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N. Korea's largest naval base on east coast undergoing significant upgrades: 38 North

All Headlines 03:11 September 02, 2016

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's largest naval base on the east coast has been undergoing significant facility and weaponry upgrades that could pose increased threats to South Korean and U.S. navies in the region, a U.S. report said Thursday.

Since 2014, the North has been making aggressive efforts to upgrade the Munchon Naval Base, north of the east coast city of Wonsan, to "enhance training facilities, upgrade conventional naval weapons systems, improve special operations capabilities, and develop new ship support facilities," 38 North said in a report.

When complete, the project will likely increase the North Korean navy's operational readiness and coastal defense capabilities, enhance wartime amphibious special operation force capabilities against South Korea's East Sea coast and have the potential to moderately increase the navy's ability to mount longer and more frequent naval patrols farther out into the East Sea, it said.

The base has 16 naval units, and major upgrade projects have been under way at Units 155, 597 and 291 that have been visited by the North's former and current leaders, the report said.

Unit 155 has been working on a project to test and develop the single "NONGO-class missile armed patrol craft" armed with the anti-ship missile KH-35, 38 North said.

"Should the new KH-35 missile system be successfully integrated into the KPN (Korean People's Navy) and widely deployed, it would pose an increased threat to South Korean and U.S. Navy vessels in the region," the report said.

Unit 597, located just north of Unit 155, is in charge of a dockyard used as the North's primary naval maintenance and repair facility on the east coast. The dockyard has been completely rebuilt since 2015 at the order of leader Kim Jong-un, the report said.

Unit 291, an elite amphibious special operations unit of the East Sea Fleet, has also been working to modernize and expand the base. When complete, all five navy sniper battalions of the East Sea Fleet will likely be consolidated at the base, the report said.

The consolidation will improve training and coordination, and facilitate the maximum projection of amphibious forces against the South Korean east coast during a future conflict, it said.

"Although international attention has focused on continued developments in North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, commercial satellite imagery indicates that Pyongyang is also improving its conventional military forces," 38 North said. "Serious resources have been channeled into upgrading the North's naval capabilities."

jschang@yna.co.kr
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