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The North Korean Armed Forces Part 1: The Navy

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North Korean Naval Ensign

North Korean Naval Ensign

The North Korean Navy, in comparison to other branches of the North Korean Armed Forces, is something of a poor cousin.  The American forces dismiss it as a ‘brown water’ Navy,  i.e. mainly coastal.

It is not lacking in craft, but they are uniformly small and short range.  Furthermore they are early cold war vintage and can only be maintained by importing parts from China.

Navy Map

The North Korean Navy’s biggest problem is geographical.  It is naturally divided into two commands with the Chinese mainland to the north and the cape of South Korea to the south.  It has eight naval bases on the east coast facing Japan and five on the west coast.  One coast cannot, in practice,  reinforce the other without sailing around the South Korean point, which would be heavily defended.

It takes it’s orders from the National Defence Commision, consisting mostly of land-bound Generals.  There is no known Admiral in North Korea who could best utilize a Naval force.

North Korea has anywhere between 46,000 and 146,000 enlisted sailors, but crucially it does not have any Marines or Navy Air arm.  Nor any sea harriers or Sea-King helicopters that served Britain so well in the Falklands War.  Any naval action by North Korea would have to be defensive, with limited opportunities to take advantage of any tactical gain.

North Korea possesses 43 Patrol Boats equipped with STYX Anti-ship missiles.  These are of a Soviet design, and have been in use since 1962.

In addition they have over a hundred submarines, mostly imported from China and assembled locally.  They are non-nuclear, with some rudimentary torpedos.  The submarines are rarely used for ship attack, and are better suited to coastal reconaissance and infiltration of personnel.

North Korea’s Naval History could be written on the back of a postage stamp.  It was badly mauled in the Korean war, and it has mantained coastal patrols ever since.  It gets into the odd scrap with the Republic of Korea’s Navy, with little results.  In 2001 the Japanese Coast Guard chased and sunk a North Korean ‘Trawler’ that it claimed was on a spying mission.

What use it would be against the forces of the Japanese and American Pacific fleets remains to be seen.


Written by Nick Gilmartin

May 29, 2009 at 6:45 am

Posted in in the news

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