With North Korea gearing up to hold a military parade Thursday, signs have emerged that the reclusive regime is increasing the number of troops practicing for the event and building new hovercraft bases near waters close to South Korea.
Citing a series of satellite imagery from Planet Labs, 38 North’s analyst Joseph Bermudez said that as of Monday there were about 13,000 troops practicing on training grounds at the Mirim Parade Training Facility in Pyongyang -- up from its previous assessment of 12,000 on Jan. 28.
But only a small group of artillery and armored fighting vehicles are visible at the facility, Bermudez said, adding there were no signs of ballistic missiles or unmanned aerial vehicle launchers on the parade ground or at the heavy equipment storage area.
“This is not unusual as some of these are likely stored at nearby military facilities,” said Bermudez, referring to the insignificant presence of artillery pieces and armored fighting vehicles.
|Satellite imagery shows construction work underway for a hovercraft base at Yonbong-ri, South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. The image was captured last year and revealed Monday by Beyond Parallel, a project run by the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.Yonhap|
There have been growing indications that North Korea is preparing for a massive military parade in central Pyongyang with satellite images showing Kim Il-sung Square being filled up with a large crowd carrying red flowers and flags.
Based on another satellite imagery analysis from Beyond Parallel, a project run by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bermudez also said North Korea was stepping up its efforts to build new hovercraft bases near waters close to the Northern Limit Line, a de facto maritime border with South Korea.
Construction activity has been spotted at two new North Korean hovercraft bases at Sasul-po and Yonbong-ri in South Hwanghae Province, he said, although its navy has not significantly increased the number of hovercraft deployed along the West Sea and has not forward deployed hovercraft units from an older base.
“This would also constitute a significant escalation of the navy sniper brigade threat to the (South Korean) islands in the West Sea and ports along the coast; and potentially a political calculation that the South Korea is too weak to counter such a move,” Bermudez said.
North Korea’s artillery attack on Yeongpyeong Island in 2011 has caused concerns over North Korea’s military activities around the island close to the border. It has been aggravated since the North revealed last August military training aimed at seizing Yeongpyeong Island and the nearby Baengnyeong Island.
In response, the South Korean Marine Corps announced last October a plan to establish a new command dedicated to protecting border islands by 2020, pledging to defend the maritime border against North Korea’s attacks and infiltration attempts.