While North Korea’s launches of longer range missiles and it’s sixth and largest nuclear weapon test this month have generated concern, Pyongyang also has low-tech weaponry for use in any conflict with the US and its allies.
One example that doesn’t get headlines is the 300 An-2 biplanes in the North Korean airforce.
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Designed in 1946, the aircraft is made largely from wood with a small engine and is difficult to detect by radar. The planes can carry as many as ten paratroops for low-level incursions, but their most unnerving application would be in dispersing biological or chemical weapons.
North Korea is known to possess stockpiles of such toxins as Sarin and VX, with the latter believed to have been used to assassinate Kim Jong-un’s half brother earlier this year in Kuala Lumpur. Syria has also used chemical weapons on its own people in the civil war in that country.
The An-2 aircraft are used in other countries for crop dusting due to their ability to fly low and slow yet still maneuver effectively in a safe manner.
With the ability to carry more than 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of cargo, the An-2 has the capacity to release large amounts of biological or chemical agents in any attack launched on cities in South Korea.
This scenario is not to paint a picture of doom, but to stress the focus on North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, while important, shouldn’t completely overshadow the regime’s options to use other weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea will make extensive use of asymmetrical warfare in any conflict as it’s one way Pyongyang overcomes its technological disadvantages.
South Korea and the US must identify those weapons and develop ways to deal with them effectively. Failure to do so will be a fatal mistake.
Robert E. McCoy is a retired US Air Force intelligence professional whose 20-year career focused on North Korea and other Northeast Asian nations.