News / Asia

Secret Manual Gives Glimpse of North Korean Military Tactics

The recently leaked North Korean secret military manual.
The recently leaked North Korean secret military manual.

A military manual, said to have been smuggled out of North Korea, reveals Pyongyang’s concern about electronic warfare technology used by the United States and South Korea. The document also indicates North Korea’s military uses radar-absorbing paint and other stealth tactics to conceal its weapons.

Analysts studying the purported North Korean manual say Pyongyang has taken a variety of measures to redress the overwhelming military disadvantage it would face if war breaks out on the Korean peninsula. Though there is no way to be absolutely certain about the authenticity of the manual, South Korean and U.S. officials who have seen it consider the document to be genuine.

A long-time analyst of North Korea and its military, Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group in Seoul, examined the document at VOA’s request.

He called it significant, saying "As far as their planning, their preparations, I think there's some useful information to take from this document."

The five-year-old handbook gives instructions on how to make radar-absorbing paint to help conceal jets, warships and tanks. It also explains how to fabricate decoys, pave bogus runways and deceive the enemy by having stationary units mimic the characteristics of those on the move. Such tactics have long been used by Western militaries.

Pinkston, a former U.S. Air Force analyst on North Korea, says the classified manual was likely distributed to commanders and other high-level military specialists concerned with electronic warfare.

"This is maybe a little bit surprising but there's a clear awareness early on in the document about the importance of electronics, communications systems, information, computers and how it affects command and control. There's a recognition if your command and control is impaired, then it has a serious impact on your ability to conduct military operations,” he said.

News of the document was first reported by the Chosun Ilbo. The Seoul newspaper quoted a South Korean intelligence expert as saying the North’s stealth tactics are more extensive than expected.

North and South Korea remain technically at war, since they never signed a peace treaty at the end of the Korean War in 1953. North Korea has more than a million troops, most of them based close to the Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula. South Korea has about 600,000 active duty troops, and the United States bases about 28,000 soldiers in the South.

While the North has more soldiers, military analysts say they are underequipped and their weapons are mostly old and outdated, especially compared with the high-technology arms of the U.S. and South Korea. The North, however, is suspected of having both biological and chemical weapons, and says it is building nuclear weapons as well.

VOA News obtained 48 of the document’s 80 pages from the Caleb Mission.

The small Christian organization, in the city of Cheonan, assists North Korean defectors. Its pastor, Kim Sung-eun, says his contacts in the reclusive communist state are willing to risk their lives and those of their families to get these kinds of documents out of North Korea.

The pastor says he is able to obtain some of Pyongyang’s military secrets because influential people in North Korea are working with his group.

The mission, by smuggling in and out of the country cameras resembling pens, also obtains clandestine video of life in North Korea, including at outdoor food markets. They provide a rare glimpse into current conditions inside the impoverished country.

North Korea tightly controls where the few outside visitor permitted into the country may go and what they can photograph or videotape.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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