North Korea Does Indeed Have Underground Air Bases. And That’s Just the Beginning: It appears that North Korea has built a new, underground military base to house intercontinental ballistic missiles. The base would indicate North Korea’s expanding capabilities, its secretive nature, and the growing threat it poses.
Few nations threaten the status quo so intentionally as North Korea. While revisionist states like China go through the motions of participating in the international community, and often pay lip service to its mores and expectations, North Korea makes no such attempt.
Instead, North Korea is openly, pointedly, and belligerently hostile to international values. Pyongyang’s rhetoric is especially concerning given the hermit kingdom’s ever-expanding military capabilities. North Korea has one of the largest standing militaries in the world, with 1.3 million active-duty soldiers – 200,000 of which are highly trained special forces commandos.
Most concerning, North Korea is now a nuclear state with an expanding arsenal of nuclear weapons. And it has the ICBMs needed to deliver those nuclear weapons to faraway targets, including the United States’ mainland. Now North Korea has its newly constructed underground base, inspiring further global concern.
North Korea’s Underground Activities
North Korea has a long history of constructing underground military facilities. Always preparing for war – perhaps because the Koreas still are technically at war – the North has constructed everything from underground tunnels beneath the demilitarized zone, to bunkers capable of housing the regime’s leadership.
In 1974, a U.S. Navy officer and a South Korean marine corporal were killed by a booby trap when they discovered a large tunnel that extended from North Korea, beneath the DMZ, for one mile into South Korea. The tunnel was large enough that as many as 2,000 troops could pass through it each hour. Obviously, the tunnel was constructed so that in the event of conflict, North Korea could flood South Korea with troops. Another tunnel, even bigger than the first, was discovered in 1978 thanks to a North Korean defector. Since the 1970s, four more North Korean tunnels have been discovered beneath the DMZ. Some observers believe North Korea has constructed an elaborate network of tunnels, and that most of these are yet to be discovered.
North Korea is also believed to have constructed three different underground air bases – at Wonsan, Jangjin, and Onchun. The base at Wonsan, for example, is believed to feature a 5,900-foot runway that passes through a mountain. In the event of war, North Korean jets like the MiG-29 and Su-25 would leave conventional air bases and relocate to the underground airfields.
North Korea has also constructed a slew of troop bunkers near the DMZ. Reportedly as many as 800 bunkers have been built, each one capable of housing between 1,500 and 2,000 North Korean troops.
Bolstering Pyongyang’s Nuclear Position
Now, a team of analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies believes it has discovered an underground, regiment-sized military base used for housing ICBMs. The base is located just 15 miles from the North Korea-China border, and analysts believe the location was chosen to deter pre-emptive strikes from the U.S., which will be wary of antagonizing China.
“The position near the Chinese border acts as a potential deterrent to a pre-emptive strike that might impinge on Chinese security equities,” Victor Cha, a senior vice president a CSIS told the New York Times.
The new base appears to bolster North Korea’s capabilities. “As best as can be determined from satellite imagery, informed sources, and what little data is available, the base is ready to receive an operational ICBM unit,” the CSIS report said. The construction of the base further cements North Korea as a nuclear power. And with nuclear weapons housed at ICBM sites underground, on the border with China, the U.S. seems not to lack a pre-emptive option.
Photos: North Korea’s Military
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged.