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Korean People's Army Navy

The navy, a separate branch of the KPA, is headquartered at P'yongyang. In 1992 the 40,000 to 60,000-person brown-water navy was primarily a coastal defense force. The navy is capable of conducting inshore defensive operations, submarine operations against merchant shipping and unsophisticated naval combatants, offensive and defensive mining operations, and conventional raids. Because of the general imbalance of ship types, the navy has a limited capability to carry out missions such as sea control or denial and antisubmarine operations.

Most North Korean combat vessels, such as light destroyers, patrol ships, guided missile boats, torpedo boats, and fire support boats are small. Some 40 guided missile boats pose a substantial threat; they have the capability of launching missile attacks against large vessels and are equipped with two to four 46-km-range Styx anti-ship missiles. At present, over 60% of North Korean combat vessels are deployed in forward bases.

The primary offensive mission of the navy is supporting army actions against South Korea, particularly by inserting smallscale amphibious operations--SOF units--along the coast. The navy also has a limited capability to conduct rocket and shore bombardment raids against selected coastal targets. However, any North Korean force attempting to engage in these operations would be at risk from both air and surface combatants because of limited air defense and detection capabilities.

The Naval Command has two separate fleets: the East Sea Fleet and Yellow Sea Fleet, with sixteen combatant groups. The fleets do not exchange vessels, and their areas of operations and missions determine their organizational structure; mutual support is difficult at best.

  • The Yellow Sea Fleet, made up of six squadrons [versus five in the early 1990s] and approximately 300 vessels, is headquartered at Namp'o, with major bases at Pip'a-got and Sagot and smaller bases at Ch'o-do and Tasa-ri.
  • The East Sea Fleet, with ten squadrons [versus nine in the early 1990s] and approximately 470 vessels [versus 400 in the early 1990s], is headquartered at T'oejo-dong, with major bases at Najin and Wonsan and lesser bases at Ch'aho, Ch'angjn, Mayangdo, and Puam-ni near the DMZ.

There are many smaller bases along both coasts. The submarine force is decentralized. Submarines are stationed at Ch'aho, Mayang-do, Namp'o, and Pip'a-got naval bases.

Approximately 60 percent of the North Korean naval force is deployed close to the front line area. They include 430 combat vessels, such as patrol boats, missile boats, torpedo boats and fire support vessels, 35 submarines including 9 small ones, and 335 supporting vessels such as landing ships and air cushion vessels. Support vessels are composed of amphibious vessels including personnel landing craft, landing craft air cushion (LCAC), surface patrol boats and mine countermeasure vessels. These support vessels, however, have a limited role in long-distance operations.

Korean People's Army Navy - Modernization

North Korea builds small- and medium-size submarines mainly in the Nampo and Wonsan Shipyard, but also in other small- and medium-size shipyards along the two coastal lines where naval and military bases are scattered.

Submarines, most of which are of the 20-some Romeo-class, are outdated and slow, but they are sufficiently capable of blocking sea lanes. These vessels could attack ROK surface vessels, emplace mines anywhere within the ROK maritime territory, or secretly infiltrate commandos into the South.

The forward deployment of small high-speed boats such as torpedo and missile boats provides North Korea with an enhanced capability to launch a surprise attack on US combat vessels in the waters along the front line. In particular, the missile boats are equipped with Styx anti-ship missiles with a range of 45 km. The submarines could be used in conducting such missions as blocking sea lanes, placing mines or landing commandos. North Korea deploys 95 km-range Samlet and Silkworm ground-to-sea missiles on its eastern and western coasts. The Silkworm missiles are estimated to be capable of striking vessels near Inchon on the western coast and near Sokcho on the east.

Continuing to build attack warships, North Korea has tried to enhance its naval capabilities through developing new ground-to-sea missile systems, such as extending the striking range of the Silkworm missiles. North Korea also deploys 80-95 km-range ground-to-ship Samlet and Silkworm missiles on both east and west coasts. Silkworm missiles, deployed in the forward area, are able to launch anti-ship attacks as far as Tokjok-do in the Yellow Sea and Sokcho and Yangyang on the east coast. Coastal defense artillery includes 122-mm, 130-mm, and 152-mm systems.

The DPRK has a credible mine warfare capability. There are numerous small surface ships that are capable of delivering mines within both the navy and civilian sectors. Mines will be used to defend against amphibious assaults, defend strategic ports, and provide seaward flank protection for land forces. Defensive mine fields will be monitored by coastal observation teams and radar, and they will be supported by well emplaced artillery and missile batteries. This will make close approach and mine clearing operations extremely hazardous. DPRK has a large inventory of older technology mines, significant historical experience with their effectiveness, and, most importantly, the willingness to use them.

In addition to naval units, there also are noncombatants in the North Korean merchant marine, including ten cargo ships operating directly under the KWP and the Ministry of People's Armed Forces. There are sixty-six other oceangoing vessels in the merchant marine operating under the flag of the Ministry of Sea Transportation.

In November 2016 Chad O'Carroll noted "... a heavily armed, 77-meter long vessel with radar cross-section (RCS) reducing features docked adjacent to a helicopter-capable but minimally armed support ship. Equipped with two Kumsong-3 anti-ship cruise missile launchers, a short-range surface-to-air missile system, torpedo launchers and rotary canons, the reduced-RCS corvette also includes capacity for large caliber naval cannon... "

These ships are the culmination of over two decades of experimentation with new naval warfare concepts, and a clear indication of the direction that North Korean shipbuilding is headed in, said Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer, the NK Pro contributors said in their analysis of the vessels capabilities.

Korean People's Army Navy - Operations

Soon after the North Korean invasion of June 25, 1950, the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) submarine chaser Bak Du San (PC 701 discovered a North Korean 1,000-ton steamer with hundreds of troops embarked off the east coast in the vicinity of the South Korean port of Pusan. The ROKN combatant sank the Communist ship, perhaps preventing seizure of the one port that would become vital to the UN forces fighting ashore.

In the early hours of July 2, as the allied fleets converged on Korea, U.S. cruiser Juneau, British cruiser Jamaica, and British frigateBlack Swan discovered 4 torpedo boats and 2 motor gunboats of the North Korean navy that had just finished escorting ten craft loaded with ammunition south along the coast in the Sea of Japan. The outgunned North Korean torpedo boats turned and gamely pressed home a torpedo attack, but before they could launch their weapons, the Anglo-American flotilla ended the threat; only one torpedo boat survived U.S.-British naval gunfire to flee the scene. After this one-sided battle and for the remainder of the war, North Korean naval leaders decided against contesting control of the sea with the UN navies. The surviving units of the North Korean navy eventually took refuge in Chinese and Soviet ports.

During July, August, and early September, UN combatants, especially ROKN ships, were needed to disrupt the enemy's seaborne attempts to resupply the fast-advancing North Korean ground forces. Early in July, ROKN minesweeper YMS 513 sank three Communist supply craft at Chulpo on the southwestern coast and on the other side of the peninsula Juneau located and destroyed the ammunition vessels that figured in the 2 July sea battle. On the 22nd of July, YMS 513 sank another three enemy supply vessels near Chulpo. Five days later, submarine chasers PC 702 and PC 703, newly-provided by the United States, steamed up the west coast and sank twelve enemy sampans loaded with ammunition west of Inchon. During the first week of August, YMS 302 and other ROKN units destroyed another thirteen Communist logistic craft on the west coast.

Combat action was especially heavy on the south coast during the last week of August, when the North Korean command was desperate to reinforce and resupply their troops trying to penetrate the Pusan Perimeter. Motor minesweepers YMS 503, YMS 504,YMS 512, and YMS 514, and PC 702 sank numerous enemy craft, many of whose embarked troops drowned, and captured many others. At the end of the month, the South Korean navy frustrated an enemy attempt to seize the port of Pohang on the Pusan Perimeter with troop-laden small boats. Finally, as the UN navies converged on Inchon for the amphibious assault that would turn the tide in the fall of 1950, PC 703 sank an enemy mine laying craft and three other vessels in waters off the Yellow Sea port.

Having secured control of the sea off Korea, the UN command could proceed with exploitation of that strategic advantage. With little fear from North Korean counteraction at sea, UN naval forces under Admiral C. Turner Joy deployed U.S. marine and army troops and South Korean soldiers ashore at Inchon on 15 September 1950.

The Northern Limit Line of the Korean Peninsula's west coast was drawn up by US-led forces after the Korean War. It has been the site of short but bloody naval clashes between the two Koreas in 1999, 2002 and 2009. North Korea has never accepted the border as valid. The South has adopted that and claims that is a maritime border. But, strictly speaking, according to international law it's not. In fact, there is no maritime boundary in the area so that's why there's this position from the North. They don't recognize and contest this line.

In the early 1990s the navy seldom operated outside the North Korean military exclusion zone, a zone extending some fifty kilometers off North Korea's coast from which it sought to exclude operations by any other navy. Although seaborne infiltration attempts into South Korea are believed to have largely stopped by the 1990s, testimony of North Korean spies apprehended by South Korea in early 1992 indicated successful infiltration continues. Clashes with the South Korean navy and harassment of South Korean fishing boats once occurred with regularity, but such incidents were rare in as of mid-1993.

On November 20, 1998, a North Korean vessel was detected and captured off the waters of the Kangwha Island in an attempt to infiltrate spies, who subsequently escaped to the North. On December 17, 1998, one semi-submersible under control of the Nampo Liaison Office was sunk by the ROK Navy while trying to infiltrate the coast near Yosu. The infiltration was detected by night surveillance equipment of our guard units prior to the infiltration, and a navy-air force joint operation sank the semi-submersible about 56 miles south of Yokji-do while it was making its way back to the North in the early morning of December 18.

Between June 7 and June 15, 1999, twenty North Korean fishing boats and seven to eight patrol boats crossed the NLL in the name of "fishing and protecting one's fishing rights." They were met by the ROK Navy which tried to block their intrusion. The two sides confronted each other for eight days. At around 9:28 p.m. on June 15, North Korean patrol boats fired first at ROK Navy vessels. The two sides exchanged gunfire. As a result of this battle, a number of North Korean vessels and persons aboard the vessels were seriously damaged or hurt; this included the sinking of one motor torpedo boat. They retreated back to North Korea.

The sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan near the maritime divide on 26 March 2010 killed 46 sailors and was blamed on a North Korean torpedo. South Korean officials initially did not rule out the possibility of a North Korean attack in the sinking of one of the South's naval vessels. About half the more than 100 people on board the ship were rescued. An explosion damaged the ship in a historically tense disputed border area. At 9:45pm local time, the South's ship was passing southwest of South Korea's Baekryoung island when it began sinking due to damage on its bottom side. Other vessels were mobilized and dozens of people were rescued from the distressed ship. Baekryoung island is located in waters west of the Korean peninsula, very close to what is called the Northern Limit Line. The maritime border was designated by the United Nations at the signing of a 1953 armistice to halt fighting in the Korean War. A North Korean submarine team left a North Korean naval base two or three days before the attack, and returned home two or three days after the ship was sunk.

North Korea warned in May 2015 that it will strike without notice at South Korean naval vessels that intrude into its territorial waters near the disputed border in the Yellow Sea. The warning, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, alleged that 17 South Korean speed boats had intruded into the North's territorial waters in the first week of this month under the pretext of intercepting Chinese fishing boats.

North and South Korea exchanged accusations after navy ships from each side opened fire on the other May 23, 2014, raising tensions along their contested maritime border. North Korea angrily denied its navy fired on South Korean ships near their de facto sea border, and instead claimed it was the victim of preemptive shelling. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said a North Korean ship fired at a patrol boat near the disputed border, known as the Northern Limit Line. The JCS said the boat was not hit and returned fire that also did not hit anything.

A South Korean navy boat fired warning shots 30 June 2015 after a North Korean patrol vessel crossed onto the southern side of the tense Yellow Sea border, according to Seoul. South Korea's military said the North Korean boat quickly retreated to its side of the so-called Northern Limit Line off the countries' western coast following the warning shots.



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