A new US Army publication sheds light on North Korea’s electronic warfare tools, doctrine and perceptions, and how these capabilities could be used in any future war.
North Korean Tactics makes for interesting reading. In its own words the document “serves as a foundation for understanding how North Korean ground forces think and act in tactical operations.” The report states that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s armed forces, collectively known as the KPA (Korean People’s Army) parcel Electronic Warfare (EW) into the wider Electronic Intelligence Warfare (EIW) approach. This encompasses conventional EW alongside information and cyber operations, psychological warfare and conventional warfare applied to the electromagnetic spectrum.
KPA EIW doctrine includes EW, deception, physical destruction; protection and security measures; perception management, information attack, computer warfare, reconnaissance, cryptanalysis, intelligence collection and disinformation operations. While all these components will be integrated into a “single, cohesive EIW plan” prior to and during hostilities, the document says that not all these components will necessarily be used concurrently. Instead their use will be determined by the tactical and operational situation, and the size and capabilities of opposing forces.
The report examines each of the components of the KPA’s EIW doctrine separately. EW, deception, the physical destruction of targets in support of EW are self-explanatory. Protection and security measures encompass the KPA’s use of the spectrum to aid counter-reconnaissance and operational security such as the employment of false radio traffic and electromagnetic camouflage such as corner reflectors to replicate potential physical targets. Perception management is arguably a subset of KPA psychological warfare and Information Operations (IO). It includes “measures aimed at creating a perception of truth best suited to the KPA’s objectives.” Its intention is to “undermine an enemy’s ability to conduct combat operations through psychological warfare.”
Information Operations and Cyber
The publication argues that EW would work closely IO with the latter intended to have a strategic effect by weakening “the enemy’s international and domestic support, causing hesitation or actual failure of the operation.” The US Army expects strategic to commence in periods of tension before any shots are fired.
Cyber warfare will be directed against enemy military and civilian networks to gain operational and tactical advantage, and to have a strategic effect. Cyberattacks will be the most likely vector for the delivery of information operations. At the same time cyber and electronic warfare will have important roles to play in gathering and exploiting intelligence.
The US Army expects kinetic and electronic attacks to be harnessed by the KPA in support of the EIW plan. Examples of these could include artillery attacks and/or electronic attacks on key enemy communications nodes. The report states that the KPA has a penchant for using small distributive jammers alongside larger transportable jammers for operational/tactical electronic attack. These distributive jammers can be controlled remotely through the DPRK’s mobile phone network. This would presumably allow jammers to be deployed to certain locations before or during hostilities, and then left behind to operate autonomously.
Along with attacking very/ultra high frequency (30 megahertz/MHz to three gigahertz/GHz) conventional military communications and satellite communications the US Army expects the KPA to perform electronic attack against GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Signal) constellations on wavebands of circa 1.1GHz to 1/6GHz. Other electronic attack capabilities expected to be used on the battlefield include artillery-delivered jamming shells. These could have an effect by delivered into the line of advance of an opposing force to isolate forward units from rear echelons. The army also expects RF (Radio Frequency) proximity fuse jammers to be used to protect potential targets like deployed headquarters from attack by RF fused weapons.
EW across the KPA is the responsibility of the Electronic Warfare Bureau. The KPA’s Bureau-121 is tasked with cyber operations by cadres operating in the DPRK but also in Belarus, India, Malaysia, the People’s Republic of China and Russia. Bureau-121 includes four subordinate units: the Andarial, Bluenoroff and Lazarus groups, and the EW Jamming Regiment. The first three gather intelligence on vulnerabilities in enemy computer networks (Andarial), perform financial cyber crime (Bluenoroff) and attack hostile computer networks (Lazarus).
The EW Jamming Regiment, headquartered in Pyongyang, has three battalions which may provide EW support at the operational level to the KPA. Alongside the EW Jamming Regiment, the KPA Ground Forces, as the country’s army is known, are thought to possess a single EW battalion organic to the army’s I, II, IV and V Corps. Manoeuvre divisions within each corps may possess an EW company, which can be augmented with an EW battalion as and when the mission dictates. While not mentioning specific types, the document states that the KPA uses Russian electronic attack platforms with jamming ranges of between 48 kilometres/km (30 miles) to 97km (60 miles) and is looking to procure longer-range systems.
The report concludes that “the primary deficiency with the KPA EW systems, like most of its equipment, is its age and technology level. The KPA is still using equipment several generations behind its likely enemies.” The DPRK’s investment in cyber capabilities could serve in part to make good such shortcomings at the operational and strategic levels.