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North Korean Amphibious Brigades

The mission of the North Korean Navy [NKN] is believed to beprimarily offensive because of the number of landing craft in the inventory. An amphibious warfare capability allows North Korea to choose the ground for military operations against the USand ROK. The coastlines of South Korea are great distances away from densely populated areas or valuable military targets. However, the rugged shorelines are an excellent avenue of approach for small and large scale amphibious attacks. Korea has 1,340 nautical miles of coastline (about 8.6 times the length of the DMZ) and about 3,300 islands. Furthermore, the weather in Korea permits landing operations formost of the year, with the exception of the winter months.

The North Korean Navy [NKN] does not have a Marine Corps or naval air. Amphibious operations are conducted by Korean Peoples Army Special Purpose Forces (SPF) units, supported by naval personnel. The Department of Defense North Korea Handbook reported that the DPRKs Special Purpose Forces (SPF) are organized into twenty-two brigades and seven battalions, including two amphibious landing brigades and Seaborne Sniper Battalions. Joseph S. Bermudez reported in 1988 that these forces included three Amphibious Brigades with 9,000 troops. The KPA's three Amphibious Light Infantry Brigades are reported to have a total of thirteen battalions. Other sources report that the Korean Peoples Navy [?!] includes two amphibious surface Sniper Brigades with 5,000 troops, a force structure that is also reported by IISS as recently as 2011. The two brigades are said to include ten battalions and total some 5,000 soldiers.

The Amphibious Light Infantry Brigades units are roughly comparable to US Marines, but lack the US Marines heavy equipment and large amphibious assault ships. Their primary mission is to seize critical sites along the South Korean coast lines in time of war with an emphasis on the ROKs rear areas. The difference between Amphibious Light Infantry and regular Light Infantry units in the KPA rests on the former's constant training with various amphibious platforms and conduct of amphibious operations.

Each brigade contains a headquarters element, signal company, up to five infantry battalions, and a service support element. The ALIBs do not have organic heavy weapons but are equipped with Soviet standard infantry weapons including AK-47s, recoilless rifles, mortars, antitank weapons, and the SA-7 GRAIL air defense missile.

In addition, the North Korean Maritime Special Purpose Forces [SPF] threat, distinct from the Amphibious Brigades, is real, substantial and dangerous. The DPRK's SPF Maritime forces compel the ROK and US Forces to employ defenses in order to respond to this avenue of approach. It is expected that these forces, once ashore, will attempt to infiltrate South Koreas rugged terrain to attack the ROK in their rear areas just before and during the renewed commencement of large scale hostilities between the two countries. Estimates sugggest that North Korea can deliver over 7,000 SPF personnel to each of the ROK coastlines. Based on the number of ships available to the SPF, they could deliver 5,000 of these soldiers in one lift (approximately 100 amphibious craft).

Though North Korea does not have the capability to conduct large amphibious operations, it can insert small units of landing parties from the sea to accomplish the following:

  • Support the advance of NKA ground offensive operations.
  • Conduct amphibious raids to occupy/destroy critical targets in CFC's rear area.
  • Surprise and harass CFC's rear area.
  • Encircling and destroying CFC defensive positions.
  • Delaying reinforcement of CFC defensive frontlines
  • Occupying or otherwise paralyzing CFC air bases/operations.
  • Occupying/attacking island groups, harbors, naval bases, and areas in which future operations are anticipated.
  • Destroying CFC command and control centers/systems and other critical targets in CFC's rear area.
  • Occupying/destroying bridges, river crossing sites, or other targets to reduce CFC maneuverability.
  • Conducting missions to harass or otherwise create confusion in CFC's rear.
The DPRK amphibious forces can call on at least six classes of amphibious assault craft. These range in size and number from the 350 ton Hantae class utility landing craft to the speedy and light Kongbany class assault hovercraft capable of speeds over fifty miles per hour. In all, there are over 370 known amphibious assault craft in the DPRK Naval inventory (this includes the 100 used by the Maritime SPF). They can also use rubber rafts to infiltrate from other larger platforms. This is an excellent tactic to avoid the shore patrols of ROK Navy. The rubber rafts are extremely difficult to detectby electronic sensors or even by coastal sentries, especially in bad weather.

The North Korean navy has built over 140 hovercraft capable of carrying platoon-size units ashore in surprise landing operations. These landing craft can maneuver not only at sea, but also on tidal and mud flats and are capable of landing alongside the piers in most parts of the eastern and western coasts. They would be especially useful in areas where there is a wide difference between high and low tides along the western coast. These vessels also have a high survivability due to their good speed at 50 nautical miles per hour, and their forward deployment in both the East and Yellow Seas would greatly enhance North Korea's surprise landing capability in the early stages of a war.

By the late 1990s, the DPRK had indigenously produced over 200 personnel landing craft. This includes approximately 100 NAMPO personnel landing craft based on a former Soviet P-6 torpedo boat hull. The NAMPO has a maximum speed of 40 knots and a radius of 335 nm at 28 knots. The NAMPOs provide a limited amphibious capability, each carrying up to 30 troops with a basic combat load. Amphibious assaults against CFC probably would be small, clandestine landings involving two to six NAMPO craft; CHAHO or other naval craft could provide fire support. Other amphibious craft include 8 HANTAE medium landing ships, which can carry 3 to 4 light tanks, and approximately 125 KONG BANG amphibious hovercraft.

The fundamental objective of ROK naval strategy in the present situation and in the near future is to carry out operations to deter and defend against North Korean maritime provocations. This formulation normally implies a South Korean Navy principally designed to blunt a North Korean amphibious attack or stop North Korean infiltration from the sea. Yet Korea has expanded ROKN capabilities to take the offensive againstNorth Korea in maritime operations. The North Korean Navy's strength vis-a-vis the ROKN lies in naval air superiority (in the initial stages of war), and in submarine operations, mine warfare, amphibious raids, and coastal protection.

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