense budget last year came to $32.5 billion, some three times larger than that of its communist neighbor.

North Korea has been pushing for its military-first policy at the expense of its moribund economy. Its gross national income stood at 33.8 trillion won ($30.9 billion) in 2014, compared with South Korea’s 1,441 trillion won, according to the data by Statistics Korea.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s defense spending rises 16 pct over 5 yrs: Seoul ministry
Oh Seok-min


The December 7 Factory: Producer of maxi pads and naval stealth technology

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

This is my first article with Joseph Bermudez. The subject–the December 7 Facotry aka Korean People’s Army Unit 1501.

The detective work used in this article was a lot of fun.

You can read it here on 38 North.


KPA Journal Vol. 2, No. 12

Monday, January 20th, 2014

The latest issue of KPA journal came out a few days ago. You can download it here.

Topics include:

  • KPN 30mm CIWS
  • KPA Lessons Learned From Foreign Conflicts (III)
  • Spaced Armor Screening for KPA Tanks
  • KPA Antennas (II)
  • KPN Training Aids
  • Organization of the KPA Tank Battalion
  • Editor’s Notes and Endnotes

A comprehensive index of all articles published in KPA Journal is available here.


DPRK joins international satellite organization

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea joined the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) convention last month as part of an ongoing effort contribute to the development of maritime transportation and safety, state media said Monday.

The Korean Central News Agency, citing the chief delegate to the general assembly of the International Maritime Organization said Pyongyang officially joined the convention on Oct. 15.

The delegate who attended the London meeting said Pyongyang will take steps to improve friendly relations with other members of the organization. The North’s news wire service did not disclose the name of the official.

The IMSO is an international body that uses satellites to regulate the movement of ships and maritime communication. South Korea’s telecom giant KT joined in 1985.

As part of its contribution, the North plans to set up and operate 25 very high frequency wireless stations along its eastern and western coasts starting next year, and actively pursue projects that can better preserve the maritime environment.

North Korean watchers, meanwhile, speculated that the North’s joining of the convention is part of an ongoing effort to mend fences and improve its image within the international community.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea joins int’l satellite organization


Kim Jong Il Military Postgraduate Institute

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013



Pictured above: 2013-11-4 satellite image of the Kim Jong Il Military Postgraduate Institute

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-26):  The Kim Jong Il Military Postgraduate Institute has officially opened. According to KCNA:

Kim Jong Il Military Postgraduate Institute Completed

Pyongyang, April 26 (KCNA) — Kim Jong Il Military Postgraduate Institute where the statue of leader Kim Jong Il is standing was completed at Kim Il Sung Military University on the occasion of the 82nd anniversary of the Korean People’s Army.

The institute has all educational facilities and environment at the highest level as befitting the university which was established and has developed under the energetic guidance and loving care of the great Generalissimos Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

The successful completion of the institute as required by the Songun era made it possible to glorify for all ages Kim Jong Il’s feats performed for army-building, develop the university into the one of the Generalissimos for training all-round military officers fully equipped with Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s strategy and tactics and increase the combat capabilities of the invincible revolutionary Paektusan army in every way.

A ceremony of its completion was held with splendor Friday.

Present there were Jang Jong Nam, Kim Ki Nam, officials of armed forces organ, instructors and cadets and employees of the university, officials of military schools at all levels, service personnel of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), servicemen’s families and officials of the units which made contributions to erecting the statue.

The statue of Kim Jong Il was unveiled by leading officials of army and the institute.

A floral basket was laid before the statue in the august name of Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), state and revolutionary armed forces.

Also laid there were a floral basket in the joint name of the Central Committee and Central Military Commission of the WPK and the National Defence Commission of the DPRK and a floral basket in the name of the institute.

Placed there were floral baskets in the name of the KPA General Staff, the KPA General Political Bureau, the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, KPA units at all levels, military schools, and units associated with leadership exploits of the peerlessly great persons.

The participants paid tribute to the statue.

Jang Jong Nam, minister of the People’s Armed Forces, spoke at the ceremony.

He said:

Kim Jong Il made sure that an institute, the highest course in military education of the DPRK, was built at the university and specified those to be trained, scope, educational method and contents, thereby building it into a prestigious and comprehensive center for training military cadres.

The appearance of the institute as the highest seat for training military commanding officers which goes by the august name of Kim Jong Il is a precious fruition of the energetic guidance given by Marshal Kim Jong Un.

The speaker called on the institute to train more persons possessed of sense of obligation who share intention and sincerity with the supreme commander despite rain or snow, true fighters equipped with Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s strategy and tactics, heroic fighting spirit and perfect capability to fight an actual war and tiger-like fighters of Mt. Paektu.

The participants looked round the statue, after being briefed on it.

Here is footage from KCTV:

Original Post (2013-11-20): Kim Jong-un has visited the “Kim Jong Il Military Postgraduate Institute” (김일성군사종합대학 김정일군사연구원) under construction in Mangyongdae. As we can see from the satellite imagery this is a significant expansion of the school’s capacities. It is still unclear what specific role the new graduate school is intended to play, but Rodong Sinmun tells us the following:

He said that it is of weighty importance to build the institute, a center for training dependable military personnel of the party, at the university which was founded and developed under the energetic leadership and loving care of Generalissimos Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong.


DPRK debt

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, Victor Cha, 2012, p116-118.

The third bad decision took place in the 1970s. It related to foreign debt. The DPRK continued the same trends of previous decade as economic resources were diverted to the military. Despite having half the population, North Korean military spending exceeded that of the South every year from 1968 to 1979. The buildup of this decade included increasing the size of the armed forces from 485,000 to 680,000, which was twice that of the ROK. By 1980, troop number stood at 720,000 and continued to swell, with the majority deployed along the thirty-eighth parallel with their sights set on the South. Special forces grew from 15,000(1970) to 41,000(1978)The military began Scud missile development, boosted its submarine and surface flee, and the air force grew to over 200 attack plane. The army added 2,500 armed personnel carriers, about 1,000 heavy tanks, and 6,000 or so artillery tubes and rocket launchers. Military doctrine was revamped to increase the speed, power, and lethality of attacks in combat, focusing on rapid advance advance and infiltration tactics. In spite of its relatively limited technological base, by 1992 the North had twice the number of tanks and artillery that U.S-ROK defenses had in the South.

Academic Lee Hy-Sang, who has written one of the best scholarly treatment of the North Korean economy, has noted that this obsession with aggrandizing the military was driven by ideology as much as it was by external security threats. Self-reliance required the strongest military one could muster. The net effect, however, was an increasingly reckless and irresponsible approach to the economy. In order to offset the strain of the military budget on the economy, the DPRK should have directed efforts at excavating coal and other mineral resources to trade for hard currency, which mighty then have been used to finance heavy industry development, and to address energy shortages. Instead, the government decided to engage in massive borrowing from foreign markets. At the times, it seemed like the right decision. Sino-American rapprochement and U.S.-Soviet detente transformed relations between the East and West, and in this wider political context Western European countries were willing to extend credit to countries like North Korea. More important, the North began looking over its its shoulder as the 1970s saw the gradual acceleration of South Korean growth and development of major heavy industries like the Pohang Steel Complex.

So, in 1972, Pyongyang borrowed $80 million from France to build a fertilizer plant. The following year they borrowed another $160 million, from the United Kingdom to build a cement factory. In 1974, they borrowed $400 million from countries including Japan for large-scale plant equipment. In fact, between 1970 and 1975, the North borrowed approximately $1.2 billion before foreign governments realized that Pyongyang could not service the debt, These numbers do not account for whatever else might have been provided to the North from Eastern bloc countries and China.Thus, in 1976, the debt market dried up for the North as precipitously as it had opened to them six years earlier. Trapped by it own self-reliance ideology, the North could not do things normal nations would, such as issue bonds to finance its debt. Today, North Korea’s external debt is estimated $12.5 billion and no one expects them to pay it off. An attempt was made to pay back some of this in 1990 and 1991, but the DPRK has long since defaulted on its long-term debt. Pyongyang has occasionally asked Russia and former Soviet satellites like Czech Republic to forgive the majority of the debt. In response, these countries have asked for North Korea to repay part of the debt through barter. Pyongyang asked Russia in 2007 to make a “high-level political decision” to forgive $8.8 billion in unpaid debt. In August 2010, Prague asked for zinc ore as repayment for an outstanding $10 million in unpaid loans from the Cold War when it provided Kim Il-sung with machinery and equipment. Pyongyang responded that it would provide four hundred tons of “heavenly ginseng root” worth some $500,000. Since annual consumption of the root in the country was barely two tons, this would have kept Czechs well-stocked with ginseng—which, among its many reported benefits, boasts of enhancing sexual vitality—for two hundred years. As unusual secondary market has emerged for North Korean debt that a few courageous investors have dared to enter. It sells DPRK debt paper at about 6 cents on the dollar, based on the bet not that Pyongyang would ever repay but that under a future unification scenario, South Korea would want to reestablish North Korean creditworthiness as it worked to gradually reintegrate the two systems. If Seoul were to take on this debt, it could repay it all, speculators hope, with only one week’s addition to its foreign exchange reserves. Even if Seoul were to pay off only a portion of the debt, speculators could make six to seven times what they have paid for North Korean paper.


North Korea Boasts Economic Construction Enabled as a Nuclear State

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party declared that North Korea has secured its position as a nuclear state, advancing the nation to concentrate on the economic construction, in an editorial last Friday.

This can be interpreted as North Korea’s intent to place more emphasis on investments towards economic development now that it has “made advancement in nuclear weapons capabilities to respond to any threats from the United States and South Korea.”

The editorial stated, “The tremendous mental and material potentials provided by the great Generalissimos Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the socialist system of Juche based on collectivism and rich experience made in the effort to build an economic power are precious assets for making a great leaping progress in economic construction.”

This is in line with last month’s plenary meeting of the WPK Central Committee that reiterated the importance of parallel policy of economic construction and nuclear power to compete against the United States.

At the meeting, parallel policy of economy and defense were acclaimed to be superior in its war deterrence and defense capabilities without increasing the defense budget to provide support for economic construction and improve the lives of the people. In addition, agricultural and light industries were named as key sectors and called for improvements in the production of everyday goods for the people and reach the grain production target for this year.

On the other hand, Finance minister Choe Kwang Jin reported at the meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly on April 1 that 44.8 percent of the national budget was allocated for economic development and improvement of its citizen’s lives.

In addition, the news reported that 38.9 percent of the total expenditures were shifted to social cultural and people policies to implement free compulsory education, healthcare, social insurance and social security systems and secure the development of arts, literature and sports.

The minister added that the rest of the budget was allocated for national defense but no specific amount of defense budget was disclosed.


KPA asset data

Friday, March 29th, 2013


In the kerfuffle that followed James’ NK News post about the North Korean targeting Austin, TX, Yonhap reports on KPA asset data that was also on display in the official KCNA photos:

Media coverage of an emergency military meeting convened by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Friday shows an overview of its major weapons system, giving a rare glimpse of the isolated communist country’s armed forces.

The list shows that North Korea has 40 submarines, 13 landing ships, six minesweepers, 27 support vessels and 1,852 aircrafts [sic], with some of the numbers covered by senior officials.

Military officials in Seoul said the figure is similar to the defense ministry’s estimation of North Korea’s weapons system, though there are some differences.

According to the 2012 defense white paper, the North is estimated to have 70 submarines and midget subs, 260 landing ships, 30 mine sweepers, 30 support vessels, 820 fighter jets, 30 surveillance aircrafts, 330 parachute drop aircrafts and 170 training jets.

While there are some disparities between the list and Seoul’s assessment, the number of midget subs seems to have been excluded from the list disclosed in the photo, military officials said.

As Pyongyang has never disclosed its weapon system in the past, outside watchers speculate that the North Korean military has mistakenly disclosed the confidential information.

“It may have been leaked accidently,” said a senior military official, who asked to remain anonymous. “It could have been unveiled as the North hurriedly reported the emergency meeting.”

Others said the photo may be aimed at stoking tensions by showing that Kim is mulling ways to strike the U.S., considering the operational map that has several lines between the Korean Peninsula and the U.S. Its details were not recognizable in the photo.

The Washington Post has offered some additional data in a follow up article on 4-25-2013:

South Korea says North Korea has more than 13,000 artillery guns, and its long-range batteries are capable of hitting the capital Seoul, a city of more than 10 million people just 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the border.

“North Korea’s greatest advantage is that its artillery could initially deliver a heavy bombardment on the South Korean capital,” Mark Fitzpatrick, a former U.S. State Department official now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in an email.

South Korea’s defense minister estimates that 70 percent of North Korean artillery batteries along the border could be “neutralized” in five days if war broke out. But Sohn Yong-woo, a professor at the Graduate School of National Defense Strategy of Hannam University in South Korea, said that would be too late to prevent millions of civilian casualties and avert a disastrous blow to Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Seoul estimates North Korea has about 200,000 special forces, and Pyongyang has used them before.

In 1968, 31 North Korean commandos stormed Seoul’s presidential Blue House in a failed assassination attempt against then-President Park Chung-hee. That same year, more than 120 North Korean commandos sneaked into eastern South Korea and killed some 20 South Korean civilians, soldiers and police officers.

In 1996, 26 North Korean agents infiltrated South Korea’s northeastern mountains after their submarine broke down, sparking a manhunt that left all but two of them dead, along with 13 South Korean soldiers and civilians.

North Korea has 70 submarines while South Korea has 10, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry. The most menacing threats from the North’s navy are small submarines that would deposit commando raiders along the South Korean coast, said John Pike, head of the think tank.

North Korea also has 820 warplanes, more than South Korea, though Seoul is backed up by American air power. The South says most of the North’s aircraft are obsolete. North Korea also suffers chronic fuel shortages that have forced its air force to cut sorties, experts say.

“North Korea would not be able to prosecute a full-fledged war for very long,” Fitzpatrick said. “Its biggest problem is that North Korea would quickly lose control of the skies because of the vastly superior (South Korean) and U.S. air forces. The reported number of North Korean aircraft is meaningless, because many of them cannot fly, and North Korean pilots have little training in the air.”

Pyongyang is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight nuclear bombs, according to Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear expert with Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

But he doubts Pyongyang has mastered the technology to tip a missile with a nuclear warhead. “I don’t believe North Korea has the capacity to attack the United States with nuclear weapons mounted on missiles and won’t for many years,” he said on the website of Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies this month.

orth Korea denies it runs any chemical and biological weapons programs. South Korea claims that Pyongyang has up to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons.

The IISS says that although the figures are “highly speculative,” the North probably does possess chemical and biological arms programs.

“Whatever the actual status of North Korea’s chemical and biological capabilities, the perception that it has, or likely has, chemical and biological weapons contributes to Pyongyang’s interest in creating uncertainties in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo and raises the stakes to deter or intimidate potential enemies,” it said on its website. North Korea is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, but it has acceded to the non-binding Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea’s photo offers glimpse of major weapons
Kim Eun-jung

A look at the strengths and weaknesses of North Korea’s military
Washington Post (Associated Press)