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Another North Korean Surprise
by James Dunnigan
June 6, 2014

Recent satellite photos show North Korea may have finally completed two light (about 1,500 ton displacement) frigates. These ships, which feature a helicopter pad on the rear (a first for the North Korean Navy) are among the few new warships North Korea has obtained in the last two decades.

Construction on these two ships began in 2007 and they were in the water by 2011. Given the shortages in North Korea and the priority given to the ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program it’s unclear if these ships could be completely fitted out and ready for service by now.

North Korea rarely builds or buys large (over 1,000 ton) warships. The last ones were acquired in the 1980s. Since then North Korea has concentrated on building mini-subs and small missile boats. North Korea has not yet released any information on these two new ships. Given the helicopter pad they could either be used for anti-submarine operations or (more likely) protecting fishing areas (a valuable source of foreign currency) from poachers.

The two ships are each about 76 meters (250 feet) long and would probably be armed with Cold War vintage weapons, and primitive ones at that. The last North Korean attempt to build a large ship was in the early 1980s. It was a catamaran type design that apparently failed. 

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