N.Korea Boosts Special Forces, Conventional Arms

North Korea's special forces have grown by 20,000 over the past two years, reaching about 200,000 in total and increasing the so-called asymmetric threat the country poses to the South.

The numbers come from the defense white paper 2010 published on Thursday, which says the North has consistently boosted its special warfare capabilities, deploying a light infantry division under an Army corps stationed on the frontline and adding a light infantry regiment to an Army division there.

The 200,000-odd special troops are primed to carry out combined operations such as attacks on major facilities in South Korea, assassination of VIPs and harassment in the rear by infiltrating the South using underground tunnels and AN-2 aircraft capable of low-altitude infiltration, the white paper said.

The number of the North's special forces, reportedly the world's largest, was estimated at about 120,000 in the 2006 defense white paper and at about 180,000 in the 2008 white paper. They now account for 17 percent of the North's 1.19 million soldiers (1.02 million in the Army, 60,000 in the Navy and 110,000 in the Air Force).

According to the white paper the North Korean Army has about 4,100 tanks, up 200 from two years ago, and about 2,100 armored vehicles, showing no increase over the same period. It has deployed a new tank at the frontline dubbed "Pokpung" (Storm) patterned after the Soviet Union's old T-72 tank, while superannuated tanks are deployed at rear-area units.

The Pokpung tanks are reportedly equipped with stronger firepower and better maneuverability than the old "Chonma" (Flying Horse), an improved version of the T-62.

The white paper identifies a new antiaircraft missile with a vertical launch control system, which was unveiled during a massive parade in celebration of the Workers Party's anniversary in October, as the "KN-06," and a medium-range ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 km as the "Musudan."

It says the North continues to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles to secure strategic weapons. It has extracted an estimated 40 kg of plutonium by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods which it acquired by operating a 5 MW nuclear reactor since the 1980s. It also has 2,500 to 5,000 tons of various chemical weapons, according to the white paper.

The North Korean Army consists of 15 corps, 90 divisions, and 70 mobile brigades. Troop numbers are similar to 2008, but four more divisions and one more brigade were created.

Equipment includes about 8,500 field guns, 5,100 multiple rocket launchers, and some 100 surface-to-surface missiles, as well as 170 mm self-propelled guns and 240 mm multiple rocket launchers that can deliver blitzkrieg fire at the Seoul metropolitan area from their current positions.

The North Korean Navy has about 420 combat warships, 260 landing ships, 30 minesweepers, about 30 support vessels and some 70 submarines. The Air Force has some 820 combat aircraft, 30 surveillance and control aircraft, 330 aerial mobile planes and some 170 training aircraft. Compared to 2008, that is 20 fewer combat aircraft and 10 fewer training aircraft.

A ministry official said the figures "are the outcome of estimates by Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies of all North Korean Air Force aircraft capabilities, including aircraft that have been downed since 2008 and those that have long remained unused."

The North also has about 300 helicopters, 7.7 million reserve forces, and some 300 munition factories. The military is keeping most of the ordnance stored in caves and has two to three month's worth of supplies, the white paper estimates.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 31, 2010 12:05 KST