Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where is the deadly US/UK/BP Oil Spill?

It's the largest environmental disaster in U.S. - and possibly world - history.

But do you know exactly where it is? Could you point to a map and show where the oil rig sank?

Do you know what the topography of the surrounding area is? Hint: If you think it's flat seafloor - as implied by BPs drawings - you'd be wrong (the spill site is actually located within a giant canyon system, rather than on flat ground).

This essay will provide some basic orientation as to ground zero for the oil spill.

Where Is the Spill Site?

Here is the spill site - designated with the fire icon - as shown on Google maps:

(click on this or any image in this essay to see a clearer and bigger version of the image).

This NOAA image gives a basic overview of the oil spill site in relation to the surrounding area:

The oil spill is occurring within the "Macondo prospect", which is located in Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Here is an image showing the Mississippi Canyon compared to other areas in the Gulf of Mexico:

This shows the relation of Block 252 to nearby sites:

Here is Block 252 shown in comparison with nearby sites:

And this is the definitive high-resolution map showing block 252 in comparison with other prospects in the Mississippi Canyon area and surrounding areas.

But in order to really get a feel for what's happening underwater, we should look at detailed topographic maps. Indeed, knowing the topography and the geology at the spill site is crucial in understanding the risks involved and being able to determine the best approach for stopping the leak.

Topography of the Spill Site

Here's a map of the Gulf of Mexico:

Here's another map courtesy of Wired (the spill site is between the two sets of red hash marks):

Here's an image of the Gulf of Mexico, showing the Sigsbee and Florida Escarpments (Block 252 is approximately half way in between the 2 escarpments):

Here is a satellite image of the area provided by the Minerals Management Service and NOAA's Multipurpose Marine Cadastre:

Here is a close-up (I placed a hand icon at the approximate location of the oil spill based on latitude and longitude):

Here is an image - courtesy of NOAA's GeoPlatform service - showing the topography surrounding the leaking wellhead:

Here is a close up of the same image:

Here is the same image with the spill location indicator removed, so that you can see the slope of the area at the spill site:

(Note: the GeoPlatform service is also very useful for forecasting the near-term trajectory of the oil spill).

Here is a map giving a different view of the steep canyon in which the oil spill site is located:

Some oil industry professionals are worried that a landslide at the spill site could make the oil spill much worse by carrying away the blowout preventer, riser and all other equipment. While I have no idea how likely it is that a landslide could occur before the well is capped, it is true that:
(1) The spill site is located in a steep canyon, as discussed above;
(2) There are hundreds of feet of loose mud and muck on top of the sea floor in this area; and
(3) Many deepwater, oil-rich areas within the Gulf are tectonically active.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bluffer’s Guide: North Korea Strikes.....

  1. Caveat: Amateur web based research. All drawings by me unless otherwise stated. I’m not an expert and this is not authoritative or exhaustive, but hopefully you find it interesting.

    ’Dear Leader’…
    Your government is the most insecure and insular on earth so you won’t like this. Your cyber warfare forces, Unit 211, regularly attacks South Korean government and maybe US Government websites but you have yet to prevent Google Earth showing anyone in the free world most of your military facilities. Maybe one day you will succeed in launching a satellite so you can do what I think certain other countries do which is take imagery of your own country, censor it then sell it to Google cheaper than providers without censoring would. Google Earth can demystify your secret armies and further mock your propaganda and self-delusions. On behalf of I’d like to say “welcome to the internet”

    Jokes aside, I should stress that in the following work I’ve strived to be as objective as possible when it comes to locations and capabilities. In this illustrative essay I hope to explore the military might of North Korea. I do not want to go into long winded ‘what if’ analysis and I’ll leave the final conclusions up to you!

    My previous Bluffer’s Guide to North Korea (“Fortress North Korea”) can be found here HERE and one on the North Korean navy HERE. I will try not to duplicate these previous essays too much, plenty of new material to share.

    Google Earth Placemarks file can be found HERE
    The file contains over 1,300 anti-aircraft sites with range-rings (circles to show effective range of AAA) and about 400 artillery sites also with effective range ‘wedges’. Also a couple of hundred other military placemarks of DPRK. I’m pretty sure it’s got a fair claim to being the most extensive military Google Earth download on this curious country.


    The madness of King Jong II
    North Korea is quite probably the most militarized state on earth. By that I mean the extent to which military infrastructure (missile and anti-aircraft sites, bases, bunkers etc) intrude on the landscape and everyday lives of the more peaceful inhabitants. In that claim it has tough competition from the likes of Syria and Egypt, and even South Korea is pretty militarized, but North Korea still stands out; every village has a trench network and there are literally thousands of anti-aircraft sites.

    I think there are several probable contributory factors: 1) The north Korean government, in effect a personality cult of Kim Jong Il, is paranoid. He may genuinely believe, just as the Soviets did, that the USA intends to invade his country. To draw a parallel, like the US believing that the spread of communism in SE Asia was a deliberate and aggressive encirclement attempt by the Soviets, so too Kim seems to believe that the American presence on the peninsula and Japan is a direct attempt to threaten his communist way of live. It seems to be a case of self-fuelling hatred where cause and effect are mingled in an endless cycle of hateful rhetoric, and the true origin of the conflict is soon less relevant that the current position (a bit like middle east?). 2) that Kim is also paranoid of his own people and keeps them under tight reins by means of a large standing army and by keeping them busy on military projects. 3) some misguided attempt to keep his economy afloat in increasingly desperate times. Remember that North Korea’s command economy is influenced more by ideology than practical matters – almost anti-Darwinian.

    Whatever the causes, and I must stress that the above is just my unqualified ramblings, the net result is an impoverished, starving and paranoid nation with a massive, idealistically loyal and generally proficient military.

    North Korea’s military is generally outdated and poorly equipped. The main portion of military equipment remains of Soviet origin with significant quantities of Chinese and local modified/produced systems.

    Relative strengths of North Korean military:
    a) Large numbers of troops and fact that at least 20% of adult population has military training
    b) Widespread deployment of chemical weapons, particularly among the large force of artillery
    c) Nuclear capability
    d) Ideological loyalty of large portion of military and civilian population (“brainwashed”)
    e) Extensive prepared defensive positions
    f) Mountainous terrain to slow advance of enemy ground troops
    h) Ability to maintain a degree of military secrecy
    i) Massive stockpiles and ability to locally produce basic military needs such as bullets and rifles

    Relative weaknesses of North Korean military:
    a) Out-dated technologies, particularly in air-defense, air force, reconnaissance, personal protection (body armor etc) and command/control
    b) Lack of money for advanced gear
    c) Insufficient logistics support and lack of fuel for prolonged combat beyond own border
    d) Undue controlling influence of Kim Jong Il’s personal concepts of military training and tactics – the whims of the dictator
    e) Insular perspective allows false truths to propagate
    f) Probably weak NBC readiness which is ironic given their own deployment of chemical weapons and nuclear threats.

    I do not personally believe that North Korea actually wants the recommencement of open conflict or that they will actually bombard Seoul or fire a nuke at Hawaii. The North’s passive-aggression is most effective as a threat and becomes self-defeating as soon as that threat is played out. In open conflict I believe that South Korea, with the help of probably many countries abroad, would squash the Pyongyang regime just as Saddam’s fell in 2003. But the battles would be fiercer, the resistance and insurgency worse, and the death tolls, particularly amongst the South Korean civilian population, far worse.

    From my viewpoint North Korea’s chemical and nuclear threat is more in the vein of Nazi vengeance weapons built in response to losing the conventional battle. They are intended to provide a massive if inaccurate retribution on South Korea and her (perceived) allies with the basic aim of putting the cost of winning a war beyond the “ideologically weak” tolerances of the “capitalist imperialists”.

    ”North Korea could flatten Seoul with Artillery”

    I’ve been trawling through Google Earth imagery looking logging visible North Korean artillery sites. From this analysis it is apparent that there is a clear pattern of distribution with several concentrated ‘belts’ of positions:
    1. Along the DMZ with densest distributions on the Western and central sectors
    2. North of Pyongyang in a broad crescent extending North West to the coast
    3. West of Pyongyang along the northern bank of the Taedong river, in the vicinity of Nampo
    4. On the East coast near the city of Hamhung

    There is a surprising lack of positions on the southern approaches to Pyongyang and around some major cities, such as Wonsan.

    Main artillery equipment
    I cannot illustrate every type of weapon but the most famous and probably intimidating is the 170mm ‘Koksan’ guns. These are pretty big bits of kit and at 55km have the longest range of any North Korean artillery pieces except for large SSMs (FROG, SCUD etc). The first model is designated M-1978 in the West and is mounted on an MBT chassis with minimal modifications:

    In 1989 an improved version was paraded featuring a crew compartment much further forward with the gun mounted further to the rear. This version can carry about 12 rounds on-chassis.

    Contrary to popular belief, these are the only North Korean artillery guns (or MRLS for that matter!) which can reach central Seoul from behind the North Korean Border. Although the system is likely to be employed in a regular mobile artillery manner, they would be rather exposed if deployed sufficiently close to the border to make such a bombardment. There are only 17 HARTS (hardened Artillery Sites, see later) within 55km of central Seoul.

    The massive Koksan guns are about 14m long (much longer than most artillery pieces) so would be a tight fit in most positions:

    I did find what I suspect is a Koksan gun near the DMZ however:

    Early model Koksan guns served with the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war although they appear to have been retired. An Iraqi war-trophy example was found in Iraq by allied forces during the current war there – these guns are immense.

    Next best in terms of range are the 240mm MRLS at about 35km (too short to reach central Seoul from behind the border):

    North Korea also operates various 122mm and smaller MRLS, popularly called the Grad or (perhaps incorrectly) Katyusha. These are awesome if primitive systems and unlike their larger cousins probably do not have chemical weapons rounds.

    The main artillery types are the D-20 152mm towed piece and the D-30 122m piece. These have a range of 17km and 14km respectively – North Korea is not thought to employ rocket assisted shells for these but if they did the range of the 152mm piece would be about 25km.

    The D-30 is unusual among modern artillery pieces in that it can rapidly transverse 360 degrees much like German WWII anti-tank 85mm guns. To allow this it has an unusual triple leg design (vs the regular two) – this means that although it can transverse 360 degrees it cannot fire at high elevations except when the breech is between two of the legs. Also, the batteries sighting devises are likely biased towards the expected enemy bearing and sighting to the rear is likely by means of only secondary fire direction methods. Therefore on the Google Earth maps I have put the primary arc of fire as +-60 degrees from centre rather than a full 360. This is still good compared to the D-20’s 28 degrees without moving the base.

    Most North Korean artillery batteries consist of four guns (fewer than would be expected in Western militaries) with six being used in the case of the D-30.
    Other major artillery weapons include 130mm towed guns and 107mm ‘Chinese’ light MRLS, some of which seem to be local variants.

    In 1980s North Korea attempted to upgrade its artillery by increasing the numbers of self-propelled (versus towed) pieces – in most cases this meant simply taking a towed gun and bolting it into the back of a cut-out APC. Main systems modified in this way include 152mm, 130mm and 122mm guns:

    Consequently most North Korean self-propelled guns still need circular firing positions to allow the gun to transverse beyond the very limited amounts permitted on the mount. The main exception to this rule is the indigenous M-1992 120mm gun system:

    The main artillery sites are termed HARTS (Hardened Artillery Positions). These are the North’s equivalent to the South’s “Fire Bases” but typically have just 4 or 6 firing positions. There are several common types.

    I have over 400 of these included in the KMZ file, most with ‘range wedges’ showing the engagement zones. Yellow is typical 152mm towed artillery, light blue is the D-30 122mm guns (i.e. sites with 6 firing positions) and blue circles are mortar lines. Red is MRLS.

    Note that the guns are in travel position

    The below imagery gives insight into the construction of a ‘baseline’ HARTS:

    A couple of exceptional HARTS north of Pyonyang have 360 degree coverage. These may be used for MBTS but I suspect self-propelled artillery.

    Only two HARTS appear to have the Koksan gun deployed. Example:

    Coastal artillery sites are similarly constructed and equipped as regular HARTS:

    There are also many of what I call “gun lines” – artillery positions without tunnels or bunkers.

    A small section at the Western end of the DMZ shows the mass of overlapping fire zones of the HARTS:

    North Korea does not appear to have kept up with computerised artillery control or other developments in the outside world. The only modern equipment seems to be a limited number of Yak Shmel artillery spotting drones bought from Russia in the 1990s. These are not particularly good by current standards.
    Last edited by planeman; 08-03-2009 at 12:04 AM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member goat89's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    The Republic of Singapore, but in Canada studying

    Keep it coming planeman! And LOL at the beginning. Change it to intarweb.
    PS: "... ability to locally produce basic military needs such as bullets and rifles."
    Can anyone/planeman go into detail on this? Do you mean homeade bullets or...?

  3. #3

    The real threat to Seoul

    Ballistic missiles

    North Korea produces SCUD missiles which it has gradually refined as the Hwasong A and B models. These have a range of about 500km and can deliver roughly 500kg high explosive or chemical warhead. The system could conceivably also deliver a modest nuclear warhead or ‘dirty bomb’.

    Original imported SCUDs are probably completely replaced by the larger Hwasong missiles although the TELs (the truck) would largely be from the original SCUDs.

    Recent photo from a Burmese state visit to a “SCUD Factory”

    No-Dong A
    The No-Dong missile is essentially a much enlarged SCUD rocket with significantly greater range. The basic missile technology has been exported to Iran and Pakistan where it forms the basis of the Shahab and Ghauri missiles respectively. The No-Dong has a range of between 1,000 and 1,400km meaning that it can hit Seoul with ease from any location on the entire peninsula.

    Like the SCUD the No-Dong is liquid fuelled and requires a relatively long preparation period before launch, about 60 minutes during which time it is relatively exposed.

    In my previous Bluffer’s Guide on North Korea I speculated that this missile was deployed on a towed truck trailer like the Shahab and Ghauri systems but since then a clandestinely taken photo has emerged showing a convoy of lengthened SCUD TELs in a North Korean street:

    There is much internet information on the Taepodong missile family – lots of speculation and sensationalism. Personally I don’t think they are very relevant to this essay so I’m going to skim over them. Taepodongs are much larger than the No-Dong and represent North Korea’s quest for a true inter-continental ballistic missile with nuclear payload. To date these have only been fired from civilian-style launch pads and there is no evidence that I’m aware of to suggest that there are either mobile TELs or silos. Indeed the physical nature of Taepondong is a very long thin missile rather than a shorter fatter one – this makes it inherently less practical to build either silos or transportation vehicles, though not impossible. In the event of conflict I think any Taepodongs launched would probably not be at South Korean targets as this would not take advantage of the missile’s range. There are various versions of Taepodong (I, II etc) and it seems an experimental system although some sources claim it’s operational. The missiles use liquid propellant although some sources suggest more robust solid propellants may have been used in the latest round of test launches. Large rocket solid propellants would be a serious capability leap for DPRK as they are safer to transport and quicker to prepare for firing than the liquid fuels used in SCUD/No-Dong family.

    Often forgotten, the FROG-7 (a western acronym standing for Free Rocket Over Ground), is essentially a very large artillery rocket. Although dated and inaccurate, these rockets have chemical or nuclear capability and a 70km range, much greater than that of regular artillery. In the event of conflict these would be a major threat to the civilian population of Seoul.

    Based on the relatively sophisticate rocket based on the Russian SS-21 SCARAB (9K79 Tochka) system which North Korea obtained from Syria. The SCARAB is noted for accuracy (with terminal guidance) and the fact it flies in a shallow arc not exposing it to most anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) defences. This system represents by far the most sophisticated equipment in the North Korean inventory and a serious threat to Seoul. It has a 120km range, much greater than that of most South Korean systems.

    Because of it’s accuracy this system is most likely employed to hit specific military targets but could also be employed to deliver chemical or even nuclear warheads in desperate situations.

    Unorthodox first strike scenarios involving nuclear strikes
    This is strictly a ‘what if’ section, I do not believe that North Korea plans or would likely be drawn to a nuclear first strike. As much as it is a “rogue nation” with an (arguably) unstable and irrational leadership, it isn’t suicidal. In gaining nuclear arms North Korea made itself virtually un-invadable, but it also raised the stakes should war actually occur; whatever North Korea can throw at South Korea, Japan or even Hawaii, it’s nothing compared to what it’d face in return. I think it’s clear that North Korea’s desperate bid for nuclear weapons is defensive in nature; a sign of paranoia and small man syndrome on a national scale.

    However, let us for a moment consider other ways that North Korea could deliver a nuclear bomb to Seoul.

    North Korea has a habit of digging tunnels, four of which were discussed earlier. In general these are likely to be relatively short (1-5km) and designed for rapid assault within a tactical environment along the DMZ. However tunnels, or “mines” have in past wars been used to place massive bombs under enemy positions. Major uses in history include the siege of Petersburg and in WW1 where the most famous is probably Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt in Belgium. In that the British places 40,000lb of medium explosives which blew hundreds of Germans to smithereens.

    As a rough comparison an 8kt nuclear device is about 450 times more powerful than the Hawthorne Ridge mine (ok, math… “8kt” = equiv of 8 thousand tons of TNT, ie 440 times more than 40,000lb of TNT. TNT is a bit more powerful than the ammonal (only 94% as powerful as same weight of TNT) which was the explosive used in the Hawthorne Mine).

    But, note that the WW1 mines used ‘medium explosives’ not high-explosives. That was no mistake, that was because if the explosive used expands too rapidly it will tend to blast a smaller hole straight up whereas medium explosive lifts a bigger chunk of earth. So I’d guess that a nuclear bomb detonated underground, whilst undoubtedly devastating, would not be an ‘optimum’ explosive for digging a really big hole and obviously do much less damage than one exploded above ground. One advantage is that it’d be physically much smaller than 8,000 tons of TNT.

    The below image is an out-of-arse guess at the size of crater an 8kt blast might make in Seoul:

    It’s also been suggested that underground nuclear explosions could be used to create earthquakes but somehow a massive hole seems more useful militarily.

    A ‘mine’ attack is somehow very North Korean in flavor, and on certain levels very hard to prevent, but since the “invasion” tunnels were found along the DMZ starting in 1970s it’s likely that South Korea has invested in tunneling detection technology and would likely find a tunnel being dug under the city. The North used explosives to assist in tunneling and even mundane issues like the pumps required to keep the tunnel dry would likely cause detectable vibrations (I speculate). Added to this that a tunnel would have to be about 50 km long and that the removal of earth would require a fleet of trucks etc it is liable to detection.

    An EMP strike to reduce the efficiency of anti-missile defences followed by a ‘proper’ nuclear strike. Highly debatable viability, but feel free to debate away!

    Nuclear torpedo
    This is a much more serious threat than it may sound – Soviet and likely Western submarines routinely carried nuclear armed torpedoes as back-up strike weapons and for attacks on ports. If we assume that it’s only a matter of time for North Korea to make nuclear devices small enough (i.e. get to where USSR and USA did in 1950s), then this is actually a cheaper way for North Korea to deliver its nukes. Obviously the ports at Inchon would be the natural target as the river through Seoul is not good sub territory. Damage to Seoul itself would be comparatively light.

    Cruise missile
    North Korea operates various versions of the Soviet Styx missile including the Chinese HY-2 version. These have a range of about 50km and are normally launched from a tracked launcher or towed trailer.

    North Korea has also produced a jet powered version, known as NK-01 which has a range of about 100km and probably closely resembles the Iranian Ra’ad missile with air inlets on the upper surfaces.
    The missile is subsonic and probably not terrain following (making it more prone to being shot down, as in the case of an Iraqi one shot down by a Royal Navy Type-42 destroyer’s obsolete Sea Dart SAM system) but does have the advantage of being able to carry a much larger warhead than comparable anti-ship missiles. As an airframe it is a rather plausible nuclear strike weapon and could be modified for air launch from North Korea’s fleet of vintage H-5 ( Il-28 ‘Beagle’) bombers.

  4. #4

    DMZ Tunnels
    North Korea is believed to have around 20 tunnels under the DMZ of which at least four have been discovered. Although these could play a defensive role (offense is the best defense etc), these are normally interpreted as offensive structures designed to allow the North to quickly overrun the DMZ by allowing large numbers of troops to ‘appear’ behind the South’s border posts. The discovered tunnels are only a few km long and exit just 500m-1km behind the border line. It is possible that some undiscovered tunnels are much longer and may exit further behind enemy lines. The tunnels started to be built in 1970s and it’s not clear if the North is still building them. In general technology now available to the south allows better detection of these tunnels if they are built now but it’d be harder to detect previously built tunnels which are likely over 50m deep and through which troops can move with minimum noise.

    Although the tunnels are tourist attractions I’ve struggled to find the coordinates but here are two that are easier to find.

    Tunnel 2

    Note that I’ve marked the exit location as that of the South’s intercept tunnels which were built when it was still being built. The exit would have been further south had it been completed.
    The second tunnel was found in the Central Sector of the DMZ northeast of the old battlefield of Ch’orwon. The arch-shaped tunnel—large enough to handle such heavy weapons as armored personnel carriers, tanks and field artillery—was capable of infiltrating at least 30,000 soldiers per hour into open areas across the Ch’orwon Plains.
    Source: HERE

    I found this short video from within the tunnel taken by some American tourists. Best played with the sound off to be honest.

    Although there are plenty of references to being able to move equipment through the tunnels this needs to be put into context. The tunnels are too small to move all but the lightest vehicles through and if any vehicles get stuck or break down there is no room to pass them. More likely any equipment would be loaded onto the narrow-gauge mining style railway or moved by hand. Such equipment could include light anti-aircraft guns (ZU-1, ZU-2), towed 107mm MRLS, mortars and anti-tank missiles. It could be that some of the undiscovered tunnels are much larger but the size of the last three discovered is pretty consistent so there seems to be a pattern.

    Photos of the South Korean end of the four discovered tunnels. Operational tunnels have hidden entrances – these concrete ones are built by the South to allow easy access etc.

    [/u]DMZ defensive patterns[/u]
    A lot has been written about the nature of the defenses along the North side of the DMZ and Google Earth takes amateur analysis to the next level. The following is based on close examination of the central and Southern DMZ sectors with deliberately minimal reference to texts.

    The northern border is marked by an almost continuous anti-tank ditch. This is about 10-15m across and flat bottomed –in places these ditches double as roads or irrigation canals but in mountainous stretches are carved along the crest of the hills. About every 1km there is an OP which typically works like this:

    As default, these positions will have rifle and light/medium machine guns. RPG-7, rifle grenades and light mortars will also be common. In many cases SA-7b or SA-16 MANPAD air defenses will also be available to defenders and heavy 14.5mm machine guns such as the ZU-1 will provide modest air defense.

    The first line anti-tank ditch may have a fence along the northern side. In the basic sense a typical North Korean anti-tank ditch consists of a shallow but wide ditch with a near vertical reinforced (or rock) bank on the defenders side which is high enough that tanks tracks cannot climb over it.

    There is a second major line of anti-tank defences about 1-2km north of the first line.

    Again this line has OP’s and other defences and can provide direct fire support to the first line.

    There are numerous additional anti-tank ditches especially across valleys, and in some places the main ditches have been re-dug along a slightly different path giving the effect of multiple ditches, some older and less formidable than others.

    I couldn’t find any photos to collaborate my imagery analysis but this one, I think of a South Korean equivalent, is generally similar in size and character, though probably better built:

    Without the context of the DMZ it would be hard for a casual observer to differentiate it from an dried-up canal.

    Most tracks and roads crossing through this area have multiple anti-tank road blocks ready to be deployed in the event of a Southern invasion.

    Both in the space between the first and second lines and to the rear there are numerous defensive positions. These vary from infantry trenches to hilltop tank positions. Defenses vary depending on the sector, probably a factor of who designed the various phases of development in that area, the equipment employed by the local units and the terrain.
    Certain defensive patterns do reoccur however.

    Along with MBTs, the primary equipment of these positions is probably 85mm and 100mm anti-tank guns. These are obsolete and cannot pose a serious threat to the latest South Korean and American MBTs except at very close ranges. Added to this that all these positions must be marked by the South it’s hard to view these are a serious obstacle in an incursion scenario. They are numerous however and new ones can be dug at short notice.

    Although it resembles a regular artillery piece it is employed as a direct fire weapon rather than indirect fire. It can be equipped with infra-red and optical sights and has an effective range of about 1km depending on terrain, crew readiness and the type of target.

    Additionally North Korea employs anti-tank missiles, mainly the Soviet RPG-7, AT-2, AT-4 and AT-5 systems.

    On and behind the second line there are anti-aircraft artillery sites. The types of anti-aircraft gun are usually very hard to guess in Google Earth imagery but the most common type appears to be ZU-4 14.5mm which is quite short ranged (1.4km) and generally ineffective against fast moving aircraft. Many of the sites have the guns under protective covers or shed like structures, sometimes with grass roofs. They are mainly operated by women, although I’d guess less often so for heavier guns like 37mm, 57mm and 100mm.

    Rare photo of operational site with ZU-4 14.5mm AAA and showing ‘hides’

    The below illustration shows the distribution of AAA sites along the western-most section of the DMZ:

    There is something of a pattern in the distribution:

    I created the ‘range rings’ at 4km from the site which is about median for North Korean AAA and also MANPAD missiles. In reality the ranges would vary from site to site depending on the gun types deployed:

    On balance I do not believe these belts of AAA sites to be particularly effective against the ROKAF/USFK. Helicopters and A-10s (despite their indestructible reputation!!!!) are most vulnerable.

    Some may argue that these heavy AAA defenses are designed to ‘force’ the enemy to fly at medium/high altitude where the SAM network can tackle them but whilst that may in the past have been the intention, this has become redundant because North Korea’s SAM inventory is now extremely out-dated.

    Anti-Aircraft systems illustrations
    I covered this reasonably extensively in my previous Bluffer’s guide so I don’t want to repeat myself, but since then I have accumulated many illustrations which I shall share.

    The most modern short range system is the SA-16 MANPAD which is generally equivalent to the Stinger and should be considered a serious threat to low flying aircraft.

  5. #5

    Other defensive concentrations

    Not surprisingly the capital, Pyongyang, is heavily defended by both AAA and also artillery sites. There are also a number of bunker complexes and other military sites. In my previous Bluffer’s guide I showed the general pattern of AAA sites I’d found. Since then I’ve found many more AAA sites and also Google Earth has increased coverage, and enabled viewing of historical imagery both of which contributed to the increased the site count. So I think it’s worth republishing the latest view.

    White circles are active AAA sites. The default circle is 4km radius, about median for North Korean AAA, with linear site layouts shown at 1.4km (i.e. 14.5mm AAA) and some sites at 8km where I think the most likely weapon is the 100mm AAA. In reality there is probably much more of a mix of engagement zones, with many more smaller ones (14.5mm) but compensated by quite a few larger ones (57mm, 100mm). I think the below image is however a pretty reasonable approximation and demonstrates both the sheer magnitude of sites and their pattern of deployment.

    Purple sites are empty ones and black circles are historic ones that we can confidently say are no longer used even for reserves – in many cases they have been built over but are still visible in older imagery.

    A context view of the above showing the general pattern:

    Unlike the Southern capital Seoul, Pyongyang does not appear to mount AAA on rooftops of civilian buildings. The city centre does not have very much AAA coverage; instead it is concentrated in thick concentric belts. Up to the 2000s there were more sites in the city centre but these have been steadily deactivated in part to accommodate natural urban development.

    Seoul AAA for comparison:

    Larger circles are 35mm Skyguard AAA sites, smaller ones are 20mm Vulcan AAA sites. KMZ file of South Korean side of DMZ available on request – considering whether I should post that or not, contains many AAA sites and artillery fire bases.

    When it comes to artillery sites, Pyongyang has many, but there are mostly to the north which I found surprising. Once again Yellow engagement zones are sites with four firing positions, likely 152mm guns, light blue zones are sites with six firing positions (likely D-30 122mm guns) and red is MRLS shown at 35km (eg 240mm M-1985) except one which I think is more likely 106mm MRLS. The two larger white zones to the north are where I think I found 170mm Koksan guns which have a range of about 55km.


    Interesting photo showing a fortified hillock with machine gun positions near Nampo. Although trenches show up well on Google Earth covered ‘pillbox’ type defenses do not so I haven’t attempted to find this particular site on Google Earth.

    Korean People’s Air Force
    Just a few sketches of main combat types and definitely not an exhaustive piece. Many KPAF placemarks included in the KMZ file.

    MiG-29C Fulcrum
    By far the most capable fighter in North Korean service, the Fulcrums are all the same somewhat out-dated against current ROK and USAF types.

    The Fulcrums operate from Sunchon air base north of Pyongyang and are employed in an air-defence role defending the capital.

    A-5 Fantan
    A Chinese strike fighter based on the MiG-19 airframe, the Fantan is a relatively lightweight and short ranged strike platform generally equivalent to the Su-7 Fitter which North Korea also used to operate (but which I suspect is retired). In Chinese service these are capable of delivering free-fall tactical nuclear bombs carried in the small internal bomb bay, but in North Korean service dumb bombs and rockets are more plausible.

    Although the Fantan can reach Seoul its survivability against South Korean forces is marginal.

    Other combat types
    The KPAF operates a large and diverse fleet of MiG-21s, including recently acquired second-hand MiG-21Bis models which are generally the most capable version.

    The below photograph confirms that KPAF still operates the vintage MiG-21F-13 version:

    The most common version is the MiG-21PFM, shown here with AA-2 Atoll short range missiles generally equivalent to AIM-9B Sidewinder

    The main interceptor type is the MiG-23 Flogger, and the main close support type is the Su-25 Frogfoot. In general, pilot flying hours are low compared to Western air forces and survivability is questionable, but the KPAF is confidently led and some ‘crack’ units are likely determined opponents.

    Most air bases have aircraft tunnels dug into mountains, and hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) near the runways, though fewer in total than most western air bases. There are numerous AAA sites and reserve runways to increase survivability although these measures are of questionable worth against USFK. There’s at least one “underground” air base which I described in a previous bluffer’s guide (Here).
    The construction on the East coast which is often cited as another, is actually just a road or rail tunnel under construction (39.096163°, 127.413901°).

    KPAF air assault
    The KPA/KPAF maintain a sizable air assault capability consisting of paratroopers and other air-mobile forces. The mission of these is to land and fight in the enemy’s rear areas, forcing a disproportionate dilution of force as he has to pull troops back to counter the air-mobile forces. In this mission they are joined by amphibious forces, mostly using small boats and hovercraft, but also utilizing covert infiltration craft and mini-subs.
    The main transport craft is the old but popular An-2 Colt biplane. There is a myth that this is partially stealthy but it is able to operate at ultra low altitude during daylight. These are not known to have a true night assault capability.

    These could be used to drop paratroopers or land behind enemy lines on any flat area of hard land (admittedly hard to find in South Korea!). The main weakness of the An-2, aside from its vulnerability to defenses, is that it cannot carry vehicles; for this the much large An-24 and Il-76 would be used. North Korea’s ability to launch an armored supported air assault is extremely limited.
    Also in service are a large number of helicopters including Mi-4 Hound, Mi-8 Hip and the massive Mi-26 Halo. A significant number of civilian MD-500s were purchased and turned to military use, probably with the addition of anti-tank missiles. Because South Korea also uses a related type in the scout helicopter role there is a serious risk of misidentification which may be used to the North’s advantage:

    Armored forces

    North Korea maintains a massive force of tanks and armored vehicles, but they are mostly obsolete and many may be only partially serviceable, relegated to purely defensive roles. The most powerful is the locally designed P’okpoong type. No photos exits in public domain of this tank but it is variously described as based on Russian T-90 and/or T-80 and/or T-72 samples which North Korea obtained or observed in the 1990s. All three of those tanks feature a 125mm smoothbore gun with autoloader so it is probable that the P’okpoong follows this approach. Personally I suspect that it is somewhat less capable than late model T-80/T-90 families and probably has only modest explosive-reactive armor as per the North Korean T-62 variants.

    Whatever the case it is almost certainly inferior to South Korean K-1A1 and K-2 tanks, the latter of which can make a fair claim to being the best tank in the world. It’s not clear whether North Korea operates the gun launched anti-tank missiles used by Russian tanks but if they do this may greatly increase their lethality.

    The main tank however is the T-62 and the local version, the Chonmaho which features enlarged skirt armor and explosive-reactive tiles on the sides and rear of the turret.

    There are additionally large quantities of older T-55, Type-59 and even T-34 tanks in service. These are employed together with BMP-1 MICVs and various lighter tanks and APCs.

    Much use of Google Earth satellite imagery. Numerous internet sources. Notable photo sources include China-Defence forum ( and of course