Much of North Korea’s military equipment is old and outdated. The development of nuclear weapons and missiles is seen by some analysts as an effort to make up for the shortcomings of its conventional weaponry. Many weapons , including T-62 tanks, are vintage Soviet models. The KPA is equipped mostly with older weapon systems originally acquired from the former Soviet Union, Russia, and China; North Korea manufactures copies and provides some upgrades to these weapon systems; Since 2010, There were no publicly-reported transfers of weapons to North Korea; between 2000 and 2010, Russia was the only recorded provider of arms (2020). [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2021]

In 2016 North Korea had 4,200 tanks, 2,200 armored vehicles, 8,600 pieces of field artillery, 5,500 multiple rocket launchers. According to Associated Press: “Their arms are mostly “legacy equipment,” produced or based on Chinese and Russian designs dating back as far as the 1950s. But they have in recent years unveiled new tanks, artillery and infantry weapons. In the October parade, the KPA displayed a new 240 mm multiple rocket launcher with eight tubes on a wheeled chassis. Kim Jong Un was recently shown by state media observing a new, longer-range anti-tank weapon. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016]

The army’s major military equipment in the mid 2000s included 3,500 main battle tanks, 560 light tanks, 2,500 armored personnel carriers, 3,500 pieces of towed artillery, 4,400 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 2,500 multiple rocket launchers, 7,500 mortars, 24 surface-to- surface rockets and missiles, an unknown number of antitank guided weapons, 1,700 recoilless launchers, and 11,000 air defense guns. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007**]

North Korea has 11,000 rocket launchers and artillery pieces positioned within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the South Korean border. Many of them are so close to the DMZ that Seoul — 50 kilometers (30 miles) away — is easily within range. These weapons could unleash an awesome wave of firepower of 20 million rounds. North Korea’s 2,500 rocket launchers alone are collectively capable of launching 500,000 shells an hour at Seoul. At the same time these pieces can be difficult to dislodge from well protected granite sites in the mountains.

Weapons carried by soldiers include AK-47s machine guns, mortars, hand-towed light artillery and recoilless rifles. Among the larger pieces are antiaircraft weapons, 240mm rocket launchers,170mm North-Korean-made Koksan guns (among the longest-range artillery weapons in the world), fuel air explosives, chemical weapons, T-62 and T-55 tanks.

The army has an extensive facility hardening program. Almost all the forward deployed artillery can be stored in wellprotected underground emplacements. The passive defenses in the forward corps include a large bunker complex to conceal and protect infantry forces, mechanized units, and war matériel stockpiles. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

North Korean Tanks

According to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, North Korea operates roughly 4,300 main battle tanks. This is almost double the 2,300 main battle tanks operated by the South Korean military. In recent years, the North Korean Army has upgraded main battle tanks, deploying about 1,000 tanks equipped with improved armament in troops across the nation. The Korea Times reported: “The Songun-ho, named after the North's military-first policy, features 800 to 900 meter thick walls, newly equipped with 93 mm-round thermobaric rocket launcher and SA-16 surface-to-air portable missiles, according to military intelligence. The tank's rocket launcher is believed to have been modeled after Russia's RPO-A recoilless flame thrower, with a maximum rage of 1 kilometers, which can destroy personnel and weapons inside various protective shelters with high-explosive and thermal effects. [Source: Korea Times, March 23, 2014]

Eli Fuhrman wrote in the National Interest: Despite its numerical advantage, North Korea’s armed forces face a significant qualitative deficiency when compared to the armed forces of both the United States and South Korea. This situation is well exemplified by North Korea’s inventory of tanks and armored vehicles. Most of the KPA’s armored force, however, is comprised of outdated Soviet-era tanks, including the T-34, T-54, T-55, T-62, and the Chinese Type-59. Some of these models date back to the aftermath of the Korean War, and would likely be of limited combat value today as many are in various states of disrepair. [Source: Eli Fuhrman, National Interest, May 30, 2012]

“North Korea’s own domestically produced tanks also appear to be based on older Soviet or Chinese designs. North Korea’s Chonma-ho, which first entered into production in the 1980s, is largely a copy of the 1960s era Soviet T-62. The Chonma-ho has seen several upgrades since its initial unveiling, with later models equipped with larger main guns and improved explosive-reactive armor. The Pokpung-ho, a more recent addition to North Korea’s armored forces that was first seen in 2009-10, appears to be a North Korean attempt to produce a 1970s era Soviet T-72 type tank utilizing T-62 technology.

“North Korea’s lack of a modern armored force reflects the DPRK’s long-held approach to military modernization. Since the 1960s, North Korea has prioritized the development and modernization of those capabilities that it believes provide it with the largest strategic benefit at the lowest possible cost, in keeping with the country’s financial and resource constraints. This has manifested itself in North Korea’s pursuit of a wide array of asymmetric military capabilities including ballistic missiles, cyber tools, and a large special operations force, with the Department of Defense assessing that North Korea emphasizes developments in areas where it sees a possibility for some relative advantage over its adversaries.

“Even so, North Korea has continued to invest resources into its armored forces. During its October 2020 parade in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of its ruling party, North Korea unveiled a new model of main battle tank. The new tank bears little resemblance to other domestically produced North Korean tanks and instead appears to have more in common with recent Russian and Chinese models. In the event of a major conflict on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea is likely to pursue an early termination of the conflict before the U.S. and South Korea can effectively bring their full military power to bear and before the United States can introduce follow-on forces to the peninsula. In such a scenario, North Korea would likely attempt to inflict significant physical and phycological damage on U.S.-ROK forces and the civilian population, with the KPA’s armored forces would form an important element of any early North Korean offensive.”

Weapons and Equipment of the North Korean Army in the 1990s

In 1996 the North Korea army had 3,400 main battle tanks, 549 light tanks and 2,200 armored personal carriers and a variety of mortar, field artillery, multiple rocket launchers. In the 1980s, in order to make the army more mobile and mechanized, there was a steady influx of new tanks, selfpropelled artillery, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and trucks. The ground forces seldom retire old models of weapons and tend to maintain a large equipment stock, keeping old models along with upgraded ones in the active force or in reserve. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Beginning in the late 1970s, North Korea began to produce a modified version of the 115mm gunned T-62 tank, which was the Soviet army's main battle tank in the 1960s. Based on general trends and photography of armed forces parades, it was clear that North Korea had made considerable modifications to the basic Soviet and Chinese designs in its own production.*

Although the majority of units remain "straight-leg" infantry forces, that is, lacking significant motorized or mechanized transport, the army contains a significant number of well equipped mechanized units, with about 2,500 APCs. These mobile forces were equipped with a mix of older Soviet-made APCs, some Chinese-made APCs, and some indigenously produced APCs, such as the M-1985.*

Probably because of its initial Soviet tutelage and the limited ground attack capability of the air force, great emphasis was placed on using massive artillery firepower. North Korean ordnance factories produce a variety of self-propelled guns, howitzers, and gun-howitzers. In the 1980s, North Korea produced a significant amount of self-propelled artillery, mating towed artillery tubes with chassis already in the inventory. North Korean strategic thought also seems to be based on the primacy of developing an offensive capability, reflecting an appreciation for firepower probably dating to the Korean War. Further, Pyongyang was willing to invest the time and effort necessary for effective defense of its ground forces from air attack and artillery fire.*

With the exception of the 170mm M-1978 Koksan gun first noted in a parade in 1985, a new turreted self-propelled gun observed in a 1992 parade, and perhaps a few other systems, most artillery was developed from older Soviet and Chinese designs. All incorporate proven technologies or components. North Korea continues to produce a range of Soviet antitank guns, most of them dating from 1940s and 1950s designs, and ranging in size from 57mm through 100mm. Infantry units also were armed with Soviet bloc-derived equipment.*

North Korean Artillery: Awesome Firepower Able to Reach Seoul

North Korea has 11,000 rocket launchers and artillery pieces positioned within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the South Korean border. Many of them are so close to the DMZ that Seoul — 50 kilometers (30 miles) away — is easily within range. These weapons could unleash an awesome wave of firepower of 20 million rounds. North Korea’s 2,500 rocket launchers alone are collectively capable of launching 500,000 shells an hour at Seoul. At the same time these pieces can be difficult to dislodge from well protected granite sites in the mountains.

After the mid-1970s, the emphasis shifted to firepower. The artillery force, both active and reserve, grew steadily, and self-propelled artillery was deployed. Most North Korean artillery has a greater standoff range than comparable South Korea-United States systems. Hardened artillery positions and a forward-based logistics system of underground facilities for ammunition stockpiles, petroleum, oil, lubricants, and other war supplies appeared to be designed to sustain an initial offensive despite a lack of air superiority. These initiatives only partially addressed the problem, however, because North Korean artillery cannot fire from its hardened artillery sites. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

In 2016 North Korea had 8,600 pieces of field artillery and 5,500 multiple rocket launchers. According to Associated Press: “Their arms are mostly “legacy equipment,” produced or based on Chinese and Russian designs dating back as far as the 1950s. But they have in recent years unveiled new artillery and infantry weapons. In the October parade, the KPA displayed a new 240 mm multiple rocket launcher with eight tubes on a wheeled chassis. Kim Jong Un was recently shown by state media observing a new, longer-range anti-tank weapon. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016]

According to the Rand Corporation: “North Korea maintains nearly 6,000 artillery systems within range of major South Korean population centers, which it could use to kill many thousands in just an hour, even without resorting to chemical or nuclear weapons. Researchers assessed the magnitude of this threat across five attack scenarios, using estimates of the number of North Korean artillery systems, the population densities of potential target areas, and assumptions about the locations of people at the time of the attacks (outdoors, indoors, and below ground). The strike scenarios assessed were 1) five minutes against a major industrial target, 2) one minute along the DMZ, 3) one minute against downtown Seoul, 4) one hour along the DMZ, and 5) one hour against downtown Seoul. Estimated total casualties from the attacks ranged from about 4,500 to more than 200,000. The authors conclude that because so much harm could be done so quickly, the United States and South Korea should try to avoid military provocation cycles that could lead to these attacks. This document presents a series of visualizations that helps bring into sharp relief the danger posed by this threat, providing a useful tool for defense leaders, policymakers, and the public in understanding this important aspect of the complex situation on the Korean peninsula. [Source: Book: “North Korean Conventional Artillery: A Means to Retaliate, Coerce, Deter, or Terrorize Populations” by D. Sean Barnett, Yvonne K. Crane, Gian Gentile, Timothy M. Bonds, Dan Madden, Katherine Pfrommer,Rand Corporation, 2020]

Displayed North Korean Combat Equipment Fake?

Jen Mills wrote in Metro.co.uk: “ Most weapons on display in North Korea’s military parades are fake, a military expert has claimed. Michael Pregend, a former Army intelligence officer in the U.S. was asked to examine pictures from a parade in Pyongyang in 2017. “This was more about sending a message than being combat effective,” he told Fox News. Many of the guns and projectiles appear to be dummies, he said, adding even the ‘flat-face frame’ sunglasses worn by soldiers are not combat ready. [Source: Jen Mills, Metro.co.uk, April 27, 2017]

“U.S. soldiers wear wraparound ballistic eyewear to protect their eyes from shapnel and projectiles. But he said the glasses worn by soldiers in North Korea would provide little protection. He also said the weapons on display had giveaways to show they weren’t the real thing. Those ‘grenade launchers’ on AK47s are actually ‘helical’ magazines for ammunition, he said.

“These spiral bullet cases are notorious for jamming, he said, and were probably empty in any case as the country is believed to have problems manufacturing bullets. He said projectiles attached to rifles were also ‘laughable’: ‘If you look, you can see the plastic is over the muzzle.’ It comes after people watching the parade commented that some of the missiles looked wonky, sparking claims they could be ‘cardboard boxes’.

However, Pregent said that the real weapons might be behind the scenes, to avoid an accident ‘because Kim Jong Un doesn’t want them to launch one at the viewing stand’. And he said the ‘silver plated’ guns carried by soldiers were more likely to be painted: ‘Saddam had gold plated handguns, and even he wouldn’t give them to his troops.’

The fingerless gloves worn by soldiers would not be effective in combat, he said. Full gloves are generally preferred, as they are better able to withstand the heat of a gun barrel, and are also fire resistant if you have to pick up something that is burning. Pregent told Fox that ‘fake’ weapons shouldn’t make us complacent: ‘They have a legitimate military capability with their artillery – why pretend in other spaces?’

Weapons, Ships and Equipment of the North Korean Navy

In the mid 2010s the North Korean navy, according to Associated Press, had 430 patrol combatant ships, 260 amphibious landing craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, about 70 submarines, 40 support ships. In the mid 2000s it had 92 submarines, three frigates, six corvettes, 43 missile craft, 158 large patrol craft, 103 fast torpedo craft, more than 334 patrol force craft, 10 amphibious ships, two coastal defense missile batteries, 130 hovercraft, 23 minesweepers, one depot ship, eight midget ships, and four survey vessels. North Korea completed a naval base for “attack hovercraft” in the early 2010s. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016; Library of Congress, July 2007, The Telegraph]

In the 1990s, it was estimated the North Korea navy was comprised of 46,000 sea personnel, and about 413 ships including 25 submarines (20 of then Soviet Romeo-class vessels), three frigates and 198 torpedo crafts. The naval inventory varies widely. North Korean surface combatants have dual missions of coastal defense and limited offensive missions under a "small navy" doctrine. Aside from special craft and submarines, most other North Korean naval vessels are small combatants; they include torpedo boats, patrol boats and ships, and fast attack craft. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

North Korea has a variety of special craft. There are a number of steel-hulled high speed, semi-submersible infiltration craft, several of which have been engaged by South Korean naval forces during the 1970s and 1980s; one has been recovered. A class of air cushioned vehicles (ACVs) derived from technology most probably acquired from Britain also is believed dedicated to amphibious operations. These craft will be well suited to use on the mud flats, seasonal frozen coastal waters, and areas of great tidal variance prevalent along Korea's west coast. Hovercraft are credited with being able to carry about a platoon each. The extent and pace of the hovercraft production program is unknown but more than 100 vessels had been built by mid-1993. Reflecting Soviet influence, most surface craft and submarines are capable of laying mines, and some vessels probably are dedicated to mine detection and sweeping. Approximately twenty-three ships are dedicated to mine warfare.*

In addition to conventional submarines, North Korea has between thirty and sixty minisubmarines in service. Details of the minisubmarine fleet are sketchy. North Korea apparently has acquired minisubmarine technology from both Yugoslavia and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). In the early 1970s, China helped North Korea start its own Romeo construction program, which produced new units into the early 1990s. The Romeo and Whiskey classes of conventional diesel-electric attack submarines employ technology, weapons, and sonar dating from the 1950s and 1960s. Their relatively high noise levels make them, by modern submarine standards, relatively easy to detect. This liability is mitigated to some degree by the South Korean navy's use of similar era systems for detection and attack.*

See Separate Article on the NAVY OF NORTH KOREA

North Korea's Submarines

In the mid 2010s the North Korean navy had about 70 submarines, according to Associated Press, In the mid 2000s it had 92 submarines according to the Library of Congress. Many of its submarines are mini-submarines. North Korea is developing bigger ones capable of carrying missiles tipped with nuclear warheads. That way it can deploy nuclear warheads right off the coast of the United States.

Jeremy Bender wrote in Business Insider: Age and obsolescence might also explain why the vessels have returned to port. The Diplomat notes that Pyongyang's fleet of rusting diesel submarines is capable of little more than coastal defense and has limited offensive capabilities. North Korea has approximately 70 submarines in its fleet, but 20 are Romeo-class submarines built with 1950s technology. Another 40 are North Korean domestically developed Sang-O-class subs that were specially developed for the insertion of special forces into South Korea, along with mine deployment. The rest of the fleet is thought to be comprised of Yono-class midget submarines with limited range, firepower, and operating depth. [Source: Jeremy Bender, Business Insider, August 31, 2015]

“All of these submarines are diesel-electric and extremely old. As such, the submarines can submerge for only a few days at a time — and once they surface, it would easy for South Korea to be able to pinpoint their location. Even with many of the subs still missing, their operational limitations lend credence to the idea that at least a portion of the submarines have returned to their pens in North Korea or are continuing to hide out in secluded coves and inlets throughout the North Korean shoreline.

“But despite the submarines' age and relative technological inferiority, the vessels could still cause substantial damage to South Korean vessels and disrupt shipping throughout the peninsula. In 2010, a North Korean submarine destroyed the Cheonon, a South Korean naval vessel. The attack killed 46 South Korean sailors. The sinking of the Cheonon is a stark reminder of the asymmetrical challenges that North Korea's massive — albeit rotting — diesel submarine fleet presents.

“They even has some tactical advantages over more advanced submersibles. Diesel submarines are significantly quieter than any other seaborne vessel. Although they cannot operate all that well in the open ocean, North Korea could still plant its submarines along major coastal transport and trade routes without Seoul being able to detect them. “Picking up the quiet hum of a battery-powered, diesel-electric submarine in busy coastal waters is like trying to identify the sound of a single car engine in the din of a major city,” US Rear Admiral Frank Drennan warned in March 2015. For this reason alone, North Korea's submarine fleet remains a major threat — however decrepit it may be.

Aircraft of the North Korean Air Force

In the mid 2010s, North Korea had over 800 combat aircraft, 300 helicopters and more than 300 transport planes. In the mid 2000s the North Korean air force had 80 bombers, 541 fighters and ground attack fighters, an estimated 316 transports, 588 transport helicopters (supported by 24 armed helicopters), 228 training aircraft, at least 1 unmanned air vehicle, and a large inventory of air-to- air missiles and surface-to-air missiles. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016; Library of Congress, July 2007**]

In early 2000s, North Korea purchased 30 MiG-29 fighter planes. The MiG-29 resembles an American-made F-16 and has two powerful engines that allow it to take off almost vertically like a rocket. Pilots have sight-and-shoot helmets which allow them to fire laser-guided missiles under the wings by simply staring at the enemy target for two seconds. The Soviet Union was supposed help North Korea produce 12 MiG-29s a year but the contract was nullified when the Soviet Union collapsed.

North Korea produces no aircraft itself, although it does produce spare parts for many of its aircraft. Its aircraft fleet of Soviet and Chinese manufacture is primarily of 1950s and 1960s technology, with rudimentary avionics and limited weapons systems capability. In the mid- to late 1980s, the Soviet Union supplied a variety of a limited number of more modern all-weather air defense and ground attack aircraft. Most ground attack regiments have older model Soviet and Chinese light bombers and fighters with limited range and combat payloads. **

In the 1990s the North Korea air force had 82,000 people, 509 combat aircraft, including 35 Su-25s, 40 MiG-29s, 46 MiG-23s and 130 MiG-19s.. North Korea has a few top-of-the-line MIG 29s, but most of their planes are older MiG-19s and MIG 21s, antiquated Russian-built supersonic aircraft first deployed in 1955. Their pilots are more poorly trained and the airplanes are poorly maintained. A leak of fuel and spare parts has mean that North Korea pilots spend much less time in the air than their American and South Korean counterparts. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Pyongyang was rather late in recognizing the full potential of the helicopter. During the 1980s, the North Korean armed forces increased their helicopter inventory from about forty to about 300. In 1985 North Korea circumvented United States export controls to indirectly buy eighty-seven United Statesmanufactured civilian versions of the Hughes MD-500 helicopters before the United States government stopped further deliveries. Reports indicate that at least sixty of the helicopters delivered were modified as gunships. Because South Korea licenses and produces the MD-500 for use in its armed forces, the modified helicopters were useful in North Korea's covert or deceptive operations. The transport fleet has some Soviet transports from the 1950s and 1960s.*

Nuclear Weapons of North Korea

North Korea claims to have tested its first H-bomb on January 6, 2016. According to Associated Press; “That claim has been disputed, but there is no doubt it has some nuclear weapons’ capability and its technicians are hard at work improving the nuclear weapons in quantity and quality. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016]

“Number of nuclear weapons not specified in report to Congress. Possibly more than a dozen, outside sources estimate. 50 ballistic missiles with 800-mile range, 6 KN08 missiles with a range of 3,400-plus miles, unknown number of Taepodong-2 missiles with roughly same or longer range. Possibly one submarine-launched ballistic missile. Various shorter-range ballistic missiles.

“Behind the numbers: North Korea claims to have tested its first hydrogen bomb on January 6, the day after the Department of Defense report came out. That claim has been disputed, but there is no doubt it has nuclear weapons and its technicians are hard at work boosting their quantity and quality. Major caveat here: The operational readiness of its nuclear weapons and many of its ballistic missiles is debatable.

“Pyongyang’s main hurdles are making nuclear warheads small enough to fit on its missiles, testing re-entry vehicles required to deliver them to their targets on an intercontinental ballistic missile and improving and testing the arsenal for reliability and accuracy. Its Taepodong-2 ballistic missile is the militarized version of the rocket it launched on February 8 with a satellite payload. North Korea has yet to demonstrate that it has a functioning ICBM, generally defined as having a range of over 3,418 miles.”

Origin of North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program

In the early 1990s, there was growing international concern that North Korea was seeking to produce nuclear weapons. In 1991, despite North Korea's repeated denials of a nuclear weapons program, United States policy experts generally agreed that Pyongyang was engaged in a nuclear weapons program. The debate has centered on when, rather than whether, North Korea will have a nuclear capability. Estimates range from 1993 to several years later.

North Korean nuclear-related activities began in 1955, when representatives of the Academy of Sciences participated in an East European conference on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In 1956 North Korea signed two agreements with the Soviet Union covering joint nuclear research. In 1959 additional agreements on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy were signed with the Soviet Union and China. The 1959 Soviet agreement apparently included setting up a nuclear research facility under the Academy of Sciences near Yongbyon and developing a nuclear-related curriculum at Kim Il Sung University. Chinese and Soviet assistance with training of nuclear scientists and technicians, although not continuous, is the major source of North Korean nuclear expertise. In the 1980s, Pyongyang had a rather eclectic if low-key web of nuclear connections that included Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and the former Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany). North Korea also is believed to have nuclearrelated connections with Egypt, Iran, Libya, Romania, and Syria. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

The Yongbyon center was established in early 1962 at Yong Dong on the Kuryong River, approximately 100 kilometers north of Pyngyang and southwest of the city of Yongbyon. Construction began in 1965 on a Soviet-supplied two-kilowatt nuclear research reactor (IRT2000) that is believed to have become operational in 1967. The reactor was brought under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) controls in July 1977 and was modified over time to increase its power to approximately eight kilowatts.*

During the mid-1970s, North Korea began expanding its nuclear infrastructure. In 1980 construction began on an indigenously designed, graphite-moderated, gas-cooled thirty-megawatt reactor, which probably is primarily for plutonium production. The use of graphite and natural uranium allowed North Korea to avoid foreign involvement and constraints. The reactor apparently became operational in 1987, but its existence has not been formally acknowledged by North Korea.*

According to many sources, United States satellites detected additional nuclear-related facilities under construction in the Yongbyon area during 1989. When completed, the facilities will give North Korea the complete nuclear fuel cycle needed for weapons production. These facilities consist of a high explosives testing site, a reprocessing facility, a third reactor in the fifty-megawatt to 200-megawatt range, and associated support facilities. According to sources, construction began on a third reactor in 1984-85 and on a reprocessing facility in 1988-89; the former is scheduled to be operational by the end of 1992 but was not on-line as of mid-1993, and the latter perhaps a little later. Neither the thirty-megawatt reactor nor the third reactor are said to be connected to a power grid for power generation. In 1990 these reports were substantiated by satellite photography read by Japanese scientists. According to South Korean sources, if all the facilities come online, North Korea will be capable of producing enough plutonium for two to four twenty-kiloton nuclear weapons a year. The facilities, however, are contaminated and not operational.*

Pyongyang signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in July 1985 but delayed signing the IAEA Full Scope Safeguards Agreement. The IAEA granted an eighteen-month extension of the usual eighteen months necessary to administer and sign such agreements. North Korea agreed in principle to the agreement in July 1991, but delayed signing until January 30, 1992; implementation was not to take place until after ratification of the agreement. In a series of agreements with South Korea at the end of 1991, North Korea agreed to set up a Joint Nuclear Control Committee (JNCC) to ensure that there are no nuclear weapons in either country. The committee will develop procedures for additional inspections to encompass facilities normally outside IAEA jurisdiction, such as military facilities.*

Chemical and Biological Weapons in North Korea

The extent of North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons program and its stockpile are unknown. According to Associated Press: “The U.S. Defense Department claims Pyongyang is continuing research and development into both, and could use them, but offered no details on biologicals in its recent assessment. It said Pyongyang “likely” has a stockpile of “nerve, blister, blood and choking agents” that could be delivered by artillery shells or ballistic missiles. The North is not a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention and its troops train to fight in a contaminated environment. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016]

The Chemical Directorate, Ministry of People's Armed Forces, is believed to have been established immediately after the end of the Korean War. In the 1950s and 1960s, chemical staffs and units were established in the army down through the division level. In the 1980s, the chemical unit attached to each level was upgraded, from platoon to company, company to battalion, and so on. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Although little information is available regarding the army's offensive chemical doctrine, and an offensive chemical warfare capability was not unequivocally confirmed as deployed as of mid1993 , North Korea has the ability to produce and employ a wide range of chemical weapons. Those weapons are deliverable by a variety of potential launch and delivery vehicles, including most of the military's artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers, and mortars. The air force can deliver chemical bombs and warheads, as can FROG or Scud missiles. As of mid-1993, the production, rate, and types of chemical agents had not been confirmed, but by the late 1980s as many as eight industrial facilities capable of producing chemical agents had been identified; they were located at Anju, Aoji, Chongjin, Hamhung, Manp'o, Sinhung, Siniju, and Sunchin. There were three research institutes; they were located at Kanggye, Siniju, and near Hamhung (see Industry). North Korea is credited with the capability to produce nerve agents, blood agents, blistering agents, and choking agents. Some estimates place North Korea's chemical stockpiles at around 250 tons.*

The acquisition of defensive chemical warfare is not confined to the army. Each airfield has a chemical platoon equipped with decontamination equipment and detection systems derived from Soviet or Chinese designs. Their missions include training personnel in the use of chemical protective gear and the detection of chemical agents. Chemical training is combined with all types of combat training to develop mission capability under chemical warfare conditions. Army personnel are equipped with protective masks and rudimentary suits or capes, but on a severely constricted basis to conserve equipment stocks. Emergency procedures and the use of gas masks are taught as part of basic training.*

North Korean Missiles

North Korea is believed to have more than 1,000 missiles of varying capabilities, including long-range missiles that may be capable of reaching the U.S. It is estimated that North Korea has 600 to 750 missiles with a 500-kilometer range, including Scuds and Frog-5 and Frog-7 missiles. The Scud B has a range of 320 kilometers (200 miles) and has a payload of 1,000 kilograms. The Scud C has a range of 550 kilometers (350 miles) and has a payload of 1,000 kilograms. Both missiles have been developed and sold overseas. North Korea launched a medium-range missile over Japan in 1998.

All of these missiles could be outfit with warheads carry nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. But experts say their threat is overstated. The missiles have a reputation of being notoriously inaccurate. It would easier and cheaper to set off terrorist bombs in Seoul or smuggle a nuclear devise into Japan or even the United States, it has been suggested.

North Korean missile technology is improving quickly as its relatively frequent testing of new missiles demonstrates. North Korea is believed to have at least six KN08 ballistic missiles with a range of over 5470 kilometers (3,400 miles). In August 2016, North Korea conducted what many experts believe was its first successful submarine missile launch. The missile traveled 500 kilometers (311 miles) and was the first projectile ever fired by North Korea to reach Japan's air defense identification zone. "While this was a substantial improvement in North Korea's demonstrated capabilities, it does not likely represent an operational submarine launched ballistic missile capability at this time," John Schilling, an aerospace engineer and contributor to 38 North, told CNN. [Source: Joshua Berlinger, CNN, September 26, 2016]

According to the BBC: In 2006, it test-fired a Taepodong-2 missile, which experts say could have a range of many thousands of miles, and rockets with related technology in 2009 and 2012. All three launches ended in failure. However, North Korea made another, apparently successful, launch of a three-stage rocket on 12 December 2012. It was condemned by many in the international community as cover for a missile test.

“In June 2014, a North Korean propaganda film briefly showed what some experts said might be a newly developed cruise missile, believed to be similar to the Russian KH-35 anti-ship missile. It is unclear whether North Korea previously owned any cruise missiles. Cruise missiles are weapons guided by on-board computers, used to attack specific targets. In February 2016 North Korea claimed it had successfully launched a satellite into orbit, and pledged to launch more. The North said it successfully launched the "Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite", a more advanced model than it launched in Dec 2012. It is not yet clear whether the launch was indeed a success.

Missile Development in North Korea

North Korea's battlefield missile program probably began with the reverse engineering of the FROG-5 and the mid-1970s acquisition of local production of China's Samlet antiship missile, a result of a long history of bilateral cooperation. Egypt also has a longstanding bilateral relationship with North Korea and became involved in the missile program as an outgrowth of military and defense industry cooperation that dates back to 1973. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Between 1981 and 1985, North Korea is believed to have reverse engineered the Scud-B using several Egyptian-supplied, Soviet-made Scud-Bs. Production facilities are located on the outskirts of Pyongyang, and missile test facilities are concentrated at a few bases along the eastern coast north of Wnsan. North Korea first test-launched the Scud-B in 1984 and, with the help of Iranian capital investments, began production by 1987. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), North Korea provided Iran with as great an amount of military supplies as the latter was able to pay for. North Korea also is believed involved in sales or technology transfer agreements associated with ballistic missile developments with Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Libya. Development of a follow-on, longer range Scud-C is believed to have commenced around the same time; the first test launches occurred in 1989.*

In 1991 North Korea was developing a new type of ballistic missile with a range in excess of 900 kilometers. The new missile was tentatively called the Nodong 1 by Western sources after the name of its test facility. The initial tests failed, but on the basis of North Korea's development pace for the Scud series, deployment would be possible by mid-decade. North Korea successfully test-fired the Nodong 1 in May 1993. A follow-on missile called the Taepodong 1 and the Taepodong 2 by the foreign press, is being developed with a range of up to 6,000 kilometers.*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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