Increasing the threat to rival South Korea and U.S. Navy vessels in the region, North Korea's military is undergoing a facility and weapons upgrade, according to think tank 38 North.
"The primary objective of the Korean People's Navy (KPN) is coastal defense of the nation. Its secondary missions include supporting special operations forces and Korean People's Army (KPA) wartime operations," 38 North stated.
Commercial satellite images show the North Koreans have been working aggressively since 2014 to upgrade training facilities, weapons systems, and special operations capabilities at the Munchon naval base on the country's east coast.
Following the development, South Korean President Park Geun-hye ordered full combat readiness to the country's military in case of any provocation by Pyongyang.
According to Stars and Stripes, experts who discussed the report said that it is part of leader Kim Jong Un's strategy to improve North Korea's conventional military capabilities and special operations forces in parallel with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
"It appears that North Korea, at this point in time, is concentrating all of its naval sniper brigades on the east coast," Joseph Bermudez, who wrote the analysis for the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, was quoted as saying.
"Since Kim Jong Un has come to power, we see an upgrading across the board in North Korean military capabilities," he said.
The project is also likely to moderately fortify the navy's capability to mount longer and more regular naval patrols farther into the East Sea, 38 North reported. Workers also are upgrading new ship-support facilities that "remained relatively untouched" during the regime of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.
The upgrades will not only increase the Korean People's Navy's operational readiness and coastal defenses, but it will also add to the its ability to mount longer and more frequent naval patrols farther out into the Sea of Japan.
The Munchon base comprises of at least 16 naval units and significant major advancements are going on at three units, which have been visited by Pyongyang's leaders. According to the report, one unit is working on a program to test and develop the single "NONGO-class missile armed patrol craft" along with the anti-ship missile KH-35.
"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 warned.
The two Koreas are technically still at war after the three-year conflict ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty. Last month, South Korea's President Park told her military to make sure that any North Korean provocation would lead to the "self-destruction" of the regime in Pyongyang.
"I call on you to maintain a robust posture to retaliate… to make sure that any attempt by the north at engaging in any form of provocations will lead to the self-destruction of the North Korean regime," she said.
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