Sunday, March 13, 2016

Urban Combat Training Centers

North Korea has one of the largest conventional standing armies in the world, but much of its equipment is outdated and would be woefully inadequate against a direct force-to-force conflict with South Korea and the US. However, its 1.2 million person military isn't just made up of regular soldiers.

Outside of the nuclear threat, the one area that has many military analysts concerned, is North Korea's asymmetric warfare capability. The country's Special Operations Force has around 180,000 troops that are highly trained, motivated, and specialize in infiltration, terrorism, urban combat, and other methods. There are four main urban combat training centers (Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain) in North Korea, with an alleged fifth underground site somewhere around Pyongyang. On top of the urban combat sites, there's a further 23 large military training grounds. SOF training lasts 3-6 months and covers a very wide range of tactics.

While the exact date the SOF was formed isn't known, it is clear they've been active since at least the 1960s. Between 1953 and 1999, the DPRK committed over 76,000 transgressions against the 1953 Armistice Treaty. Among those, we know that the SOF was used in the 1968 Blue House raid which was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on South Korea's then president Park Chung-hee and resulted in 30 ROK-US fatalities as well as the suicide of 29 of the North Korean operatives. There was also the 1983 Rangoon bombing in Burma (another assassination attempt) that resulted in 67 casualties.

Here's the coordinates to the four training centers:
N. Hamgyong Province:  38°24'2.01"N   126°22'14.29"E
N. Pyongan Province:  40° 0'46.89"N   125°53'8.94"E
Pyongyang-Kangdong: 39° 4'50.13"N   126° 5'33.99"E
Pyongyang South:  38°58'1.08"N   126° 6'20.62"E

The largest of the urban combat centers is located 16 miles north-east of the Yongbyon nuclear site in North Pyongan Province at Unsal. It has a full-scale downtown mock-up that's half a mile wide on each side.

Here's a section of the "town" with the buildings arranged in rectangles.

Pyongyang has two known urban warfare centers. Both of them are to the far east of the city center and are 8 miles apart (nearly in a straight north-south line). The southern base has buildings of a slightly more modern design, while the northern one is more traditional.

The southern site:

The northern one is near the town of Kangdong, Pyongyang, known as Soe-gol.

There is also an alleged site in Pyongyang which is mentioned in Bradley Martin's book "Under the Care of the Fatherly Leader", and is described by defector Ahn Myung-jin as being underground near the country's primary espionage training complex and is supposedly dedicated to training spies and other special forces to infiltrate & attack Seoul. It has 8 kilometers of tunnels and is an exact small-scale replica, outfitted with operational stores, residences, government buildings, and even allows them to "buy" things in the stores so they can get used to the way of life in South Korea - before attempting to destroy the city. There are many underground facilities and tunnels in Pyongyang, but I haven't been able to find likely locations for such a compound.

For a bit of international context, here is an urban combat facility in Fort Bragg, NC USA.

For some more information on North Korea's Special Operations Force, you can read the report "Countering North Korean Special Purpose Forces" by Australia's Air Command and Staff College. (PDF link)

There's also the book "North Korean Special Forces" by Joseph S. Bermudez. (link to Amazon)

--Jacob Bogle, 3/13/2016

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Phase 1 Map Complete!

AccessDPRK Phase I Release

Three and a half years ago I embarked on the ambitious project of mapping the whole of North Korea; a project called "AccessDPRK". I have always had a fascination with authoritarian regimes and for some reason my specific interest in North Korea began to grow a little over three years ago. I also have had a deep love of maps and geography since I was a very young child.

As my interests piqued, I started using Google Earth to look at North Korea. What I found were informative “community placemarks” marking the location of a monument or military site. I looked into who had created those placemarks, which seemed to cover the entire country, and found that they were part of a project called “North Korea Uncovered”. Created over the course of two years (2007-09), by George Mason doctoral candidate Curtis Melvin and a few volunteers, the project created the most comprehensive map of the country to-date. It included thousands of placemarks (approx. 9,000) – monuments, factories, palaces, artillery batteries, ancient tombs, and so much more. There was also another person, a Google Earth user known only as “Planeman_”, who created a map of supposedly all the artillery sites in North Korea.

However, as I explored these large files, I quickly discovered that there were massive holes in the data. While they marked some locations of each general type of item, the resulting creation was far from truly comprehensive. For some reason this offended me (in a lighthearted way), and since I am slightly obsessive and had an inherent interest in the country, I decided to take it upon myself to make the most comprehensive (at its fullest meaning) map of North Korea any private citizen has ever made by going and marking all of the locations not marked in Melvin’s project.

Once completed, I would release the information in the form of a Google Earth file to the public via my website, blog, and the Google Earth Forum. The goal being to expose the entirety of country to the world. To show people not just how the physical infrastructure of the nation is laid out (like power plants), but to also give a glimpse of daily life by having marketplaces, parks, as well as historical locations lost to Western knowledge, and much, much more. After the completion of “Phase I”, I also intend to review Curtis Melvin’s file and make any necessary corrections to it (since it is now six years old) and combine the two projects into a single “master file”. Little did I know what this full endeavor would require.

On Nov. 28, 2015, I finished the initial mapping phase of my project. After three years, over a thousand hours of active mapping work, and delving into thousands of pages worth of material to assist in creating this map, I now have seen every square mile of the country – indeed every home. The resulting Google Earth file is nearly 3 times the size of Melvin’s and contains 28,164 additional placemarks.

The file is divided according to each of North Korea’s primary administrative regions. Each is then further divided into 3 main categories: Military, Monuments, and Domestic. The Military and Domestic categories are subdivided into several sub-categories, such has anti-aircraft artillery sites, military bases, naval sites, and on the domestic side, dams, electrical substations, schools, factories, etc. All told, there are over 50 subcategories. Beyond those province specific folders, there’s are folders exclusively dedicated to the Demilitarized Zone, the country’s airports, historic places, etc.

One reason why this has taken so long is that as I would go around the country, I would find new categories of places that were numerous enough to have a national impact, like irrigation pumping stations and radar sites. So as I would add these new categories, I would have to go back an re-map formerly "completed" areas. 

The ultimate end of this project is not yet known. Like the development of the Internet, I’m not fully aware of the possibilities that can arise once people start mining the data. You could create a comprehensive map of North Korea’s electrical grid, you could discover their current defensive military strategies and find holes in their air defense system, you could work out how their internal security system is integrated across various transportation modes, and I’m sure many other things.

In addition to mapping, I’ve also written dozens of posts for this blog as well as 6 Wikipedia articles which have been read a combined 400,000 times and translated into multiple languages.
My main wish is that this can be used to help the world see that North Koreans are normal human beings who have been held hostage by their government. And that this provides some insight into how that government works to further the work of others in opening up North Korea, and one-day help bring North Korea into the 21st century with a respect for freedom.

Phase II is already underway, and I have marked over 5,000 new places thus far. These include public schools, universities, museums, theaters, town halls, and other "buildings of interest". This is going to take some time to complete, but I'm hoping to have everything (including the "master file") finished and ready to be published by the end of the year, if not sooner. 

Here are a few specific item counts:
Anti-aircraft artillery batteries: 587    Hardened Artillery Sites: 626    Military bases: 938    Monuments: 6,720   Dams: 1,169   Communication towers: 747   Electrical substations: 736
Factories: 470    Marketplaces: 225    Ancient sites: 112

Get the File!

If you want to discuss the project on social media, please use the hashtag #AccessDPRK either on Twitter or Facebook. I welcome comments and suggestions, as well as new information.

To access the Phase I Google Earth file, you can either visit my file archive here and click the download button for "AccessDPRK Phase I_Finish_V1-March-5-2016.kmz" or download it directly by clicking this link. To view the file you must have Google Earth on your computer/device. NOTE: this is a large file (over 28,000 items). For some computers Google Earth might freeze or crash if you try to have every province open at once. Just go through them one by one if you're unsure. 

All Google Earth KMZ files relating to this mapping project are hosted on my Google Site

-- Jacob Bogle, 3/5/2016