Thursday, February 18, 2021

What Lies Beneath the Underground Republic

The internal workings of North Korea largely remain a secret to many in the world, and even Western intelligence agencies have bemoaned the relatively sparse amounts of information that flow out from the DPRK's borders. It's even suspected that the United States has no more than two or three low-level spies in the country - if there are any at all. This means that one of the main sources of information about this "hermit kingdom" comes from what can be gleaned through a vast array of satellites. 

One thing that becomes clear from these spies in the sky, is that North Korea has a fetish for digging.

During the Korean War, Kim Il Sung and his army witnessed the terrible and far-reaching ability of the Allied air forces to knock out military and economic targets from the sky. The northern part of the Korean Peninsula had been turned into Korea's industrial and most developed region by Japan during their 35 year occupation, but by the end of the three year Korean War, upwards of 85% of all buildings in North Korea had been completely or partially destroyed. The Korean War saw more tonnage of bombs dropped than in the whole of the Pacific Theater of WWII.

Kim Il Sung's expectation that Korean War II was imminent, and based on the lessons he learned during the first war, led to him commanding that the whole country be fortified, saying in 1963, "we must dig ourselves into the ground to protect ourselves"

The practical results of this are the countless miles of trenches along nearly every hill, a coastline ringed with artillery positions and anti-invasion obstacles, the second largest combined military and paramilitary force in the world, and lots and lots of tunnels, bunkers, underground factories, and other sites constructed beneath the surface and out of view. 


At this point, I want to sound a note of caution to those who like to let stories of North Korean mysteries runaway with them. There has been plenty of speculation about the true extent of North Korea's underground infrastructure, with some going so far as to claim that most of their military bases are actually buried beneath the ground. The truth is, while both small and vast underground sites exist across the country, commercial satellite images do not support the idea that there's basically a parallel country underground. 

Military sites are easy to find if one knows what to look for and reviewing current and historic satellite images only reveal underground sites at some of them, and most of those are relatively small.  The only way you could claim that most bases have an underground facility (UGF) is if you include small storage bunkers or gun emplacements that are situated a few meters into a hillside. But I don't accept the definition of an "underground facility" as merely being "any usable structure with an inch of dirt on top". For the purposes of this article, UGFs are a sizable structure built into the ground, where the rock cover would provide meaningful protection from bombs and missiles.

Aside from military sites, major factories with UGFs are likewise easy to spot. I have looked at every square meter of the country more than once, and the 2021 AccessDPRK Pro Map is swollen with over 13,000 distinct military-related sites plus dozens of factories with an underground component. However, to reiterate, I haven't seen anything in commercial satellite imagery that convinces me there is a nationwide system of connected tunnels and underground sites.


Based on the AccessDPRK 2021 Map, Pro Version, the country has over 1,500 identifiable tunnels and underground facilities.

The sheer number of these sites overall is a little mind boggling when you consider how relatively small North Korea is. The above map shows each of the 1,500+ tunnels and important underground facilities that I have managed to locate, as well as coastal batteries that have a clear underground component. It doesn't show the 848 hardened artillery sites, 492 drive-thru bunkers, or other installations that only have small access tunnels. The total number of large and small UGFs (which includes artillery sites and small storage areas) is estimated to reach as high as 14,000. 

Some sites were clearly constructed decades ago and were either abandoned or serve as emergency facilities in the event of open warfare. Because of this, their entrances have become overgrown with vegetation and that can make identification difficult. Furthermore, others have indeed been abandoned and mining operations or other domestic activities have encroached on the site; I saw little need to map those. 

There are also scores of stories about secret underground escape routes that connect Pyongyang and major palaces with underground rail lines that would allow the Kim family and top officials to be spirited away to the far north of the country, and even to China.

According to a 2015 report, the US military has mapped 6,000 to 8,000 of these "VIP" underground sites that North Korea's leadership could use to either hide or escape the country. The vast majority of them, however, would be simple bomb shelters (something that is common in South Korea, too). And, while this report lends credence to the idea of large, interconnected networks of underground facilities, the problem is that there is almost no direct visible evidence in the public sphere for such a massive system (although smaller tunnel segments have been identified). Additionally, this system is for the country's top leadership and isn't part of the normal domestic and military infrastructure of the country. So, this article is only going to focus on other underground infrastructure that plays a more "daily role" in the country.


While the exact purpose of each and every one of the sites is impossible to ascertain by simply looking at them from the air, most tend to fall into a handful of categories. There are a few major underground facilities, such as the Punggye-ri Nuclear Site, the Panghyon underground aircraft factory, and Kim's hardened helicopter base (which is part of a much larger underground command and control base). Most of the others can be classified into these: the underground factory or laboratory, the unspecified underground facility (many with protective berms at tunnel entrances), underground  facilities at Navy and Air Force bases (excluding HARTS and storage bunkers), and basic tunnels (either individual tunnels or usually in groups of three).

The following set of images show examples of various types of underground facilities. The satellite images used cover a large range of dates, but they were chosen because they best showed the sites in question.

Click on any image for an enlarged view.

The Hagap Facility in Chagang Province (40.081644° 126.189346°) is an example of a major underground site. Its exact purpose is unknown, but the two main theories are that it's either part of North Korea's nuclear program or a secured storage site for important government archives. Construction of the site has been ongoing for decades, punctuated by periods of inactivity, but since 2016, work has been steady.




Ryoho-ri Underground Naval Base (39.876051° 127.785328°)

This is a submarine base and the headquarters for the East Sea Fleet. It is one of 13 naval bases that have an underground or hardened facility. Ryoho-ri has two underground entrance points and suggests the existence of a large underground facility at least 300 meters in length and that could likely extend a further 150 meters into the hill. 

Ryoho-ri is so important that Kim Jong Il had a villa built nearby and both the villa and base have special rail access.




Pukchang Airbase (39.512137° 125.958563°)
Pukchang is one of 22 airbases and heliports that have associated underground facilities. I've already written about two of these in detail, the Sanghung-dong VIP Heliport in Pyongyang and the Kangda-ri Airbase near Wonsan. 

Pukchang is home to a Mig-23 fighter wing and has three main underground entrances into Obong Hill. It is also adjacent to the Yonggang-ni Helibase which has its own small UGF. 

Such facilities are used to store important aircraft and equipment, conduct maintenance, and at some airbases, even engage in manufacturing parts.




Tonghungsan Machine Plant (39.953611° 127.546918°)

Located in Hamhung, this is a major underground factory and is associated with North Korea's arms industry. Beginning in 2016, major reconstruction work began on both the underground portion and the external buildings. This reconstruction kicked off a series of new building and renovation projects at multiple arms facilities around the city including the Chemical Materials Institute and at the Hungnam Fertilizer Plant which produces chemicals used in various programs. 

Depending on Tonghungsan's exact size and layout, parts of the factory could be protected by over 150 meters of rock.



Taedonggang UGF near Pyongyang (39.174538° 125.946416°)
This is underground facility has a publicly unverified purpose. Located 6.5 km across from the Kangdong Residence on the other side of the Taedong River, it consists of four entrances divided into two sections. Tunnels 1 and 2 appear to be more for underground storage, while the size and configuration of the road and tunnels 3 and 4 suggest that they're for larger equipment (possibly TELs and MRLs).

Based on rough calculations of the volume of the spoil piles, there is at least 40,000 cubic meters of interior space for tunnels 3 and 4. That's the equivalent of a room 63x63 meters in size with 10-meter-high ceilings. The existence of a gantry crane and dedicated electrical substation can also clue us in to what purposes the site may be used for.




Pyongyang Armed Forces District UGF (39.059308° 125.733921°)
One of the largest identified underground facilities is beneath a hill in the middle of Pyongyang. One of the oldest entrance points is located at 39.059308° 125.733921° and is next to a secured villa. The tunnel can take VIPs into the facility that occupies a large portion of the hill or across the hill to the Sanghung-dong Heliport, where six helicopter hangars are protected by steel blast doors and hardened walls. 

Roughly 660 meters northeast from the original entry point is the newest entrance. It was added in 2017 and can take important people from an assembly hall directly into the UGF. 

This Armed Forces District UGF is one of multiple hardened command and control facilities within the city. 




While North Korea's engineers are capable of constructing large underground factories, they're still limited by the technology, education, and other factors that they have access to or are limited by. North Korea is well known for their "speed campaigns" and constructing large projects rapidly. Lack of enough materials due to sanctions and additional factors means that some of these projects end up shoddily built, with problems arising often and even occasional building collapses. These failures can also extend to military sites.

The following site is a coastal artillery position in North Hamgyong Province (41.896007° 129.950076°) that suffered a collapse, largely destroying the site.

Area before the collapse.



Area after the collapse.



North Korea built one of the deepest subway systems in the world, and they have a history of building underground facilities not only within their own borders, but also around the globe. 

These places aren't just for hiding weapons or keeping the Kim family safe. Four massive tunnels that traversed the DMZ into South Korea are known about and some estimate that fifteen to twenty others could exist. Such infiltration tunnels could enable an invasion into South Korea with tens of thousands of soldiers and vast sums of equipment without warning.

From infiltration tunnels to escape routes 100 meters underground to new UGFs at ballistic missile bases, the difficulties in discovering this underground infrastructure and combating its ability to hide people and weapons present a continuing obstacle to intelligence. It may also provide a potentially unacceptable level of uncertainty regarding any offensive strike against the country by the United States or South Korea, as they may not know where each target person is exactly or if every nuclear bomb or technological site was hit. 


I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Amanda O., Anders O., GreatPoppo, Joel Parish, John Pike, Kbechs87, Planefag, and Russ Johnson.

--Jacob Bogle, 2/17/2021

Sunday, January 31, 2021

AccessDPRK 2021 Map - Free Version

This image is an example of the domestic sites using the real icons in the map.

I started mapping North Korea in late 2012, released the first completed map in 2017, and began to remap the whole country in 2018. I wanted to keep track of changes, fix any old mistakes I came across, and to look for things that may have been missed during the initial phases of the project.

The combined result of roughly 7,000 hours of work is this 2021 free version. It contains over 61,000 places that are divided into three main categories: monuments, military, and domestic. Those are further broken down by province to give a more granular look at the country.

During the remapping process, I came across hundreds of places that had been mapped in 2017 but now no longer exist (mostly things like propaganda and town signs), so the true difference between the 2017 and 2021 versions comes to about an extra 8,500 places. Additionally, there were some categorization changes, new descriptions for hundreds of locations, and other changes. 

This Google Earth map is the most comprehensive look at the country freely available to the public. With some variation, there are 38-40 individual item categories in the domestic and economic section (everything from mining locations to irrigation pumping stations to factories and museums, schools and border security), and there are around 20 item categories in the military section. This has air defense sites, military bases, storage facilities, radar sites, etc. 

The monument's section is divided into Towers of Eternal Life and "others". Those include everything from murals to "On the Spot Guidance" memorials and everything else.

There is also a "nationwide" folder that is not divided into provinces but that holds all of the same type of place within single nationwide folders. The places in this section are: Historic Sites, DPRK Missile Bases, Prisons, Children's Traffic Parks, and Border Crossings (current and former). 

A note on the process of making this. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, this project has been created by myself. I have no staff and no regular financial backing other than my great Patreon supporters. I have used what public information I could find in a reasonable amount of time (I can't read everything that comes out about the country), as well as my own experience to build this database.

I drew from older databases, books, government reports, western media, official North Korea media, think tank papers, conversations with knowledgeable people, and even sites like Wikipedia to help create it.

It is based on open-source information and geared toward English language readers. The Free and Pro versions have different levels of sourcing, but I almost exclusively stuck to English websites if I felt a location needed a link for reference. That means lots of places don't have links and many others don't need one at all.

For example, this is an anti-aircraft artillery battery. There is no need for some declassified document giving out the coordinates for this individual place. It is what it is, and there's around 1,500 of them.


As I said, not every place with a name will have a link. But for every place that does have a non-generic name, that name came from a source. Some of the locations were marked years ago, some were only marked within the last few months. Some online sources no longer exist, others have been archived. And other additional online sources may well exist, but if I don't know of them, I obviously can't add them.

I am not aware of any major, public database on North Korea that provides a citation for every single site (not even in cases when they're named and given other details). Sometimes the information comes from private discussions with defectors, other times it's drawn from old documentaries or DPRK media that no longer exists online (YouTube has conducted multiple purges of videos from official sources). In the process of creating this, I relied on established and trusted sources. 

If multiple sources say there's a missile base near Anbyon but with no specific coordinates, and I find a site with several indicators suggesting a site near Anbyon is a missile base, then that place will be marked as a potential missile base. If a building looks exactly like other known buildings, then it's going to get identified as that type of building (primary schools are a great example of this). 

This is a good faith, open-source project. Nothing more, nothing less. And out of over 61,000 places, errors probably exist. I do not guarantee that it is inerrant. Indeed, honest mistakes popup all the time, everywhere. I am trying to add to the world's available knowledge of the country and to seek the input and cooperation of others in filling in any holes or fixing mistakes. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask.


Free Version Download & Operation

Here is the direct download link. The file is hosted via Google and is a little less than 5 MB in size. A new page will open and all you have to do is click the download button.

Simplified download screen. Yours may look different based on your browser.

If you're not familiar with Google Earth, it's pretty simple. Once you download the file, all you have to do is expand the menu (the little right-side arrows) to show the main sections. Pick one and expand it, decide which province you want to look at and expand that folder, and then pick the item(s) categories you're interested in. If you want to look at all of a particular site for the whole country, just click on each of the files within the various provinces.



Pro Version

If you're interested in the Pro Version, this page has a lot more information. In short, it contains over 3,100 additional places and over 2,600 other sites have extra bits of information such as links, construction dates, purposes and capacities, etc. 

For those interested in professional research or commercial/media interests, the Pro Version may be right for your needs.


Copyright Information

Aspects within the Free and Pro versions of the file may be subject to copyright and intellectual property rights enforcement under United States' law. No part of either version of the file may be used for commercial purposes without the express written permission of Jacob Bogle. This includes but is not limited to: use in contract bidding or fulfilling contracts for private or government interests; use in creating articles, films, maps, graphics, or other content for a profit-based entity; the creation of any map, dataset, or GIS product on a website or app that requires paid access to use that website or app. 

 

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters for their continued support: Amanda O., Anders O., GreatPoppo, Joel Parish, John Pike, Kbechs87, Planefag, and Russ Johnson.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Yonsa City Tragedies

Flood damage in North Hwanghae Province, August 2020. KCTV

2020 brought three typhoons and massive flooding to North Korea. The combined effects of typhoons Bavi, Maysak, and Haishen destroyed large numbers of homes and thousands of hectares of farmland. The scale of the recovery efforts redirected labor and material away from large national projects like the Pyongyang General Hospital and the Tanchon Hydroelectric Project.

With a 2020 estimated population of 39,000, the city of Yonsa sits among the Hamgyong Mountain Range and is bisected by the Yonmyonsu River as it flows toward the Tumen River. This gives the city a beautiful natural landscape, but also places it at risk for floods.


In 2016 major flooding occurred along all of northern North Korea, affecting over 600,000 people and even damaged the important border cities of Hoeryong and Mansu.

  Yonsa in 2015.

Yonsa was one of the places affected by the flooding. The river spilled its banks and destroyed the stadium, damaged the earthen flood barriers that line the riverbanks within the town, and caused other damaged along its whole course (mostly flooding farmland). 

Prior to the flood, the Yonmyonsu River and its Kuunsu River tributary joined together at the terminus of a long peninsula. After the flood, that peninsula had been severed and became an island 1.58 km long and 100 acres in area. The confluence now happens at the southern end of the island instead of the northern point of the former peninsula.

Confluence of the rivers at the end of the peninsula, prior to the flood.

In response to the damage, the authorities used the event to rebuild large parts of the town and to build more modern apartment blocks. The new island was left detached, but work was done to shore up its defenses and rebuild destroyed properties.

The apartments were constructed in two sections of town. Twelve were built in the "downtown" area and on the northern end of town, on the east bank of the river, thirteen other apartment blocks were built. These, along with seventeen other multi-family homes were constructed where a large neighborhood once stood, comprised of scores of small one- and two-family dwellings. 

After the 2016 floods and recovery.

Several other apartments and homes were built up and down the river valley. On top of this, over 10 km of new and repaired flood barriers were built, including around the new island. Unfortunately, when their first major test came only three years later, they failed spectacularly. 

Comparison of the new island (outlined in blue). It was created after the 2016 flood and both rivers now partially join to the south. During the 2020 floods (right side), the island was almost completely covered by water, and debris and silt was left over most of it.

Fast-forward to the 2020 Typhoon Season. In rapid succession, the country got hit by the remains of typhoons Bavi, Maysak, and Haishen. Taking a page out of his grandfather's playbook, Kim Jong Un could be seen traveling the countryside and guiding rebuilding projects. 

Some of the damage to Yonsa included half of the marketplace getting washed away, the railway bridge was broken, the flood barriers built after 2016 were breached in multiple places, and 44 acres of a cooperative farm and forest management facility were flooded. Additionally, some of the apartment buildings constructed after the 2016 flood were close to having been washed away; their lower floors likely needing some repair.

Yonsa's marketplace before and after the 2020 flooding.

While Yonsa was one of the damaged cities, Kim didn't visit. Nonetheless, clean-up and rebuilding efforts began almost immediately.

On the Oct. 27, 2020 Google Earth image, four-five dozen family homes can be seen being constructed across the southern riverbank. More work has undoubtedly taken place since then. The question is, will the new work survive any better the next time it floods than before?

The city after the 2020 floods.

One bit of very good news is that despite two large flooding events, the Sinyang Dam 10.2 km upriver, never failed. If it had, the release of its 448-acre reservoir (at least 16.3 million gallons) could have destroyed far more of the town, plus all the small houses that line the riverbanks on the way to Yonsa.


Whether or not any storm or set of storms can be attributed directly to climate change is up for debate. What isn't debatable is that the long-term impact of a changing climate is more extreme and less predictable weather. If the three relatively mild storms (none were greater than Category 1 when they hit the country) can cause so much damage that it disrupts activities going on nationwide, North Korea needs to begin planning for even worse catastrophes in the future. 

In the meantime, Yonsa's small stadium has never been rebuilt.


I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Amanda O., Anders O., GreatPoppo, Joel Parish, John Pike, Kbechs87, Planefag, and Russ Johnson.

--Jacob Bogle, 1/23/2021
AccessDPRK.com
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Saturday, January 2, 2021

AccessDPRK in 2020

This past year has been challenging for just about everyone in one way or another, but thanks to your continued readership and for the support of my Patreon supporters, the AccessDPRK project was able to carry on and have another good year.


Quick Overview

For 2020, I was able to write 24 articles for the project and discuss over 200 analyzed images on Twitter. The AccessDPRK site now has 121 published posts representing 759 pages worth of material. While the blog has been around since 2013, nearly 33% of all traffic to it has been from 2020. Traffic growth from 2019 to 2020 was up 81% as well.

Some social media stats include over 420,000 impressions on Twitter and the addition of 331 new followers. That's three times the number of gained followers in 2019. The project's Facebook page is also slowly growing.

This year's most read article was "North Korea's Underground Navy", closely followed by "Wollo-ri: Much Ado About Something". The article on underground naval facilities also caught the attention of media and was discussed in the International Business Times, Radio Free Asia, and others.

I was also able to make my contributing debuts to 38 North, Asia Times, and National Interest this year. 

Lastly, for the third year in a row, RAND Corp. used information from this project to help create one of their reports. For 2020, it was North Korean Conventional Artillery: A Means to Retaliate, Coerce, Deter, or Terrorize Populations


AccessDPRK 2021 Map

The biggest thing to happen since 2017 was that I completed the mapping process for the upcoming 2021 map. The map will be published in two versions, a Free version and a Pro version.

Over 400 ancient sites located within North Korea are available in the map.

The Free version will have over 60,000 places marked and will be the most comprehensive map of North Korea ever freely released to the general public. 

The Pro version (which will need to be purchased) will have over 1,500 additional sites including detailed maps of North Korea's missile bases and prison camps, hundreds of kilometers of former and new railway, suspected military bases, and more. There will also be a lot of added information throughout the file. I want it to serve as a kind of "one-stop shop" for English-language information relating to North Korea.

To accomplish this, there will be scores of links to relevant information from reputable think tanks, news organizations, NGOs, and others. Part of that task will also be the addition of links from AccessDPRK articles in the various placemarks. For example, the marker for KPA Farm No. 1116 will have a link to the AccessDPRK article about the farm, simplifying research. The same will be done for every mapped site that I have written about.

Related information from CSIS, Arms Control Wonk, 38 North, NK News, CNN, etc. will all be included where necessary. 

The Pro version will also have construction dates and other details added to well over a thousand other sites. Cell towers, dams, military bases, new housing developments, mines, etc. will have these extra bits of information when and where I can find them.

I am still considering pricing for the Pro version. I want to make it as accessible as possible, so I may offer the full version but also allow people to purchase item categories themselves. There are over 80 specific types of places mapped. If someone is only interested in the country's electrical grid, then it makes sense to let them purchase those individual files instead of having to buy the entire KMZ map.

I have some extra work left to do to split up the two versions, so I am not sure when I will officially publish the maps, but it will be no later than March. I'll make a separate post giving all of the details. 

Finally, I want to mention that Open Nuclear Network reached out to me a few months ago and was able to acquire an early copy of the full map. It's because of their interest that I was able to speed the process up considerably in completing the mapping portion of the project.


Looking to 2021

With the map basically finished and soon the be released, it's time to set new goals.

I already have a few smaller mapping projects in mind that will extend to things like geographic features as well as human structures, but I will mostly be focusing on mining the now completed database for new areas of research and new things to write about. 

There's also dozens of places of interest that I will continue to review, as well as keeping up with any new developments elsewhere in the country and news stories. There will definitely be continued posts on here as well as articles written for other sites.

Additionally, I plan to start branching out from North Korea and begin work on China and Iran. I won't be making giant maps like the one for North Korea, but they will cover various military infrastructure and important economic developments. While creating the DPRK map was largely a personal project of mine, I would be happy to work with others already working on Chinese and Iranian matters.

I can announce that the biggest single project for the foreseeable future will be: working on a book! I plan to take much of 2021 to research the book and do some initial work on it. That'll mean needing to buy lots of books, access journals, and digging into various archives. I've had the idea for a book for a few years, but I wanted to finish the primary mapping work before beginning the book work. 

I am going to keep the topic a little secret for now, but I will say that it is often brought up when writing about North Korea, but rarely do people go into detail about something that touches on so many aspects of the country.


Patreon

I set up a Patreon account in 2020 and have gained some great supporters. Currently, you can help support the project for $3, $5, $10, $15, and $20 monthly, each coming with their own rewards.

I am constantly thinking about new rewards to add, one of them being that I am working on a kind of virtual tour of the country. But you can already get early access to new articles, monthly digests, you can have me analyze places you're interested in, and get access to exclusive datasets. Plus, blog and Twitter mentions for any support at $3 or more.

If you believe in sharing facts-based information with the public about all aspects of North Korea (defense, culture, economy) as well as China and Iran (upcoming), please think about helping out. Every dollar really does help make this possible. 

With that, I want to give a huge THANK YOU to my current Patreon supporters: Amanda O., Anders O., GreatPoppo, Joel Parish, John Pike, Kbechs87, Planefag, Russ Johnson, and ZS.

And I want to wish everyone a wonderful upcoming year.  


--Jacob Bogle, 1/2/2021
AccessDPRK.com
JacobBogle.com
Facebook.com/accessdprk
Twitter.com/JacobBogle

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Ever-Changing DMZ

The Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas is a bit of a misnomer. The super thin strip of land 4 km wide was created as part of the 1953 Armistice and aimed to keep both militaries apart and to create a safe, clear buffer zone. However, immediately on either side of the DMZ lies the bulk of both nation's armies.

"The Frontline". Image taken in 2012 by the Republic of Korea Armed Forces. Image source: Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

And while the United Nations' stipulated boundary (on paper) hasn't really changed over the years, the physical boundary itself has (as defined as the fences both sides use). Indeed, the path of the electric fence that runs for 250 km across the peninsula has changed more than once, and the small guard huts are constantly being built, torn down, relocated, and then moved again. 

The effective border between the two countries is a line drawn in the center of the DMZ called the Military Demarcation Line. On each side of that is a narrow "no-man's land", penned in by the inner row of fences, and then a second line of fencing about half a kilometer from the first. This is supposed to create the 4 km-wide demilitarized zone, roughly 2 km on the north side of the MDL and 2 km on the southern side. However, the actual real-world width can vary considerably as both sides have tried to take advantage of the hilly terrain. In some places from the second line fence in North Korea to the second line fence in South Korea, the distance is 3.5 km, while in other spots it's nearly 6 km. 

Fences of the DMZ. The central yellow line is the Military Demarcation Line. The "practical" DMZ is bounded by the northernmost and southernmost fences. (South Korean fence paths, in pink, kindly provided by Javier Rives.)

This variation in the "practical" DMZ has led me to use a line that's roughly 4 km from the MDL to serve as the DMZ zone of immediacy. This isn't the 4 km of official DMZ width, but 4 km starting at the MDL and moving north into North Korea. 

The zone of immediacy not only includes the truly demilitarized no-man's land, but also the rows of guard towers (which are manned by soldiers), and numerous artillery and other military positions that form the country's first line of defense as a clearly connected set of military sites that stand apart from other defensive lines farther inland. It is within the DMZ-proper and the zone of immediacy that this article covers.


CHANGES TO DMZ FENCES

While the demarcation line doesn't change and the official layout of the DMZ doesn't either, the practical boundaries are created by two rows of electrified fences. The fences are guarded by hundreds of observation posts and even have machine gun nests constructed along the entire length of the DMZ; roughly one every 60-100 meters. Of course, those positions aren't manned and would only be used during a conflict.

Over the decades, the fence positions have been modified to take better advantage of the terrain and to allow for the best defensive posture while needing the fewest resources. One of the most recent examples of this is a 660-meter stretch at 38.065069° 126.847214°. It was built in late 2018-early 2019 and adjusts the fence's path slightly to the north. The original anti-tank ditch still exists but the old fence has been removed.


An example of a planned change that was never carried out can be found at 38.355133° 127.592494°. Sometime prior to 2007, the regime cleared a path 1.3 km long and ~12 meters wide along a hillside. They also dug machine gun emplacements. However, they never completed the new fence, and today the original fence remains while the 2007 path and emplacements sit largely unused; although, it does appear to have been kept clear of new brush growth.


One of the largest changes in recent years actually lies at the end of the official DMZ and at the beginning of the Northern Limit Line, the maritime boundary between the two countries. The DMZ itself ends south of Kaesong, as the Han River and its estuary form a natural boundary. But both sides have those coastlines heavily fortified as well, and the double line fencing system carries on for another 53 km, until it reaches the Ryesong River. 

That fencing originally ended at a pier on the river at 37.925110° 126.393169°. Around 2013, however, the regime extended one line of fencing up the river for a further 3.4 km. It now ends at a small mining village located at 37.952588° 126.392990°. The rest of the country's coast is fenced off as part of an anti-migration barrier.


CHANGES TO OBSERVATION POSTS

Cropped photo of North Korean DMZ guard post as seen from a South Korean post. Image: AP/Ahn Young-joon.

In 2018, North and South Korea demolished ten guard posts each on their respective sides of the DMZ as a show of good faith during a period of diplomacy. This was the first time such an action had been taken and it was met with widespread international praise. 

Unfortunately, as has happened for decades, each time the two sides try to work together, the diplomatic efforts quickly wane and grand schemes for cooperation and peace fade as new cycles of provocation begins again. 

While the destruction of the posts may have been the most public demonstration of guard posts changing (either being removed or built), it happens fairly regularly as part of routine DMZ "maintenance," as each side finds better spots to place new posts, removes redundant ones, etc.

In the 2021 version of the AccessDPRK map, I was able to locate 544 stand-alone observation posts along the DPRK side of the DMZ. These small positions are usually manned by 2-3 soldiers, keeping an eye out for any unusual activity coming from the other side and to stay alert for any North Korean soldiers attempting to cross and defect. At least 18 new posts have been constructed since 2015, including at least four that were constructed during or after the joint demolition of guard posts in 2018.

Examples of this newer construction is a guard post that was built in 2018 at 38.344391° 127.593518° and one that was built in 2019 at 38.323211° 127.461832° (pictured below).


HARDENED ARTILLERY SITES (HARTS)

By some estimates, North Korea keeps 60% of its artillery deployed within 100 km of the DMZ. But over the years, the disposition of that artillery has changed. Their deployments, types, and numbers have all varied over time. Of particular concern is their hardened artillery sites (HARTS). 

These medium and long-range artillery positions are very often hidden behind hills or are otherwise obscured from direct line-of-sight (known as defilade) and can hold some of North Korea's largest artillery systems, including self-propelled guns and multiple rocket launchers (MLRs). 

Within 100 km of the DMZ are at least 608 identified HARTS locations, each with multiple artillery pieces. (This figure agrees with the higher end estimates noted in public sources). Between 2009 and 2017, 126 new locations were constructed, representing 20.7% of all HARTS in the region. 

Almost all of these new sites are within 10 km of the Military Demarcation Line and several are within the zone of immediacy. 

Map of new HARTS positions (2009-2017).

Roughly constructed in 9-10 groups, these HARTS were built to hold self-propelled artillery like the Koksan and 122 mm, 130 mm, and 152 mm systems. One of the most talked about weapons is the Koksan (M-1978) 170mm self-propelled gun. These have a maximum firing range of 60 km. 

The group of positions to the far west of the image are predominately MLRs constructed after the 2010 bombardment of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. They are large enough to accommodate the North Korean variant of the Soviet 122 mm BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher, which were suspected to have been used during the bombardment.

The rest of the new HARTS sites appear to be for other towed and self-propelled artillery systems.


The above image shows five individual gun emplacements constructed together as part of a single battery. There are a total of three batteries in the immediate area. These three batteries hold 16 guns combined. Fired in a volley, they could launch as many as 560 rounds every five minutes.

You can also notice that they were built as close to the DMZ as feasible to maximize the amount of effective range within South Korean territory. Other HARTS have been constructed farther inland over the decades to serve as a second-line defense in the event of an invasion. These, however, are very much intended as offensive positions to threaten Seoul and ROK soldiers stationed along the DMZ.


According to RAND Corp., a single barrage along the entire length of the DMZ of all artillery pieces (not just the newest HARTS batteries) could fire as many as 385,000 rounds in an hour and kill over 205,000 people.

Due to the overlapping nature of each artillery piece, the following map shows the areas held most at risk by the greatest number of new guns, with some areas being within range of over 30 distinct batteries (each with 4-6 individual artillery pieces).

This map shows the areas under threat from the highest number of new HARTS. The black wedge is also under great threat but lies at the far-end of the artillery's range, meaning fewer shells would likely reach the spot than those in yellow due to the high failure rate of North Korean artillery shells.

Downtown Seoul is in range of at least 30 new batteries but the area just to the north is within range of 47, which is why most of Seoul is not highlighted on the density map.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Other changes occur within and around the DMZ as well, though not necessarily as important as the ones described above. Many places within the DMZ (on both Northern and Southern sides) are routinely burnt to get rid of underbrush and create optimal observation conditions. What environmental impact this burning has on what has become an "accidental wildlife paradise", is little known. This also leads to increase erosion and will speed up the natural change in topography over time.

What began with the intention of being a temporary border has turned into a permanent feature of Korean division that has spanned three generations. The DMZ and the area around it have shaped the lives and destinies of millions and has become a sort of distant backdrop on which their lives play out, but it is certainly not a static feature. Lives are still lost and hopes are raised on this backdrop, but for as long as the peninsula is divided, it will stubbornly remain a symbol and a threat; one that can drastically change with the ebbs and flows of inter-Korean relations.


I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Amanda O., Anders O., GreatPoppo, John Pike, Kbechs87, Planefag, and Russ Johnson.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/17/2020
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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Tanchon Hydroelectric Project Update

The Tanchon Hydroelectric Project is the largest hydroelectric project in North Korean history in terms of its complexity. Using a system of tunnels running for 60 km, it takes water from the Hochon River in Ryanggang Province (drawing from the Samsu Reservoir) and redirects it to the Tanchon hydroelectric generating stations in the small village of Sinhung, S. Hamgyong Province. Once completed, it will be the fulfillment of nearly a century of planning. 

Construction of the enormous project began in 2017 and continued through 2018, but work began to slow down in 2019 and that has carried on this year, particularly at the generating stations, as this update reveals.  

Tunneling work, on the other hand, appears to have made substantial progress.

Near the end of 2018, you can clearly see one of the over sixty access points to the main water tunnel, where small sections of the tunnel are excavation.

Almost exactly two years later, that one pile has become two very large piles.

The two piles cover a total of over 6,400 sq. meters. While not every access point has piles as large, they have all grown substantially, giving evidence to the size of the main water tunnel. 

Part of the project is the Sinhung Dam, located less than 2 km from the generating site. 


By Sept. 2019, the dam had two levels constructed. By Oct. 2020, only one full new level (level 3) had been built. Parts of a fourth level, one section on each end of the dam, had also been built, but the dam is still not complete despite it being of relatively moderate size.


In June 2020, Pyongyang Times reported that construction of the two generating stations was being "pushed dramatically" and that key parts of the project were entering their "final stages".  However, the last mention of the project occurred in August and only mentioned that new housing units had been constructed - something that can be verified by satellite imagery.


Taking a look at Power Station No. 1, the largest of the two generating stations being built at this site, not only can one see very little new progress since 38 North's review, but there has actually been little progress since 2018.


In 2018, only 100 meters worth of stanchions had been built and the generating hall was incomplete. 


By Oct. 20, 2020 there hasn't been much new progress. The generating hall is still incomplete, although the roof of a small section has been added. Additionally, a retaining wall to the right of the generating hall was built. No new work on the stanchions can be seen.

Looking at Power Station No. 6, there has been a lot of progress since 2018 (when almost nothing existed), but little else new can be seen since Sept. 2019.

One of the most obvious changes is the addition of a roof over the generating hall. The outward appearance of Power Station No. 6 suggests that it is completed. However, it is unknown if the turbines and other equipment have been installed. Although, depending on their size, the turbines may indeed have been installed prior to the rood addition, and the power station could be ready to become operational.

Until Power Station No. 1 is completed, the Tanchon project won't be able to produce but a fraction of its planned capacity. The slight progress made in the last year could be due to several factors.

The year 2020 has been especially difficult for North Korea's economy, and they were forced to limit the number of projects of national importance from 15 down to just 5. The economic and trade effects of COVID-19 have become more pronounced, and it is likely that the virus has indeed entered the country. On top of that, three typhoons hit North Korea and caused severe flooding across the country, and exchange rates between the DPRK won and US dollar have fallen. 

It's possible that the project will receive some added assistance as part of the flood recovery efforts in the region, but it is just as likely that it won't be completed for another year as other major projects (the Pyongyang General Hospital and the Wonsan resort area) have also blown passed their planned completion deadlines and are still under construction.


I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Amanda O., Anders O., GreatPoppo, John Pike, Kbechs87, Planefag, and Russ Johnson.

--Jacob Bogle, 11/21/2020
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Thursday, October 15, 2020

North Korea's Airborne Training Sites

Similar to the parachute jump towers in North Korea, this image of one at Fort Benning, USA provides up-close detail. | Image: U.S. Army, 2013.

North Korea's air force is aging as is much of their military equipment. At the same time, North Korea has been making up for these deficiencies by increasing training and readiness, particularly for their special operations forces. According to US Army Operations Officer Samuel Allmond, "North Korean airborne [special operations forces] are elite, highly trained, highly skilled and highly adaptable light-infantry oriented forces," and are trained "for both medium altitude and low-altitude jumps behind enemy lines."

Parachutist training first began in North Korea in the early 1960s and by 1968 there were at least two known airborne units. From then until the death of Kim Jong Il, training centers had been established in Koksan, Pyongyang (Songsin District), Sangwon, Taetan, Taechon, and Unsan. 

Under Kim Jong Un, four new ones have been constructed and three of the older facilities have undergone new construction and other improvements. 

The new ones are located in Changdo (built in 2014), Pyongsan (built in 2015), Sonchon (built in 2014-2017), and Unsal (built in 2012-2014). The facility at Sonchon was only brought to the public eye in 2020 by Nathan J. Hunt. The previously existing sites that have been upgraded are at Taetan, Taechon, and Unsan.


Map of North Korea's parachutist training centers. | Image: Jacob Bogle

Today, these ten facilities aid in training the seven known paratrooper units in the country. Four units are part of the Korean People's Army and three brigades are under the KPA Air Force.

Army
26th Air Landing Brigade
38th Air Landing Brigade
45th Air Landing Brigade
525th Special Operations Battalion

Air Force
11th Airborne Snipers Brigade
16th Airborne Snipers Brigade
21st Airborne Snipers Brigade

According to Joseph P. Bermudez' 2001 book Shield of the Great Leader: the armed forces of North Korea, within the various special forces units there are three airborne brigades, three air force sniper brigades, and five other sniper brigades that may or may not take part in parachute training. The six airborne and air force brigades he mentions total 21,000 personnel.  

Whether the addition of new training sites under Kim Jong Un reflects the creation of new military units, the transfer of personnel from non-airborne units to existing airborne units, to aid in training other related and auxiliary troops, or simply a desire to improve overall training capacity, I don't know.

What is clear, however, is that North Korea is placing a great deal of importance on both their special operations forces in general and specifically on airborne (be they special forces or not). 

Some of the training facilities are very near airbases while others are not. This could reflect which ones are attached to the KPA Air Force and which ones are Army. 

I also want to stress that airborne forces are only one prong of North Korea's elite and special forces. As well as being delivered by air, they can infiltrate South Korean targets by hovercraft, submarine, other landing craft, and even tunnels. 

Changdo (38.650° 127.745°)


Changdo is located in Kangwon Province, about 36 km from the DMZ. It is a large training base surrounded by mountains and has existed for decades. However, in 2014 a "jump tower" was added to go along with numerous firearms ranges. Additionally, from 2012 to 2019, twenty-two new barracks buildings were constructed, and other changes were made to the base as well.  

In keeping with the upgrades of North Korea's nuclear and conventional forces, an apparent urban warfare training site (or MOUT, military operations on urban terrain) was built in 2019 in the southeast of the base. Presently, the whole base covers over 5.6 sq. km.


Traditionally, these towers are between 11 and 61 meters in height. The smaller ones are basically used for someone to jump off of a raised structure while strapped to a harness to experience the sensation of a jump, while the taller ones are high enough for a parachute to expand and are used by troopers during the last portion of their training before jumping out of a real aircraft.

I haven't been able to positively identify any of the smallest towers or other structures like the lateral drift apparatus. I have come across a few examples that may be them, but I am not certain. As such, I will only be pointing out the larger towers.


Koksan (38.658° 126.666°)


The Koksan training base is located in an area with multiple runways of varying types. The most important is Koksan Airbase 6 km to the west of the training base. There is also the Chik-tong Airfield, an auxiliary runway adjacent to Koksan AB, two additional airfields, and two emergency highway strips

Only the Koksan AB has a paved runway, the rest are simply grass fields or compacted dirt (such as the highway airstrips). While these other landing strips aren't meant for regular fighter jet use, they can all accommodate the country's large fleet of An-2 biplanes. These Soviet-built planes can fly low, have a small radar cross-section, and are a keystone for North Korea's special forces.

The idea behind having these antiquated planes is to allow reconnaissance and to infiltrate behind enemy lines during the opening stages of a new war. 

"During the dark of night, as part of the opening throws of a battle royale between South Korea, the U.S. and North Korea, hundreds of these old radial engine biplanes will fly low over the ground at slow speed, penetrating deep into South Korean airspace. For the vast majority of their crews it will be a one-way mission—to deliver Kim Jong Un's hardest shock troops deep behind enemy lines. This is done via low altitude air drop, as seen above, or by landing in short stretches of fields or roadways." -- Tyler Rogoway, The Drive

The Koksan training base's proximity to all of these runways makes a lot of sense regarding training parachutists to operate on a wide range of landing sites and terrains (as the area has low-lying mountains, open agricultural plains, and even small reservoirs that could assist in training for water landings).

A closeup of the jump tower. Its lattice structure can clearly be seen and the three arms from which recruits are dropped to the ground (landing zones) are also visible. 

In contrast to the concrete tower at Changdo, Koksan's tower is a steel lattice tower, like the one pictured at Fort Benning. Only one of the newly built towers is also a steel lattice. The rest are concrete. This reflects a trend to either build concrete towers or to modify the older steel towers (as was the case with Taetan and Unsan).


Pyongsan (38.400° 126.373°)


Similar to Changdo, the tower at Pyongsan lies within an older (and large) training facility. The concrete tower was constructed in 2015 and it is within a section of the base that includes water obstacles and an urban warfare training site (MOUT). 

The whole base occupies approximately 10.2 sq. km. and has a substantial administrative section, a driver training section, and apparent economic facilities (like farming and making agricultural products). 

The military is heavily involved in the country's economy and, in effect, creates its own parallel economy to the national one. So it is not unusual for large bases to be involved in either farming or manufacturing with intent to sell their products overseas to earn hard currency for the regime. And nearly every military site, large and small, has converted some of their land into farms to help feed the people stationed there.  

The nearest major airbase to Pyongsan is Nuchon-ni, some 29 km to the southwest. That, the fact that there is a MOUT facility within the base, and the driver training area all lead me to suspect that this is one of the Army's facilities and not the Air Force. If it is within the Army, it would be subordinate to KPA IV Corps which has responsibility for the western half of North Hwanghae Province and South Hwanghae Province.

Pyongyang-Songsin (39.001° 125.815°)


The site in Pyongyang is unique because it is located in an urban area. Two km away from the former Mirim Airfield and 6 km away from Kim Il Sung Square, the tower is located within a small training facility that occupies only 11.8 hectares. 

Unfortunately, I know very little about this base. Is it for training special forces? Is it part of the capital's defense corps? Perhaps it is used to train members of the Supreme Guard Command, the 200,000-man strong bodyguard force that protects the Kim family? I just don't know.

Very little has changed at the base since 2000 (the earliest available image on Google Earth) but it has been well maintained, suggesting that it has been in continual use. 


Sangwon (38.903° 125.967°)


Sangwon, in a small town within the larger Pyongyang region, is predominantly for jump training, although there are some smaller components to the base. Being within Pyongyang, it is surrounded by numerous other military bases including three other training facilities within 2.5 km of the airborne facility.

It is likely that Sangwon falls under the Army, and potentially the 38th Air Landing Brigade which is based in Pyongyang. Pyongyang is defended by a complex network of forces. The Supreme Guard Command, while tasked with keeping the Kim family and palaces safe, also coordinates with the Pyongyang Defense Command, III Corps, the Pyongyang Air Defense Command (as part of the Air Force), and the various internal police agencies. In all, this provides up to 350,000 soldiers and police stationed in and around the capital (many of the Supreme Guard's 200,000 men are not within Pyongyang, perhaps half are stationed across the country at various palaces).

Sangwon covers approximately 1.98 sq. km. The tower is concrete, and the facility has not undergone any substantial upgrades since at least 2006.

An interesting note is that Sangwon is less than 5 km away from a replica of the Blue House (South Korea's presidential residence) which was constructed in 2016, and was the site of a training exercise involving both paratroopers and other special operations forces storming the mock residence.  


Sonchon (39.823° 124.918°)


Sonchon was constructed sometime between 2014 and 2017 (there's a gap in images for the intervening years) and is a traditional steel lattice tower, but unlike most of the others, it only has two drop arms instead of three. If it is part of the Air Force, it would likely be under the 1st Air Combat Command headquartered at Kaechon. In the event it is Army, it would be controlled by VIII Corps. 

As mentioned earlier, this site was first brought to the public's attention (as far as I am aware) by Nathan Hunt in July 2020. One reason for why it may have gone largely unnoticed is that it is neither part of a major training base nor is it close to a major airbase (the closet being Panghyon in Kusong, 26 km to the northeast). However, it is also 20 km from Kwaksan AB. Kwaksan is a secondary air base, but it does have a wing of between 50-60 An-2s stationed there.

Although the training base is small and fairly nondescript at first glance, it happens to contain an underground facility (UGF), which makes the addition of a jump tower curious as they are seemingly unrelated structures.

The Sonchon underground facility doesn't appear to be part of manufacturing, so it's likely storage. Over the years some minor changes have been made to the site but this image from 2010 most clearly shows the berms and entrances.


Taetan (38.159° 125.222°)


Named after the Taetan Airbase (aka T'aet'an-pihaengjang Airbase) that is just 3.3 km away across a range of hills, Taetan is one of the older training bases that has undergone recent upgrades.

In 2015 the steel tower was clad in either steel sheeting or wood to cover up the lattice structure, and in 2019 a row of six jets was added (likely non-functional planes to aid in training and getting recruits familiar with the equipment). Additionally, several buildings were being constructed across the parade ground.

The base covers approximately 3.5 sq. km and is divided into the airborne training section and the administrative/barracks section to the right of the airborne side.

The semi-circular area around the tower is 110 meters in diameter. From the tower to the small "landing zones" where recruits drop is roughly 15 meters (the drop arms also extend 15 meters from the main tower structure).

Taetan may be closest to the Taetan AB but it is also the only jump tower in South Hwanghae Province which is under the KPA IV Corps and the KPA Air Force 3rd Air Combat Command. These top-level commands oversee the whole province (and other areas). Within the province are six additional airfields, some host fighter jets and others are only for smaller craft like the An-2. Any necessary training for personnel at the other airfields would likely be sent to Taetan.


Taechon (39.864° 125.498°)


Taechon's steel lattice tower is a mere 4 km south of the Taechon Airbase which serves as the headquarters for the 5th Air Transport Division. It's a very small base but in 2018-2019, over two dozen buildings were constructed. It is also only 2.3 km away from a large military complex that has its own conventional training course.

At the larger base, historic imagery reveals various aircraft and helicopters, as well as tanks and other equipment. This suggests that the complex has both training/educational purposes and a maintenance role. There are also two underground sites within the complex. 

Given the airborne training base's proximity and the larger base's involvement with aircraft, it's hard to ignore the likelihood of the two places being connected.



Unsal (40.009° 125.879°)


The concrete jump tower was built sometime between 2012 and 2014 next to the largest urban warfare training center in North Korea. The whole base covers approximately 2.75 sq. km and there are other military sites nearby.

As we see again, there is an airborne site and urban warfare site being placed together. In all, four airborne training bases have obvious MOUT training facilities as well.

The purpose of the North Korean parachutist is to infiltrate and conduct operations behind the lines. They "pertain to creating total havoc deep inside South Korean territory. This includes attacking key infrastructure and military installations, and generally sowing massive terror among the already frightened South Korean populace," making their positioning within MOUT facilities a logical step.


The addition of the jump tower ca. 2014 isn't the only thing that has changed at Unsal. Around the same time, a small addition to the training grounds was added, and between 2017 and 2019 the administrative area of the base was modernized and several of the MOUT structures were demolished and replaced with apparent barracks.


Unsan (39.365° 126.052°)


As with the Taetan tower, the one in Unsan also had its lattice partially clad in either wood or steel in 2015. The landing area around the tower has a diameter of about 70 meters.

It is surrounded by numerous other training areas including shooting ranges, an equipment familiarization site (labeled "aircraft row" in the image), and it is located in between two larger military facilities. Given that all of the sites are directly connect via road (and without any security gates between them), I think it is actually one single large base approximately 4 sq. km in size.

Unsan is 14 km away from the important Sunchon and Pukchang airbases. It is also very close to an unusual defense complex. The complex has a variety of buildings with different purposes as well as equipment bunkers, possible educational buildings, and its own training grounds. 

I have asked several people about the complex and no one has been able to offer a definitive identification. However, most suspect that it is either a military academy or a research and development facility. The complex and airborne training center are also connected via road.




Conclusion

The sheer number of these facilities, their association with special forces facilities, and the fact that the regime has been willing to spend new resources on their capabilities and capacities means that North Korea's airborne troops and special operations forces will continue to pose a threat to the peninsula, and will be high on the list of forces to counter during any war.

Just because their facilities and equipment seem antiquated, doesn't mean they are without teeth. Wooden biplanes can fly low, evade most radars and surface-to-air missile systems in the region, and deploy highly motivated and trained troops to any point in South Korea. The An-2 fleet doesn't require major airfields, and in fact, can take off from any compacted dirt surface that has a straight run of 487 meters, turning plenty of highways into makeshift runways. (For comparison, fighter jets can require 2,500 meters or more of runway length.)

North Korea has a history of using their special forces in all four domains (land, air, sea, and cyber) to conduct operations against South Korea including assassination attempts and sinking ROK vessels.
Having robust airborne and special operations forces will enable the North to inflict significant damage during the opening stages of a war and enable them to continually harass the military and people of South Korea even in times of "peace".

North Korea has never been one to hide their true intentions. Be it with ballistic missiles, nuclear warheads, new submarines, or matters with their conventional forces, the country always broadcasts what their goals are.

In previous military parades, questions were raised about how "real" various weapon systems were to "just how the hell did they acquire them?" Were they real missiles or just bits of metal welded together to make for a good show? Did they build them domestically or do some creative engineering of foreign equipment?

Even with the most recent parade, questions surround the massive new ICBM and its transporter vehicle. Other questions were asked about the new battle tank displayed.

But each time questions are raised, the world ends up seeing fully functional systems within a year or two, not simply parade models. We see activities happening at the Sinpo submarine yard almost monthly, and after nearly a year of waiting, we received our first look at North Korea's new "strategic weapon" (now being called the Hwasong-16 ICBM).

The same must be said for the country's conventional forces. They broadcast what they're doing.

We should keep in mind that these additions to the country's arsenal have all happened in less than a decade under Kim Jong Un, and that 40% of the airborne training sites established throughout the country were done under Kim Jong Un. Many other military changes and developments have occurred, and others are being developed as I write this.

With these additions, the regime is talking. Are we listening?



I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Amanda O., Anders O., GreatPoppo, John Pike, Kbechs87, Planefag, and Russ Johnson.

--Jacob Bogle, 10/15/2020