All’s not quiet on the western maritime front

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All’s not quiet on the western maritime front

Four years after the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, a new map of intensified arms deployments has developed on the western maritime border.

Sunday marks the fourth anniversary of the deadly attack, in which two Marines and two civilians of South Korea were killed. The North said it suffered no military casualties from the South’s response, but the South’s military authorities claimed there appeared to be dozens of casualties.

A rare military meeting took place in Wonsan, North Korea, on Aug. 25, 2012, as the Communist regime’s young ruler, Kim Jong-un, summoned top military officials.

According to South Korean intelligence sources, Kim ordered military leaders to be ready by 2013 to fight an all-out war. “Heighten the level of exercises,” Kim was quoted as saying at the meeting. “Modernize weaponry and deploy new arms.”

According to an analysis by Seoul intelligence officials, Kim’s experience of the Yeonpyeong shelling inspired him to beef up the military capabilities. “Kim, who was heir apparent at the time, witnessed the South’s responses to the North’s attack,” said an intelligence official. “He probably realized that an engagement could take place anytime at the western islands.”

Following Kim’s orders, the North developed new missiles and replaced aging 122-millimeter and 240-millimeter multiple rocket launchers with new 300-millimeter ones.

“The upgraded launchers have a longer range with faster launch speeds,” said a military official. “The North can load 12 to 30 launch tubes on a truck and fire 10 to 20 rockets per minute. They are menacing weapons.”

The North also built a base for Murenas, air cushion amphibious assault landing craft from the former Soviet Union, at Goampo, only 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the South’s Baeknyeong Island. With the new base, the North is capable of transporting a large amount of soldiers.

Drones also are frequently used to gather intelligence. Drones have crashed into Paju, northern Gyeonggi, and Baeknyeong Island in March and April, exposing the North’s reconnaissance operations.

Military authorities of the South also said the North has nearly completed covering its artillery positions with concrete roofs. The South also has beefed up its military capabilities near the northwestern islands.

The Northwestern Islands Defense Command was created and weaponry was upgraded. “We deployed AH-1 Cobra helicopters with special fire and water retardant systems so that they can carry out missions in coastal areas,” said a military official. “We can effectively take out the North’s air cushion landing craft and infiltrating soldiers.”

K-9 self-propelled howitzers with a range of more than 40 kilometers, Spike missiles and anti-artillery radar also have been deployed to Yeonpyeong and Baeknyeong islands. The military also deployed two Super Green Pine radar systems capable of monitoring all North Korean territory. “In the northwestern island region, the South’s firepower was relatively weaker than the North’s,” said the military official. “As we stepped up our capabilities, the North beefed up theirs.”


BY JEONG YONG-SOO AND YOO SEONG-WOON [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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