The majority of the artillery near the North Korean capital may be inoperable, Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) revealed Monday, citing unverified North Korean documents.
“More than 75 percent of artillery and war-fighting instruments deployed after a combat readiness inspection by the Korean People’s Army (KPA) General Staff was harshly criticized for getting rusty and being stained,” the leaked documents reportedly read.
The report also mentioned corruption in the KPA. For example, a commander operating near Pyongyang supposedly stole 400 kilograms of rice, sparking a hunger strike among the soldiers.
The leaked documents span a three-year period from 2010 to 2013 and allegedly came from sources in the North Korean military; the South Korean military has yet to verify the authenticity of the documents.
“We need to further examine the documents,” Jeon Ha-gyu, the head of public affairs for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Tuesday.
“It is believed that the KPA suffers from shortcomings of supplies and logistics, so the claim has some plausibility,” Joshua Pollack, the editor of Nonproliferation Review, told NK News. “On the other hand, artillery seems to be the part of the ground forces that has received the greatest attention in modernization programs,” he added. Pollack told reporters that the validity of the documents is “hard to assess.” They could potentially be fakes “designed to embarrass the KPA.”
A South Korean military expert reportedly dismissed the documents as “meaningless,” noting that the authenticity of the documents is irrelevant given Pyongyang’s asymmetric focus on nuclear weaponry.
More importantly though, the artillery stationed near Pyongyang does not have the range to hit South Korean targets. The artillery units are small in number and less important than the anti-aircraft weaponry and missile defense systems put in place to prevent Pyongyang from being bombed.
North Korea’s has at least 20,000 artillery units, including Multiple Rocket Launchers (MRL), self-propelled artillery, and mortars, says a 2012 report from the Nautilus Group. Over the years, the North’s collection of artillery is likely to have grown in quality and quantity. Many of North Korea’s front-line artillery units have publicly demonstrated their ability to engage the enemy in combat.
So, even if Pyongyang’s artillery units are unsuitable for combat, the military units that matter are still very much prepared for war. The Korean War concluded with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, and North Korea’s illegitimate status in the international community makes it very insecure and defensive. It is unlikely that North Korea would allow critical military units to become inoperable.
“It doesn’t make any sense that the North Korean military doesn’t maintain its artillery,” a senior South Korean defense researcher told NK News. “Weapons may not be cared for and repaired due to economic difficulties, but we can’t say it’s inoperable.”
MBC’s report on North Korean artillery highlights the difficulties in determining North Korea’s true offensive and defensive capabilities.
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