North Korea is one of the world leaders in fielding Special Operations Forces (SOF). It is estimated that this force totals or exceeds 121,500 soldiers. They are organized into 22 light infantry type brigades and 7 independent light infantry battalions. They are charged with five basic missions: conducting reconnaissance, performing combat operations in conjunction with conventional operations, establishing a second front in South Korea’s rear areas, countering ROK/US special operations forces in north Korea’s rear area, and maintaining internal security.
STRATEGIC LEVEL OPERATIONS
Strategic level missions include the seizure and/or destruction of ROK/US strategic/theater command, control, communication, and intelligence (C3I), and NBC warfare assets. More specifically, the assassination or abduction of ROK/US political leaders, senior military commanders, and acts of terrorism. They may also conduct raids against US Air Force airfields in Japan and against military installations in Hawaii. Missions of a strategic level are controlled by the President of north Korea, Kim Chong-Il, the Central People’s Committee, and other national level agencies.
Operational level missions consist of the seizure and destruction of major military targets (airfields, naval bases, port facilities, POL storage facilities, missile sites, etc.) within the rear area. They may also be used to interdict the arrival of ROK and U.S. reinforcements and supplies for forces deployed south of the DMZ. Operational missions support the advancement of regular north Korean ground forces and are controlled by VII Special Purpose Corps (also known as the Light Infantry Training and Guidance Bureau) and the Forward Corps reconnaissance section.
These missions are controlled by the Forward Corps intelligence office. Missions include assaults against, and control of, major fortified defensive positions, envelopment operations, or flanking attacks in support of regular ground force units. Light Infantry units may also augment corps and division reconnaissance elements by conducting diversionary and unconventional warfare operations.
As we prepare for and are committed to battle, the Dragon Force will face numerous Special Operations Force (SOF) teams conducting operational and tactical level missions.
LIGHT INFANTRY BRIGADES
The north Korean military began fielding light infantry brigades in 1969 when the VII Special Purpose Corps (SPC) was established. By the time fielding was completed, there were 22 light infantry brigades (14 assigned to the VII SPC and 8 assigned to the forward corps). As with most of the north Korean army, most of the brigades operate close to the DMZ. Therefore, they are often attached to the Forward Corps in which they are located. Each brigade is comprised of approximately 5,200 soldiers. Members of light infantry brigades are known to be politically reliable and have served four to seven years in combat branches. Light Infantry forces are typically assigned the following missions:
- Infiltrate 35 - 70 Km from the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA).
- Infiltrate and seize or destroy nuclear, C3I, chemical or missile assets.
- Infiltrate and disrupt or destroy sensitive facilities (especially airfields and POL)
- Infiltrate enemy defensive positions in order to conduct enveloping, or flanking attacks in support of regular ground forces.
- Infiltrate and seize, or interdict, control of major lines of communications, preventing the arrival of reinforcements or supplies to ROK and U.S. units.
- Infiltrate enemy defenses to seize and control of important terrain features and civilian facilities (i.e. dams, power plants, etc.).
- Act as reconnaissance assets to support corps and divisions.
- Act as a rear guard and delaying force, during withdrawal operations, to harass the enemy by destroying bridges, tunnels, power grids, etc..
During combat operations SOF are typically attired in civilian clothing. You can also expect to see them dressed in ROK or American military uniforms. SOF personnel are trained to operate in the smallest size unit possible. It is likely that we will encounter teams operating with as few as three to five personnel. Guerrilla bands will be established to harass us and to provide intelligence back to their higher headquarters. Infiltration will normally occur at night or during hours of limited visibility, with the assistance of military personnel familiar with the DMZ. Small units will cross the DMZ on foot or tunnels suspected to lay under the DMZ, by small assault landing craft, midget submarine, and specially designed high-speed boats resembling civilian fishing craft.
The equipment carried by SOF personnel varies depending on their mission. Since they are force to sustain themselves after being infiltrating, what they can carry is limited. Typical equipment consists of knives, silenced pistols, AK-47 or M-16 rifles, hand grenades / demolition equipment (often carried around their own bodies to prevent capture), rocket launchers (RPG-7 or AT-3) and 60mm mortars. It is likely that these soldiers carry the best equipment available to the north Korean military. If you encounter a SOF team, pay careful attention to the type of equipment - it will help the intelligence section determine what type of unit we are fighting.
AIRBORNE / AIRMOBILE BRIGADES
The airborne/airmobile infantry brigades provide north Korea with the capability to project combat forces deep into the South Korean rear area. North Korean airborne/airmobile units have missions similar to their American counterparts:
- Seize and control bridges, amphibious and river crossing sites.
- Seize and destroy government command and control facilities.
- Seize and destroy critical logistic facilities and mass destruction weapons.
- Seize and control tactical targets such as airfields.
- Conduct raids and guerrilla activities in enemy rear areas.
- Conduct operations in support of South Korean insurgent groups.
- Conduct operations preventing the movement of enemy reserves and supplies.
- Conduct link-up operations with conventional and unconventional units.
- Conduct operations to rescue encircled units, provide for their resupply and assist in engineering activities.
Airborne infiltrations will be conducted by low-flying aircraft (namely the AN-2 Colt and the MD-500 helicopter). The AN-2 Colt is a propeller-driven biplane which is made from cloth and wood, making it virtually invisible to radar. The AN-2 can transport ten fully loaded passengers for 300 Km and the MD-500 can move four for 600 Km. The South Korean military also uses the MD-500, it is likely that north Korean aircraft will have South Korean markings in an attempt to make infiltration easier.
North Korean airborne operations are normally organized into assault, follow-on, and rear area echelons. The main force of the assault will be preceded by a reconnaissance element and a small airborne force (possibly with artillery and anti-armor assets) to secure the LZ/DZ for the main force. The main force carries out the expansion of the LZ/DZ to exploit resources. The follow-on echelon lands four to six hours later with the support units. Personnel normally carry a three to four day supply of ammunition and rations since aerial resupply is unlikely. Movement to the LZ/DZ is normally conducted using two or three routes with fighter aircraft in support. Dummy drops are conducted as part of a deception plan. Air drops are almost always conducted during hours of limited visibility.
These operations are conducted using a variety of helicopters. Usually airmobile operations draw personnel from a corps’ light infantry brigade. Missions are conducted as deep as 50 km from the FLOT, but 15 to 20 km is more common due to the support of forward ground unit’s artillery. Units will land directly on their target if possible. Once on the ground, units conduct operations using standard infantry tactics.
Aircraft Troops Range
AN-2 Colt 10 300 km
MD-500 4 600 km
MI-2 Hoplite 8-10 340-580 km
MI-4 Hound 12-16 120 km
MI-8 Hip 24 795 km
The Sniper/Reconnaissance Brigades are the elite of the nKPA special operations forces. Their chain of command runs from their individual brigade to the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces. During peacetime these units are subordinate to and under operational control of the reconnaissance section of the corps headquarters in which they are deployed. During wartime, control of these units changes to the VII Special Purpose Corps.
- Conduct "direct action" operations primarily concerned with the assassination or abduction of enemy military personnel and civilians, during peace and wartime.
- Conduct diversionary operations to seize and destroy strategic objectives that cannot be destroyed by conventional means
- conduct operations to create confusion and panic in rear areas (performing sniper missions, posing as military police and routing traffic along the wrong roads and into waiting ambushes, etc.).
- Conduct reconnaissance and intelligence gathering operations (military and political).
- Provide support for other SOF operations by conducting pre-mission reconnaissance, raids, ambushes, etc.
- Conduct counter-guerrilla operations.
- Provide military training and assistance to foreign governments, revolutionary organizations, and terrorist groups.
Reconnaissance personnel are selected from each branch of the army as well as from other SOF brigades. One brigade is made of only women, it is known as the "Peony Brigade". Reconnaissance personnel are thought to be able to speak in English.
In addition to the normal SOF training of 12-24 weeks, reconnaissance brigade personnel attend an additional 3-18 months of guerrilla warfare training. This training consists of urban or rural guerrilla warfare, counter-insurgency, internal security, VIP kidnapping and assassination techniques, psychological warfare, use of explosives, communications, document forgery, etc.
Operations are carried out while reconnaissance brigade personnel are disguised in South Korean or American Army uniforms or civilian clothing. During combat operations the basic element is the reconnaissance team of 10 personnel, but during special operations the basic operational unit appears to be teams of three, five, or seven men. A reconnaissance and search element is composed of one or more of the following specialized teams: clearing and scouting, raiding, capture, security (with snipers), interdiction, and destruction. The mission of the clearing and scouting team is to traverse obstacles, conduct raids, and cover other teams. A raiding team raids the objective while the destruction team destroys the objective. The difference in the two teams is the destruction teams expertise with explosives. The capture team takes prisoners, finds enemy documents, and other material of intelligence value. The security team provides security through the use of snipers. An interdiction team deceives the enemy, disrupts reinforcements, and blocks enemy pursuit with obstacles.
Team members carry equipment dependent upon their mission and situation. Standard equipment includes: AK-47/M-16 rifles, RPG-7/AT-3, flame throwers, antipersonnel mines, obstacle marking gear, and 60mm mortars.
INDEPENDENT LIGHT INFANTRY BATTALIONS
These units train with, and work for, a specific division or corps. The individual soldier was trained with all other light infantry personnel before being assigned to this unit. The units missions are similar to those of other light infantry units, but are tailored to the needs of the parent unit. They include:
- Small unit infiltration 15 to 35 km from the FEBA.
- Assaults on battalion, brigade, and division command posts.
- Seizure of key terrain (i.e. bridges, tunnels, and defiles).
- Assaults on airfields, heliports, and artillery positions.
- Locate and destroy POL and supply storage facilities.
Combat equipment carried is mission dependent. Each battalion probably has 60mm mortars, numerous RPG-7s, AT-3s and SA-7s
TYPE OF UNIT DEPTH (From FEBA)
Light Infantry Brigade 35 - 70 km
Airborne Brigade Throughout the ROK
Air Assault Brigade 50 km or less (15 - 20 km norm)
Independent Light Inf Bn 15 - 35 km
North Korea has two amphibious light infantry brigades. These units provide the government with the capability to conduct amphibious operations in order to develop a two-front war. With only two brigades, any north Korean amphibious operation would be limited to a small, poorly defended target.
Missions are conducted using large boats capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots. These boats will travel roughly 100 km out to sea before turning south for the ROK. Before the infantry comes ashore, security teams are dispatched to check the landing sight. The security teams depart from the main body about 5 km from the shore in a small watercraft (i.e. rubber raft, small speedboat, etc.). After reaching the shore their mission is clear the immediate landing area and then return to the main body. The main body usually conducts their landing operations between 2200 and 2400.
The north Korean government considers guerrilla warfare a necessary component of the revolutionary struggle. Guerrilla warfare is considered to be both a form of warfare and a continuation of defined political goals. Depending on the origin of these groups and their missions, the guerrillas are organized into units ranging in size from less than a platoon all the way up to a regiment. Conventional units may form guerrilla units, using soldiers from their unit, for a limited time. These units are used to establish and aid local guerrilla forces, conducting long-range reconnaissance, and conducting special operations in support of the parent unit. After completing the mission, the soldiers return to their original duty. These soldiers are also used to convert dispersed and defeated conventional units into long-range guerrilla units. Enemy rebel groups are recruited into the guerrilla force by disrupting them with propaganda and coercion. Also, former prisoners are often politically indoctrinated into guerrilla units.
- Conduct operations to carry out political and military objectives by organizing the masses.
- Conduct operations to assist guerrilla units throughout South Korea.
- Conduct operations to "heighten revolutionary spirit" and be the role model for the masses.
- Conduct operations to destroy small enemy units and harass larger units.
- Conduct guerrilla operations in support of conventional units.
- Conduct espionage, terrorist activities, propaganda campaigns, and sabotage missions.
- Conduct operations to instigate riots, destroy property, and aid deserters.
The guerrilla units will attempt to force the population to carry out political tasks and into advocating armed insurgency. To seize control of the situation, guerrilla units will capitalize on any confusion among dispersed enemy troops, any lack of cooperation from the local populace toward the ROK/US forces, and any lack of experience in our leadership. The guerrillas will attempt to create a struggle of the masses and reinforce their forces using newly formed and trained units. Guerrilla units will avoid the strong and attack the weak.