It is quite obvious that in this case, not only the DPRK and South Korea can be on the list of participants in the conflict, but also China, Japan, the United States and even Russia. It is worth noting that the likelihood of a war, and even more so its transition to the regional level of conflict, is not as great as it seems at first glance. Nevertheless, it is possible to consider the forces of the parties to a possible conflict and evaluate their relationship. Of course, such a comparison will not be too objective, since only the real war can best show the balance of forces. However, from a simple comparison one can understand some things.
In the event of war, its first participants, as is clear, will be North and South Korea. The whole situation in the region will depend on their actions. For objective reasons, both countries do not disclose accurate data regarding their armed forces, and the DPRK was the most distinguished in terms of secrecy. The army of this state can be judged only by indirect information coming from several sources. Nevertheless, even with such a shortage of information, it is possible to roughly present the existing picture.
The total number of personnel of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) is approximately 1,2 million people. Most (a little over a million) serve in the ground forces. Regarding the number of reservists complete data are not available. According to various sources, their number ranges from hundreds of thousands to several millions. In addition, it is often mentioned that due to the peculiarities of the mentality, the KPA reserve can be considered almost the entire population of the country, with the exception of the elderly and children. According to the most balanced estimates, if necessary, no more than 4-5 million people can be recruited into the army. It is also worth noting the presence in North Korea of power structures, the total number of employees of which is approximately 185-190 to thousands of people.
In the land parts of the KPA there are at least 3-3,5 thousand tanks various types. Almost all of these vehicles are Soviet armored vehicles or samples of local production created on its basis. The estimated number of lightly armored vehicles for transporting personnel (armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, etc.) is slightly less and does not exceed three thousand units. The qualitative composition of the fleet of this equipment corresponds to the composition of the tank units: in the units there are Soviet and Korean armored vehicles produced over the past few decades.
In the Korean People's Army, artillery is developed in a numerical aspect. The troops number about 20 thousand guns, mortars and combat vehicles of multiple launch rocket systems. Perhaps the most well-known artillery system of the DPRK, is the Koksan self-propelled howitzer of 170 caliber of millimeters with a firing range of about 50-55 kilometers. As is the case with other weapons, North Korean artillery has Soviet "roots." At the same time, if the own Korean developments are present as part of the barrel artillery, then all multiple launch rocket systems are either made in the USSR or made on the basis of Soviet complexes.
KPA also has a well-developed air defense system. To protect objects and troops on the march, the army is equipped with 10-11 with thousands of receiver anti-aircraft systems. In addition, according to various estimates, there are up to 15 thousands of portable anti-aircraft missile systems in the warehouses of the North Korean units, which are the Soviet “Arrows” and “Needles” assembled in the DPRK. However, the main means of protecting the airspace of the country are fixed and mobile air defense systems. In the North Korean air defense forces there are at least 1,5-2 of thousands of similar complexes of several types. And at the same time both the old Soviet-made C-25 and the relatively new “Buki” serve. All anti-aircraft systems and radar stations are assembled into a single integrated system, which significantly increases the potential of the air defense forces.
To combat the enemy’s armored vehicles in the KPA, several types of anti-tank grenade launchers and Soviet-made missiles are used. As in the case of other weapons, after purchasing a number of ready-made complexes, the DPRK began its own production. There is information about the use of several types of anti-tank grenade launchers, which are copies or further development of the Soviet weapons of the RPG line. Controlled anti-tank systems are also represented by the number of types read. The newest of them - the Soviet "Fagot" and "Competition". Data on the number of anti-tank missile systems are not available.
The DPRK Air Force Park consists of approximately one and a half thousand aircraft. About a third of them are fighters. About two hundred - attack aircraft and helicopters. It should be noted that the most massive North Korean aircraft are still the MiG-21 of various modifications (more than 150-170 units), as well as the Shenyang F-5 and F-6, which are Chinese copies of the Soviet fighters MiG-17 and MiG-19, respectively . With such a technique in sharp contrast to fifty MiG-29. In general, the equipment of the KPA Air Force cannot be considered modern. Most new aircraft and helicopters were produced only in the nineties, which accordingly affects the combat capability of the Air Force.
The naval forces of the DPRK consist of two fleets, the Western and Eastern fleets, which include almost 700 units of equipment. These are three frigates and two destroyers, about two dozen small anti-submarine ships, rocket and torpedo boats, etc. The North Korean submarine fleet is equipped with Soviet-made and Chinese-made diesel-electric submarines (less than 30), approximately the same number of small submarines, and also approximately two dozen ultra-small submarines. It is noteworthy that the bulk of the technology of the DPRK naval forces consists of boats for various purposes. In total, North Korean sailors have almost four hundred such boats.
The North Korean ballistic missiles, the operation of which is assigned to a separate branch of the military, are causing the greatest concern among neighboring countries. Rockets of various types are capable of hitting targets at ranges from 70 to 3500 kilometers, which allows the DPRK to keep the entire Korean Peninsula and significant adjacent territories on sight. The total number of missiles, launchers and personnel remains unknown. At the same time, according to some estimates, the KPA has about a thousand missiles of all types. Medium-range missiles are obviously capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Accurate information on the status and quantity of nuclear weapons is missing.
The armed forces of South Korea are about two times behind the KPA in terms of strength. So, in the ranks there are a total of 640 thousand people, 500-520 of whom serve in the ground forces. The total number of reservists is estimated at three million.
There are fewer vehicles in the South Korean tank forces than in the corresponding units of the DPRK army - no more than 2500 tanks. In this case, the most widespread type is the K1 of American design and Korean production. The second largest - K1A1. These combat vehicles have much better characteristics in comparison with the technology of the likely enemy, so the lag in quantity can be compensated by the characteristics of the tanks. At the same time, in the tank parts of South Korea there are still several hundred old American tanks M48A3 and M43A5.
The South Korean ground forces have about 2400 units of light armored vehicles for transporting soldiers: at least 1600 tracked K200 infantry combat vehicles, around 400 M113 armored personnel carriers and several dozen other types of vehicles. Among other things, the South Korean army has 70 Russian-made BMP-3 machines. In 2009, deliveries of the new K21 BMP began. Already delivered more than a hundred cars, in total, it is planned to assemble 900-like BMP.
Artillery units are armed with about seven and a half thousand guns, self-propelled guns and mortars. In addition, at least three thousand weapons are in storage. South Korean artillery guns have a caliber of up to 170 millimeters (American-made MXA AMS), but the most common are smaller caliber guns. So, the most massive towed gun is the 107-mm howitzer M105 (more than 101-2300 units), and the most mass self-propelled-K2400 caliber 55 mm, which is the licensed version of the American ACN M155 (not less than 109 units). The fleet of multiple launch rocket systems is limited only by modifications of the three types of complexes. The total number of MLRS does not exceed two hundred.
In numerical terms, the South Korean air defense also loses to the relevant units of the DPRK army. The total number of anti-aircraft missile and gun systems does not exceed 1150-1200. Armed with anti-aircraft systems 11 types, including three gun (self-propelled K30 and K263A1, as well as towed family Oerlikon GDF). Protection of objects and troops is assigned to the K-SAM Chunma and M-SAM Cheolmae-2 missile systems. In addition, there are a number of Russian C-300 complexes, supplied in the nineties. A characteristic feature of the South Korean air defense is a wide range of portable air defense systems. The troops use complexes of five types of American, English, French, Russian and its own South Korean production.
Anti-tank infantry weapons in the army of South Korea are represented by six models, mainly of foreign manufacture. The troops have recoilless guns, anti-tank rocket launchers and guided missiles. The most widespread type of such weapons BGM-71 TOW complexes are of American design.
Like the DPRK, South Korea is armed with ballistic missiles. The Hyunmoo family of weapons can deliver 500-kilogram warheads from 180 kilometers (Hyunmoo-1) to 1500 km (Hyunmoo-3C). According to estimates, the Hyunmoo-100, Hyunmoo-150A and Hyunmoo-1B missiles are on duty around 2-2. As for the missiles of the "third" line, the data on them is classified and has not yet been officially announced. Probably, the score is at least tens.
The striking power of the South Korean Air Force is 450-470 fighter-bombers. These are ten modifications of five American-made aircraft. Part of the aircraft under license was built at South Korean enterprises. The most popular type of aircraft in the Air Force is Northrop F-5, including fighters assembled in South Korea. Their total number is approximately equal to 160-170 units. General Dynamics F-16 aircraft and their South Korean modifications are slightly behind them. A characteristic feature of the South Korean Air Force, which distinguishes them from the North Korean military aviation, is the presence of Boeing 737 AEW & C early warning aircraft. Even four such aircraft (that is how much they serve in the South Korean Air Force) can significantly change the course of an air battle.
In recent decades, South Korea has been actively developing its submarine fleet. From 1985 of the year to our time, the 14 diesel-electric submarines were built and put into operation. Most of the submarines were built together with Germany. It is worth noting that the South Korean industry alone built only three small submarines of the Dolgorae type.
The basis of the surface fleet South Korea are 12 destroyers of three projects. All of them carry torpedo and missile weapons. The oldest of these ships was built only in the late nineties. In addition, the Navy has 114 corvettes, frigates, patrol ships and boats. Thus, the main task of the South Korean naval forces is to patrol the coastal zone and, if necessary, to strike at surface and ground targets of the enemy. Also, one cannot fail to note the relatively developed landing fleet. South Korea has four tank landing ships, one universal landing ship, five hovercraft and several other types of boats.
In the context of the presence of landing ships and boats, South Korea’s separate Marine Corps should be noted. This independent branch of the military has its own ground and amphibious equipment, the model range of which almost completely corresponds to the equipment of the ground forces. The main difference is the number of weapons and equipment. In the marines, only 28 thousand people serve, which is why the number of equipment and weapons is only a few percent of their total number in the South Korean army.
As we see, the armies of the two neighboring states differ in both quantitative and qualitative aspects. In some areas, weapons and equipment, for example, in tanks, DPRK leads in number with a large margin, but the level of development of armored vehicles is unlikely to allow it to effectively deal with less massive, but more modern South Korean tanks. Numerous anti-tank guided systems could be the way out, but the success of using outdated missiles against modern tanks raises a number of serious questions.
In general, the comparison of ground forces in the conditions of modern war must be made with an eye on the air force. They have been performing the bulk of shock work in recent decades. It is unlikely that North Korea will be able to effectively resist the South Korean F-16, having a large number of upgraded MiG-21 and Chinese copies of earlier aircraft. Even relatively new MiG-29 will not be able to have a serious impact on the course of air battles, since their number is small, and South Korea also has long-range radar detection aircraft. Thus, the situation in the air is likely to be favorable for the actions of the South Korean strike aircraft.
However, do not forget the air defense system. Even without the most modern air defense systems, the DPRK army can provide a fairly high level of security for its facilities. In this case, an integrated communications and control system, including radar stations, command posts and anti-aircraft batteries, will be useful. There is no exact information about this, but it can be assumed that the North Korean air defense system has a layered structure and covers all dangerous areas and important objects.
The same can be said about the South Korean air defense. Together with foreign partners, this country has created an effective defense against air attack. Judging by the available data, South Korean air defense will be at least a very difficult obstacle for obsolete North Korean aircraft.
In this case, the only highly effective strike weapons of the North Korean armed forces remain ballistic missiles. As the American intelligence service reported a few days ago, the missiles were already taken to the position and ready for launch. Thus, the entire South Korea, a part of Japan, China and other states find themselves in the zone of the DPRK missile forces. Moreover, if the North Korean engineers completed the refinement of the Musudan missiles, the American bases on the island of Guam could be under attack. It should be noted that North Korean facilities can also be destroyed by South Korean missiles. Although the latter cannot yet boast the range of missiles in the 3-3,5 for thousands of kilometers, it is quite capable of attacking any object in the territory of its northern neighbor.
Protection against ballistic missiles is a separate issue around which disputes have been going on for a long time. Anti-aircraft missile systems available in both countries have limited anti-missile capabilities. Therefore, most of the launched missiles are able to achieve their goal and destroy any object of the enemy. And this object can be either one of the missile bases of the DPRK, or the building of the government of South Korea. In other words, because of their effectiveness, the ballistic missiles of both Koreas are a means of guaranteed mutual irresistible attack.
The collision of the naval forces of both countries also has no definite consequences. In fact, in this case, it will be necessary to observe the struggle of the small but “full-fledged” naval forces of South Korea with what is called the mosquito fleet by the DPRK. Attacks of small, mobile and difficult to detect and destroy missile or torpedo boats can seriously affect the entire maritime component of the war. The presence of diesel-electric submarines on both sides only exacerbates the complexity of the situation.
A separate "trump card" of South Korea is the Marine Corps with a serious landing fleet. With the proper organization of the operation, the marines are capable of capturing a section of the North Korean coast and organizing a bridgehead there for further offensive. However, such a landing of an amphibious assault force is unlikely to go unpunished. The capabilities of the KPA are enough to disable or destroy a significant part of the landing ships and boats of the enemy.
In general, the capabilities of the armed forces of both countries can be considered equal. Both armies have advantages and disadvantages in comparison with the likely adversary. As already mentioned, a large number of North Korean tanks are compensated for by the best characteristics of the South Korean, and the airborne defense system of the DPRK will be in the way of the South Korean planes. Thus, it can be assumed that a hypothetical war will be difficult for both parties. Both Koreas are bound to suffer heavy losses in technology and manpower. In addition, we should not forget about ballistic missiles that are of strategic importance within the region, as well as North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
A significant impact on the course of the armed conflict could have the intervention of third countries that have relevant agreements with the DPRK or South Korea. The first maintains relations with China, the second with the United States. The entry of these powers into the war could have grave consequences, since the potential of their armies is many times greater than the capabilities of both Korean armies combined. The combat power of third countries will be devoted to the second part of the article.
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