July 24, 2012 09:52
North Korea has deployed around 20 helicopters at two bases near South Korea's Baeknyeong Island in the West Sea, according to a government source here. They include attack helicopters that are capable of engaging targets on the ground.
Baeknyeong Island is South Korea's northernmost island that lies just south of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border with North Korea. The North has deployed the attack and transport helicopters at air bases since May, the source said. "They seem to have been put there independently of any military exercises," the source added.
The choppers are upgraded versions of Mi-2s as well as Mi-4 and Mi-8 troop carriers. But some are armed with heavy machine guns and rockets.
The deployment is believed to be part of a strategy targeting the South Korean islands that would also involve hydrofoils.
After Kim Jong-un took power at the end of last year, North Korea deployed rocket launchers, hydrofoils, Mi-2 helicopters and fighter jets on the western coastline and conducted military drills which appeared to prepare for an invasion of the South Korean islands. The deployment of the helicopters seems to be a response to South Korea deploying AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters and multiple launch rocket systems on the West Sea islands.
The South Korean military is ready to strike back with Cheonma surface-to-air-missiles or deploy KF-16 fighter jets if the North mobilizes a large number of choppers.
The South Korean military also plans to bolster anti-aircraft weapons stationed on the West Sea islands if the ones already deployed there are deemed insufficient to fend off a North Korean invasion.
"There are no signs yet that North Korea is seeking to stage a provocation," said a military source. "But since the ouster of North Korean army chief Ri Yong-ho, there may be some instability in the North Korean army, so we have stepped up our preparedness."
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