The North Korean Navy: Coastal but deadly
As the (sad) 65th anniversary of the start of Korean War is today, we have a two-step look at the Navies that were created during and after the conflict. On paper, the ROKN (대한민국 해군) or South Korean Naval Force was created on November 11, 1945, after the partition was agreed by the two invasion forces, allied and Soviet.
The Korean People’s Navy or Chosŏn-inmingun Haegun 조선인민군 해군 (abbreviated in ‘KPN’) was created later, in June 5, 1946, so basically a three quarter of a century ago.
It is still today, like 60 years earlier, a green water navy, coastal by essence, with a massive force of small ships and crafts, FACs and patrol crafts than South Korea, and a sufficient number of submarines to dissuade its southern neighbour for waging war, since it can led a trade war and even blockade the coasts of the peninsula.
Relations with the ROKN has been rocky to say the least. Both countries as everyone knows are still officially at war and despite a recent rapprochement Trump/Kim Jong Un which led to nothing, North Korea has been developing a nuclear program, now entering an operational phase, in which the navy plays a considerable role. As of 2014, so 5 years ago, the defence ministry published a report about the KPN today:
70 submarines, 420 gun boats, 260 amphibious landing craft, 30 mine warfare vessels, and 30 support ships.
In the “gun boats” are listed Frigates and corvettes. The North Korean Navy has been supplied at first by USSR, including during the Korean War, mostly MTBs and gunboats, but after the Sino-Soviet split, the country remained in the orbit of China and her support. Over time and especially in the 1980s, there was a strong military rapprochement with Iran, the two “outcasts” on the international scene. Similar schemes cold bee seen in their navies, towards “modernizations” by preferring low-tech AA guns to SAMs for example. Both put the emphasis on a strong coastal defence, small attack boats, and developed secret boats as well or midget subs, that they shared.
The history of the North Korean Navy is also one of the hottest contested zone of the world at sea, the “Northern Limit Line”. Defined a sa prolongation of the 38° parallel at sea to define exclusion zones prior to international waters, it is going through a serie of Islands revendicated by both sides. Hence a serie of clashes, small scale naval battles, in 1950 already like the Battle of Chumonchin Chan and Haeju, and during the Vietnam war, the USS Pueblo incident. Tensions rose again from 1996 with ongoing incidents nearly every year until 2010 and the sinking of the South Korean Corvette ROKS Cheonan at the hands of a North Korean submarine.