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North Korea

Military Industry

North Korea's extensive defense production capability reflects its commitment to self-reliance. Although most equipment is of Soviet or Chinese design, P'yongyang has modified the original designs and produces both derivatives and indigenously designed versions of armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, light tanks, and high-speed landing craft (see Relations with the Third World , this ch.).

In mid-1993 North Korea had an impressive, if technologically dated, military production capacity. Ground systems production included a complete line of armored vehicles, field artillery, including a new turreted self-propelled artillery piece first seen in April 1992, and crew- and individual-served weapons. Naval construction included surface combatants up to 1,400 tons, Romeo class submarines, air-cushioned vehicles, and a wide range of specialized infiltration craft. Missile production included antitank guided missiles (AT-3), SA-7 Grail (Soviet surface-to- air missiles produced at the Chongyul Arms Plant), and possibly SA-14 or SA-16 follow-ons, possibly SA-2s, and Scud-derived surface-to-surface missiles. Aircraft production was limited to a partial spare parts and assembly capacity, assembly or coproduction of the Mi-2 helicopter, and production of small trainers. Since the mid-1980s, there has been speculation that North Korea's aircraft-related facility at Panghyn would begin production of a jet combat aircraft--possibly a MiG-21 derivative--but as of 1992 no production had occurred. In 1991 South Korean sources believed North Korea might be able to produce its own fighters by 1995. In 1993 two MiG-29s were assembled at the Panghyn plant from kits supplied by Russia. Assembly was halted because of North Korea's inability to pay for more parts.

In 1990 North Korea had some 134 arms factories, many of them completely or partially concealed underground. These facilities produce ground service arms, ammunition, armored vehicles, naval craft, aircraft (spares and subassemblies), missiles, electronics, and possibly chemical-related materials. In addition, some 115 nonmilitary factories have a dedicated wartime matériel production mission.

North Korea's arms and munitions industry predate the Korean War. After the war, North Korea began to expand its arms production base through licensing agreements with the Soviet Union. North Korea initially depended on the Soviet Union and China for licensed technology and complete industrial plants. In the 1970s, North Korea was developing variants of standard Soviet and Chinese equipment. Acquisitions from these two sources were augmented beginning in the early 1970s by an outreach program aimed at acquiring Western dual-use technology and equipment. This program included a wide range of initiatives, from acquiring Japanese trucks and electronic gear to obtaining Austrian forging equipment with gun barrel applications, to purchasing United States-manufactured helicopters. North Korea compensates for its limited research and development base by producing a range of more basic systems in quantity.

The defense industrial base is difficult to assess accurately. P'yongyang desires state-of-the-art technology, but is unable to obtain it. Older weapons systems are obtainable, however, and North Korea is able to reverse engineer major systems and to modify and improve on them. Nevertheless, it still lags dramatically behind military state of the art because the systems remain dated. Because of its uneven technological base, North Korea apparently places the highest priority on quantity to make up for a lack of quality.

Data as of June 1993