Archive for the ‘Korean People’s Army’ Category

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


Google Earth provides glimpse into North Korea’s latest military parade preparation

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013


Read the full story here.


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)


KPA senior staff paid with debit cards

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

According to RFA:

North Korea’s regime is distributing special monthly payments in U.S. currency via a cash card system to high-ranking military officers in a bid to maintain loyalty, according to a source inside the country.

The payments can be spent at stores and restaurants equipped with card readers which accept foreign currency, the source told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Since last year, North Korean generals in the military have been receiving a U.S. dollar cash cards every month,” said the source, who claims to have wide knowledge of the North Korean military.

“This is Kim Jong Un’s new instruction to guarantee a good lifestyle for the generals,” he said, referring to the country’s young “Supreme Leader” who took power after his father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011.

According to the source, four-star generals in the North Korean military receive around U.S. $1,200 each month on their cards, while three-star generals get U.S. $1,000 and two-star generals make U.S. $700. These payments are on top of their monthly salaries.

The special payments drawn by the generals dwarf the average government worker’s monthly salary of about 2,000 to 6,000 won (U.S. $0.70 to $2 based on prevailing market rates).

“The amount of cash on the card depends on the person’s level in the military,” the source said.

“When you have spent all of the cash, the card gets recharged again the following month. I’m not sure whether the provider is ‘Office 39’ of the Workers’ Party or the General Logistics Bureau.”

Office 39 of the ruling Workers Party is believed to maintain a foreign currency slush fund, while the General Logistics Bureau controls logistics, support, and procurement activities for the massive North Korean military.

The source said that recipients of the cash card are not limited to generals, but also include other high-level officers from a unit that directs infiltration activities by North Korean military agents in South Korea and another unit that is in charge of “electronic combat” in the General Reconnaissance Bureau.

“A colonel in the General Reconnaissance Bureau is able to spend up to U.S. $400 a month on the card,” the source said.

“A high-ranking military officer who is not a general can receive U.S. currency on a card if he is in charge of an important duty.”

There are a number of stores and restaurants where recipients can spend their cash in the capital Pyongyang, the source said.

Generals can also use their cards at guesthouses in seaside resort cities like Cheongjin in North Hamgyong province and Hamheung in South Hamgyong province, which only cater to officers of their rank.

For their convenience, card readers have been set up at places where foreign currency is traded, he said.

I have previously posted on the DPRK’s debit card system here, here, and here.

There are a number of reasons why this makes a particularly effective control tool.  To begin with, the military senior staff are dependent on the party to receive their elite consumer goods.  Additionally, these money balances cannot be directly spent in the markets or easily transferred to third parties.  Finally, in theory, all purchases can be audited. FECs (FOreign Excahnge Certificates) on speed.

Read the full story here:
North Korean Generals Get Cash Cards for Loyalty


KPA Journal Vol. 2, No. 9

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Joseph Bermudez, Senior Analyst with Digital Globe’s Analysis Center and author of The Armed Forces of North Korea, has posted the latest issue of KPA Journal.

You can download the PDF here.

Topics include:

“KPA Land-based MR-104 DRUM TILT Radar,” by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.

A December 2010 DPRK propaganda video of a Korean People’s Army (North Korean Army) combined arms exercise contained a scene depicting a land-based variant of the former Soviet MR-104 drum tilt naval target acquisition and fire control radar. This is the first readily available open source image of the land-based variant.

“KPA 17th Tank Brigade (Tank Division, Mechanized Brigade, Mechanized Division), Part II,” by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.

While much is now known concerning U.S. and U.N. units, organizations and operations during the Fatherland Liberation War (i.e., Korean War) very little reliable and detailed information is available concerning those of the Korean People’s Army (North Korean Army). Ths is especially true for its armored forces, which played a brief but important role during the first year of the conflict. This paper represents an initial e ffort to recount the organization and operations of one of the KPA’s first armored units—the 17th Tank Brigade.

“KPA Wartime Propaganda Leaflet”

Michael Webster, who contributed 4 images of the Han-gang bridges from his collection to the March 2011 (Vol. 2, No. 3) issue of KPA Journal, has provided a KPA propaganda leaflet from his Korean War collection.

“Unusual Visitor to Wonsan Airbase,” by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.

On November 1, 2012 DigitalGlobe acquired an image of the Wŏnsan-si area, including the Korean People’s Air Force (North Korean Air Force) Wŏnsan Airbase. Aside from capturing the normal collection of MiG-17/-19s and MiG-21s stationed at the airbase the image also captured an An-24 coke taxiing for takeoff at the northern end of the main runway.


DPRK experiencing annual spring food shortage

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

On the 22nd, North Korea handed down a ‘farming support battle mass mobilization order’ in the name of the Supreme Command of the Chosun People’s Army. The order commands the military to take the lead in the battle to increase food production.

At the same time, Rodong Shinmun ramped up the propaganda side on the 21st, publishing a couple of articles on agricultural topics including one about Yeokpyeong Cooperative Farm in Huicheon, Jagang Province entitled, ‘There Is Nothing You Cannot Do as Long as You Are Determined’.

However, sources in North Hamkyung Province confirm that neither the propaganda nor the orders from above reflect the difficult reality on the ground during the annual ‘spring hardship period’ which last until the early part of May. In effect, the North Korean authorities are calling for mass mobilization to secure the nation’s food supplies without ensuring food for those being mobilized.

According to one, “The spinach which we prepared for soup is already gone. There are now ‘side dish support teams’ out looking for wild plants and herbs for side dishes.”

To try and solve this problem in situ, anyone who is able to offer 50kg of rice or equivalent is handed a month of vacation time during the farm support period. If rations amount to 600g per day then a single worker will go through 24kg of rice or corn over the course of the 40-day mobilization period; thus, giving 50kg means taking responsibility for feeding two other people, and this is enough to get an exemption from labor for oneself.

However, when those able to give food and those out collecting food from the mountain-sides are combined, it means half the people who are meant to be supporting the farming work are not doing so directly. Not only that; according to the source, “The people left behind on the farms are in a lifeless state, so it’s pretty hard to get any work done.” They are very cynical, too, reportedly pointing out that they will gain strength by eating corn, not by yelling slogans.

Given that there are also cases of support workers stealing from nearby farmhouses, local people are said to be waiting for the day when the support workers will be allowed to leave.

Official controls have also been heightened for the support period. Weddings, funeral and ancestral rites are prohibited, and there is no travel permit issuance going on either. In addition, only immediate family members of deceased persons may move around locally.

Read the full story here:
50kg the Only Relief from Hardship Period
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


Demonstration of KPA Unit 655

Monday, April 30th, 2012

On April 27th, KCNA reported that Kim Jong-un “guided general tactical exercises of KPA Combined Unit 655 held on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the KPA.” NK Leadership Watch wrote about the demonstration here. Just by chance, I recognized the facility and was able to pinpoint it on Google Earth. This  is rarely so easy.

Pictured above, the KPA observation facility (Google Earth:  38.948016°, 125.916006°) in Sadong-guyok (사동구역).

The building sits on top of a small mountain, and according to the Google Earth ruler, it  is approximately 50m x 32m (at its widest). The oldest satellite image available of the facility (on Google Earth) dates to 2003-12-25. There are several support facilities located nearby, but I do not have any specific information on them.

Here is a layout of the facility in relation to the target area (Google Earth):

According to the Google Earth ruler, the observation facility is approximately 3km from the most distant portion of the test grounds.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this test is that an elite residential compound lies just on the other side of the mountains from the artillery testing area (about 1km away)! Who would have ever thought they would detonate explosives and projectiles so close to one of these compounds? Perhaps the presence of the elite residential compound explains why this observation facility has not been used for as long as I can remember (which admittedly is not a long time ago).

I have located several KPA demonstration areas on Google Earth and will include them in the next version of North Korea Uncovered, hopefully out in the next couple of months.


Aidan Foster-Carter on the DPRK’s 2012

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Aidan Foster-Carter wrties in the Asia Times:

The first quarter of 2012 is almost over. Where did it go, so fast? And for those parts of the world where the calendar is marked by four distinct seasons – which doesn’t apply to much of Asia, but very much includes the Korean peninsula – spring has begun to arrive. Welcome warmth and relief, after the rigors of chilly winter: an especially harsh one in North Korea.



KPA Journal Vol. 2, No. 7

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Joseph Bermudez, now a Senior Analyst with DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center and author of The Armed Forces of North Korea, has posted the latest issue of KPA JournalYou can download the PDF here.

Topics include: M-1979/M-1989 170 mm Self-propelled Guns (Part II) and “Yu Kyong-su, The Father of KPA Armor Forces.

Note: The satellite imagery used in this journal issue can be found on Google Earth here:  39.750290°, 124.820099°