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North Korea

Military Capability and Coastal Defense

The navy's main strengths are a modest number of cruisemissile -equipped vessels, large numbers of fast patrol craft, a mine warfare potential, and a large number of small, fast transports for special operations forces. Its weaknesses include inadequate air defense, a low level of technology, and aging platforms. Logistical support is complicated by the variety of Soviet and Chinese designs of its equipment and the inability of the force to conduct sustained operations. In the early 1990s, overall fleet strength was probably on the decline inasmuch as obsolete vessels were not being replaced on a one-for-one basis.

The quality of the navy remains unknown. Joint exercises are not common. Although the navy conducted a few rudimentary exercises with Soviet naval forces in the late 1980s and is believed to have conducted a number of exercises related to command, control, and communications, there is little by which to judge the force's overall performance.

Despite its size, the submarine force also is an unknown quantity. It is difficult to ascertain whether the submarine force is intended primarily for coastal barrier defense or for offensive operations. Some submarines are assigned defensive patrols. The submarines dedicated to offensive operations probably are targeted along South Korea's coastlines near its harbors, in the Yellow Sea, and in the Sea of Japan to interdict sea lines of communication. Offensive mining is another possible mission for some of the minisubmarines.

The surface force is suited for inshore defense and harassment. The smaller craft, although dated, are capable of using Korea's rough coastal topography to mount harassing attacks against larger naval craft. Operations are limited to within fifty nautical miles of the coast.

Many North Korean navy bases have hardened berths and other passive defenses. There is an extensive antiship missile and gun defense network along the coastline. Antiship cruise missile sites were installed in the late 1960s using Soviet-supplied SSC2b (Samlet) SSMs. Newer and longer-range SSMs entered the inventory in the mid-1980s, most probably the HY-2 (Silkworm), a modification of the Styx system. In all, some six sites are reported, covering both coasts with overlapping antiship cruise missile systems.

Data as of June 1993