A new book sheds much-needed light on the electronic warfare posture and doctrine of the North Korean Army.
Back in January Armada sat down with Norm Wade, owner of The Lightning Press, for a chat about his Cyberpsace and Electronic Warfare book as part of our Electronic Warfare podcast series. Mr. Wade is a busy man. Not only is he owner of The Lightning Press, he is also the author of its works, and Armada was delighted to receive a review copy of his recent work on the North Korean Military. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is arguably the world’s most opaque country. The Hermit Kingdom’s military is likewise shrouded in mystery. Nonetheless, the ambitions and caprices of its leader Kim Yong-Un remain a strategic threat to its southern Republic of Korea neighbour. Japan, the US and allied powers in the Asia-Pacific region and wider world are also in Mr. Kim’s sights.
Recently published in September, Mr. Wade’s book handily collates all the open-source information publicly available about the DPRK’s armed forces in an easy-to-read reference work. This is the kind of book you will have on your shelf or computer that you will keep coming back to time and again.
Lifting the Shroud
What does Mr. Wade’s book tell us about how the Korean People’s Army (KPA) may use Electronic Warfare (EW)? Writ large, the DPRK sees EW as vital for countering the sophistication of Western materiel and capabilities. The North Korean armed forces are particularly concerned by Western prowess in precision-guided munitions and telecommunications. Targeting systems, sensors and navigation capabilities are similar concerns. It is noteworthy that the KPA has deployed Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) jammers near its border with the Republic of Korea. This has caused interference to the GNSS systems equipping some commercial aircraft flying south of the Demiliarised Zone (DMZ). The DMZ marks the de facto border between the two countries.
Few will be surprised that the DPRK sees the US as its principle, and most likely, foe in conjunction with the ROK. To understand the place of EW in the KPA one must understand the DPRK’s strategic posture. As Mr. Wade articulates, the DPRK does not necessarily intend to defeat the US on the battlefield. Instead, the plan is to exact sufficient damage on the US and her allies to cause collapse through loss of resolve. This translates at the operational level into battlefield and theatre interdiction attacks against a range of targets. These would include missile and radar sites, logistics facilities, communications relays, electricity generation sites, POL (Petrol, Oil, Lubricants) facilities, nuclear sites, bridges and transport hubs.
This effort would include what the DPRK armed forces refer to as Electronic Intelligence Warfare (EIW). Mr. Wade says that EIW works to identify and understand decisions taken by the red force and how these affect the strategic, operational and tactical goals of the DPRK’s armed forces. EIW will attempt to annul and/or influence these, and future, red force decisions using electronic warfare. EW will be used alongside cyber/information warfare, kinetic attacks, deception and reconnaissance in this effort. A heavy emphasis is placed on performing EIW in such a way that it is ideally imperceptible to the enemy.
The KPA will use EW to “disrupt, deny and degrade the enemy’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum”. Targets include red force Command and Control (C2), reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition capabilities. As noted above, GNSS jammers have been a favourite electronic attack vector of the KPA. However, electronic attack capabilities will be reinforced with kinetic attacks in wartime against red force C2 centres, communications nodes and sensors in support of the wider EIW battle. It is hoped such actions will prevent red forces using similar capabilities against the KPA.
A robust Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) effort will be performed to discover these targets and exploit any relevant intelligence. In the latter case, these targets are left alone so as not to interrupt the intelligence flow. SIGINT collection will also focus on the hostile force’s forward air controllers and logistics command posts together with artillery and close air support communications networks. Jamming is then directed against these targets. Mr. Wade surmises this will take the form of conventional wideband barrage and distributive jamming. The latter involves the use of multitudes of small jammers spread across the battlefield. These will be networked using DPRK or local cellphone networks or conventional battlefield communications. Such distributed electronic attack systems will comprise artillery-delivered expendable jammers. Small jammers will also be deployed around potential targets to attack radio-frequency activated ordnance proximity fuses.
A further function of KPA EW units is to generate fake communications traffic and RF signals to support deception. This could focus on the creation of non-existent, or partially constituted, KPA formations or actions. Once again, this supports wider strategic and operational doctrines focused on penetrating and influencing red force decision-making.
The KPA’s manoeuvre force draws its electronic warfare assets from the EW Jamming Regiment, based in Pyongyang. The regiment possesses three subordinate battalions believed to be located in Kaesong, Haeja and Kumgang all in the southern DPRK. Each battalion can be allocated to the KPA’s four corps. At the divisional level, KPA units may have an allocated EW battalion, or a similar company-sized formation. In terms of materiel, little is known regarding the army’s dedicated EW equipment. Nonetheless, Mr. Wade assesses 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”.
Much about the KPA’s EW capabilities remains unknown. Nonetheless, Mr. Wade has made a valiant attempt in helping us understand how the army sees EW and how it fits into wider doctrine. This will help us contextualise future developments in the North Korean EW domain. News on such developments is likely to be sporadic, but still valuable, in the years to come.
by Dr. Thomas Withington