North Korea has increased the number of its special warfare troops by 20,000 to 200,000 over the last two years, according to South Korea’s defense white paper released Thursday.
The biennial paper, which described the North Korean regime and military as an “enemy,” said that the North has deployed new battle tanks for operational use and increased the number of its tanks by 200 to around 4,100 during the two years.
The white paper was published as Seoul was seeking to reform the military, bolster combat capabilities and shore up public trust following the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan and the Nov. 23 artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. The two incidents killed a total of 50 South Koreans including two civilians.
The white paper also said North Korea has 2,500-5,000 tons of chemical weapons, presumably stored across the country, an indication that it has been focusing on bolstering its asymmetric weapons.
The Ministry of National Defense also presumed that the North obtained some 40 kilograms of plutonium after reprocessing spent fuel rods four times until 2009. The North obtained the spent fuel rods through the operation of a five-mega-watt reactor since the 1980s.
The North’s special forces could infiltrate the South through underground tunnels or by AN-2 aircraft ― which can hardly be detected by South Korean radar ― to strike major targets, assassinate key figures and carry out other missions in the South, the white paper said.
The number of North Korean special forces increased to around 200,000 from some 120,000 in 2006 and 180,000 in 2008.
The total number of North Korean troops remained unchanged at around 1.19 million, but the North has added four new divisions and one brigade. The number of Army troops is around 1.02 million while the numbers of Air Force and Navy troops are around 110,000 and 60,000, respectively.
The number of South Korean troops stands at around 650,000, which breaks into 520,000 in the Army, 68,000 in the Navy and 65,000 in the Air Force, respectively.
The white paper confirmed that North Korea had deployed its new battle tank, named “Pokpung-ho.” The new tank, which is thought to have been developed in the 1990s based on the former Soviet Union’s T-72 tanks, has replaced the old tanks, which have been sent for non-frontline use.
The total number of battle tanks in operation in the North as of November stands at around 4,100, an increase of some 200 units from two years ago. The number of armored vehicles remains unchanged at around 2,100, the white paper said.
According to the white paper, some of the most threatening weapons in the North Korean Army are 170mm self-propelled artillery and 240mm multiple launch rocket systems that put the Seoul metropolitan area within their striking range.
The North currently has some 8,500 field guns, 5,100 multiple rocket launchers and some 100 surface-to-surface guided weapons.
The white paper also said that some 60 percent of the North’s naval forces are forward-deployed south of Pyongyang and Wonsan, which enables them to launch a surprise attack on the South at anytime.
The North’s Navy has some 420 combat warships, 260 amphibious landing vessels, 30 support vessels and 70 submarines. Its Air Force has some 820 combat aircraft and 170 trainer planes. The North Korean military also has some 300 helicopters and some 7.7 million reserve forces.
The defense paper defined the North Korean regime and its military ― not its people ― as the “enemy,” a description stronger than before but short of reviving the symbolic tag of “main enemy” for the communist neighbor.
On Wednesday, “Uriminjokkiri,” a website run by the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said that calling the North an enemy is a “declaration of war.”
The white paper also showed the South Korean military’s increased overseas missions. As of November, a total of 1,195 troops are dispatched to 17 regions across the world, including those in Lebanon, Haiti and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported, citing sources in China, that the North’s naval special unit has conducted an exercise ― aimed at occupying the five South Korean border islands in the West Sea ― in waters near Nampo, South Pyeongan Province since mid-December.
The white paper aims to form public consensus on national security, present to the people at home and abroad the country’s military capabilities and readiness, and garner trust from the international community through transparent defense policies, the Defense Ministry said.
The first white paper was first published in 1967. Between 1969 and 1987, the government did not publish it due to security reasons amid deteriorating inter-Korean relations.
The government resumed the publication in 1988 to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the armed forces. Since then, it had published the papers annually until 2000.
In 2001, the government decided to publish it biennially as there were no major changes in the defense policies to follow up on each year. Since 2004, the government has published the white paper biennially. Between 2001 and 2003, the government did not publish it, but made booklets briefly introducing military policies.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)