North Korea’s nuclear weapons development is blazing ahead, but series of reports from North Korea suggest that its conventional forces are decaying, ill-disciplined, and even underfunded.
First, a Hainan Class submarine chaser and a patrol boat sank in separate incidents off the coast of Wonsan (or, maybe the two ships collided; hey, it’s North Korea — who knows?). North Korea admits the loss of the 60s-vintage sub chaser. The North hasn’t given a casualty count, but showed Kim Jong un laying flowers at a collection of 15-20 graves. South Korea said that “scores” of North Korean sailors died in the incident.
[Hainan Class sub chaser of the Bangladeshi Navy]
Second, the Chosun Ilbo passes on reports of mysterious fires at an arms factory in North Pyongan Province, and aboard a train carrying military goods through Ryanggang Province. The report raises the possibility of sabotage, or an attack against the regime, but the two locations are far from each other, making it less likely (though not impossible) that the incidents were coordinated. No basis is offered to support this theory.
Third, a report from a South Korean think tank claim that corruption is rampant in the North Korean military, with soldiers even willing to sell state secrets or, for a fee of $40 to $60, carry refugees out of the country. Reports of corruption in the North Korean military certainly aren’t new. The North Korean military periodically cycles units out of border areas after soldiers get too cozy with smugglers. I wonder if this means we’ll see a rebound in defections after last year’s decline due to the border crackdown.
The fourth, and most dubious, set of reports (sourced to the Syrian opposition) claims that North Korean pilots are in Syria, flying helicopters for Assad. Syria may be the most dangerous place in the world to fly a helicopter today:
Still, I’ve learned over the years that nothing is beyond the North Koreans, no matter how illogical it may seem to us.
North Korea historically spends lavishly on showpiece military projects and acquisitions, even if it often seems to skimp on basics like food, pay, fuel, spare parts, and training.