April 22, 2010 13:07
South Korean military officials are said to be focusing their attention on "human torpedoes" deployed by North Korea military after testimony by defectors that could link them to the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26.
Human torpedoes trace their origins to the Japanese underwater suicide bombers known as "kaiten" who were put into action at the end of World War II. North Korea's human torpedo units belong to the 17th Sniper Corps and are deployed in both the East and West seas at the brigade level. The units are made up of elite soldiers, just like South Korea's UDT/SEAL teams, and were fed very well even when the rest of North Korea's people were starving due to economic hardships, according to defectors.
Jang Jin-sung, a North Korean poet who defected to South Korea, wrote recently on his blog that the human torpedo units "are treated better than submarine crew and their training centers around suicide bombing attacks." North Korea reportedly formed such squads in each branch of the military after leader Kim Jong-il said during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that no military in the world can defeat an army that can carry out suicide bombings.
But the human torpedoes not only use suicide bombing tactics but also launch attacks using semi-submersible vessels equipped with light torpedoes or other explosives, which are fired or placed on their intended targets at close range.
The North is said to have come up with the human torpedoes after its defeat by South Korea in the first and second naval battles in the West Sea, which forced it to realize that it cannot win by conventional means.
Park Sun-young, a lawmaker with the Liberty Forward Party, told the National Assembly on April 8 a three-man team aboard a Seal Deliver Vehicle could have sunk the Cheonan. SDVs are used to transport commandos under water. Some military experts say an SDV laden with explosives could have approached the Cheonan to launch a suicide bomb attack.
But that is far from certain. Many experts say it would have been difficult to launch a human torpedo attack on the ship, considering the depth, speed of the underwater current and the heights of waves at the site of the tragedy. "SDVs are very slow and there is a low possibility that such vessels were used in an attack," Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told lawmakers earlier this month.
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