North Korea Special Forces
North Korea has always had an interest in unconventional warfare due to Kim Il Sung’s start as a communist guerilla fighting the Japanese occupying what was then known as Manchuria. Korean doctrine focuses on the combination of conventional and unconventional forces to fight enemy forces not only on the front line but deep behind it. Doing so decreases the effectiveness of enemy soldiers at the front and saps frontline strength when additional soldiers are sent to the rear to search for these groups.
North Korean Special Forces’ missions include reconnaissance, cutting of communications lines, ambush & destruction of supply lines, assault and destruction of enemy command posts and airfields, and kidnapping/assasination of political and military leaders. They would infiltrate behind lines by a variety of methods, including tunnels dug under the DMZ, airplanes or small submarines & boats operating off of the long coastline. Additionally, units may be attacked with attacking US bases located in Japan, normally outside of the range of North Korean forces.
Recent reports indicate that North Korea has been expanding its special operations forces over the last couple of years. As of early 2003 they are thought to have 23 SOF brigades and 18 smaller battalions, totalling between 100-120,000 soldiers. These units fall under one of three classifications; reconnaissance, light infantry, and sniper.
Reconnaissance units operate in small teams behind enemy lines locating and pinpointing targets. This may be done to mark them for destruction or to ascertain enemy intentions and movements. These units have operated in South Korea and have tangled with South Korean counter-terrorism units in the past. One publicized incident involved a special submarine from the 1st flotilla of the 22nd Squadron which ran aground with a team of three commandos and twenty-one Navy crew members. In this incident, starting early the morning of September 19, 1996, one of the North Korean commandos was captured and the rest of the crew killed, either by South Korean soldiers and police or by each other. Reports estimate that there are around 7,000 reconnaissance soldiers spread amongst the 17 reconnaissance battalions in existance.
Light Infantry Units serve as rapid strike forces and are trained to move quickly across any type of terrain regardless of weather conditions. These units act in company or battalion-sized forces and could be considered similar to US Army Rangers in their mission scope. If available, light airborne infantry will insert via helicopter or parachute. There are reportedly 11,000 soldiers in the three Light Infantry Airborne Brigades and roughly 32,000 in the Light Infantry Battalions. Light Infantry Battalions are tasked with responding to enemy forces operating behind their lines, either small groups or beach landings such as the Inchon landing in the Korean War.
Sniper units are similar to the light infantry units but they operate in smaller teams. Sniper teams would be heavily used before hostilities broke out due to the ease of infiltration. Besides the Army sniper brigades, there are also Amphibious and Air Force Sniper Brigades. The Amphibious Sniper Brigades would infiltrate either by boat or submarine and would attack targets such as military bases and ports, and infrastructure like nuclear power plants and industrial centers. Air Force Sniper Brigades would attack airports and airbases as well as air traffic control centers, and air defenses. There are at least ten sniper brigades totalling some 35,000 soldiers.; 21,000 in the six regular sniper brigades and 7,000 each in the Amphibious and Air Force units.
Special Operations Vehicles:
- AN-2 Colts are slow-flying biplanes that serve well in the roll of insertion and extraction of special operations forces. It is rugged and easy to maintain, and can operate within all ranges of Korean climate. It has a cruising speed of 120-120 knots but can fly as slow as 35 knots in some cases and is well suited to flying low, using valleys to hide from radar. Its large wing area and engine allows it to take off from dirt strips in 2130 feet or paved surfaces (such as roads or airfields) in just over 1300 feet. Maximum range for a stock AN-2 with a full load is 186 miles and they normally carry ten soldiers.
- NAMPO personnel landing craft are based on Soviet P-6 torpedo boat hulls. They are approximately 83 feet long and 20 feet wide, and can carry roughly sixty troops. Maximum speed is in excess of forty knots and the craft has a operating range of 325 nm at 19 knots. One disadvantage is that North Korean Commandos need to transit between the craft and shore via small rubber raiding craft or swimming.
- M100-D Midget Submarine – The M100-D can carry eight commandos in addition to its three crew and has the equipment to allow them to lock outunder water without the sub needing to surface.
- Sang-O (shark) Submarine – this North Korean adaptation of the Yugoslavian Heroj design can carry 21 soldiers and contains equipment to allow them to lock out underwater. They have a submerged speed of six knots and xxx range. In time of war the would also be tasked with mining south korean harbors. Reports vary the number in service, with a range of ten to twenty two in the North Korean Inventory.
- Semi-sebmergible boat: A fast, three-engined boat used for inserting small teams of commandos. WIth a top speed of around 50 kts, it will race at high speeds towards it’s target and then submerge for the final approach. For longer-reanged missions it will launch from a mother ship designed to look like a fishing trawler. One such combo was sunk by Japanese navy/Coast Guard units in 2001 (One was found with US-built Mercury marine engines) Another loan boat was sunk by the South Korean Navy in 1998. While opperating too far south to be alone, the mothership was never found.