North Korean special forces are a critical component of the Korean People’s Army. Within the Korean People’s Army Naval Force, unique sniper brigades exist to carry out specialized missions focused on sabotage and subversion of command and control facilities, reconnaissance, infiltration, and amphibious landings and assaults. As part of a four-part series, this final report provides more details about the development, organization, deployment, and training of North Korean hovercraft units which form part of the Korean People’s Navy (KPN) sniper brigades.
Key among North Korea’s military capabilities are its special operations forces. Embedded within North Korea's special operations forces are two unique navy “sniper” brigades that are subordinate to the Korean People’s Navy. Hovercraft units that operate as part of these brigades have been trained to carry out a more specialized task—amphibious assault landings and infiltration missions.
Satellite imagery analysis shows that North Korea continues to develop its conventional military forces in targeted areas. Construction on a new hovercraft base near Yonbong-ni could indicate a significant escalation of the navy sniper brigade threat to the ROK islands in the West Sea and ports along the coast.
North Korea has one of the largest special operations forces (SOF) in the world with specially trained, elite soldiers numbering close to 200,000. Among these unique special operations forces today are two navy “sniper” brigades.
In July and September 2017, unconfirmed reports circulated about dramatically fluctuating gasoline and diesel prices in North Korea. There were also reports that China was planning to suspend or limit fuel exports to North Korea. Analysis of satellite imagery from around this period indicates that a fuel suspension of any significant length does not appear to have affected Pyongyang.
On November 24, 2017, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters that the Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge will be closed temporarily in the “near future” for repairs. A detailed analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from November 24th shows no activity on the bridge—repair or otherwise.
In October, it was reported that North Korea was secretly operating factories inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex without notifying the South Korean government. Satellite imagery shows that while there may be some token industrial activity occurring, the complex is not operational in any real sense of the term.
Between August 29 and September 1, 2016, Typhoon Lionrock poured a foot of rain onto parts of North Korea causing widespread flooding, the most severe being near the Tumen River.
Heavy rains triggered by Typhoon Lionrock hit the northern part of North Korea in late August. Extensive damage to infrastructure and agricultural fields occurred as a result. Examining satellite imagery is helpful in assessing the extent of flood damage.
Dandong, China, remains the epicenter of cross-border economic transactions between China and North Korea, where regular boat, railway, and road traffic is witnessed.