North Korean navy is undergoing a facility and weapons upgrade on the east coast, increasing threats to rival South Korean and U.S. Navy vessels in the region, American think tank 38 North reported Thursday. This follows South Korean President Park Guen-hye’s full combat readiness orders to the country’s military in case of any provocation by Pyongyang.
“The primary objective of the Korean People’s Navy (KPN) is coastal defense of the nation. Its secondary missions include supporting special operations forces and Korean People’s Army (KPA) wartime operations,” 38 North said.
The reclusive state has been trying to upgrade the Munchon Naval Base, which is the largest naval facility in the country’s east coast city of Wonsan. The base that also serves as the headquarters of the 13th Naval Command undergoing improvements for training facilities, conventional naval weapons systems, special operations capabilities, and developing new ship support facilities, according to the report.
Once the upgrades are done, it is expected to boost the North Korean navy’s capabilities for operational readiness, coastal defense and wartime amphibious special operation force against neighbor South Korea’s East Sea coast. The project is also likely to moderately fortify the navy’s capability to mount longer and more regular naval patrols farther into the East Sea, 38 North stated.
The Munchon base comprises of at least 16 naval units and significant major advancements are going on at units 155, 597 and 291, which have been visited by Pyongyang’s leaders. According to the think tank, unit 155 is working on a program to test and develop the single “NONGO-class missile armed patrol craft” along with the anti-ship missile KH-35.
“Should the new KH-35 missile system be successfully integrated into the KPN (Korean People's Navy) and widely deployed, it would pose an increased threat to South Korean and U.S. Navy vessels in the region,” the report cautioned.
To the north of unit 155 is unit 597 that looks after a dockyard used as North Korea’s main naval maintenance and repair facility on the east coast. Following Kim’s orders, the dockyard has been completely renovated since 2015.
Unit 291, which acts as elite amphibious special operations unit of the East Sea Fleet, is also working on transforming and expanding the base. All five navy sniper battalions of the East Sea Fleet are expected to be put at the base, according to the report. This will enhance training and coordination, and assist the maximum projection of amphibious forces against the South Korean east coast during a possible conflict.
“Although international attention has focused on continued developments in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, commercial satellite imagery indicates that Pyongyang is also improving its conventional military forces,” according to 38 North. “Serious resources have been channelled into upgrading the North’s naval capabilities.”
Last month, South Korea’s Park told her military to make sure that any North Korean provocation would lead to the “self-destruction” of the regime in Pyongyang.
“I call on you to maintain a robust posture to retaliate… to make sure that any attempt by the north at engaging in any form of provocations will lead to the self-destruction of the North Korean regime,” she said.