February 17, 2012: Commercial satellite photos have revealed that North Korean troops have been spending the last few months practicing, at an air base outside the capital, for the largest military parade ever seen in North Korea. This event is to take place on April 15, which is the 100th anniversary of birth of North Korea's first leader: Kim Il Sung. Such parades are held in the North Korean capital and broadcast throughout the country. The troops are drilled until thousands of them can goose-step in unison. This looks very impressive but it belies the sorry state of the North Korean military.
Although North Korea has, on paper, 1.1 million troops in its military (equipped with over 5,000 armored vehicles, 600 combat aircraft, and hundreds of ballistic missiles and rocket launchers), this force has been falling apart since the late 1990s because of a lack of money. To put that in perspective, South Korea (with 680,000 troops, and more tanks, aircraft, and warships than the north) spends over forty times more than the north per man, each year, on equipping, maintaining, and training each of its troops. North Korean troops spend a lot of their time growing their own food, working in factories, laboring on public works projects, and practicing their goose-step. There is little money for fuel to operate trucks or armored vehicles, and even less for spare parts if these elderly vehicles break down. In the north, aircraft and ships rarely operate, which means the crews are poorly trained.
American and South Korean military planners believe that, if North Korea were to declare war (as they have been threatening to do for over half a century), the main threat would be the bombardment of Seoul, the capital, and largest city, of South Korea. Some North Korean artillery can reach Seoul, as can nearly all the rockets and missiles. Damage could be in the tens of billions of dollars and the casualties in the tens of thousands (or more, if chemical weapons are used). But because of the shortages, and lack of training, the North Korean troops would be unable to advance far into South Korea. And the South Koreans have plans for using their better trained and equipped forces to try and halt the bombardment and advance into North Korea as well. For many years, the advance into North Korea was thought to be a difficult option, mainly because of the large number of special operations troops the North Koreans had. But the great meltdown up north has done serious damage to this capability as well.
In the meantime, North Korea has begun holding smaller parades in other cities, to give more troops a little time in the spotlight and to deal with the fact that increasingly frequent electricity shortages make it difficult for people throughout the country to see the big parade on TV. Besides, there's nothing like a live performance.