Strategic Weapons: North Korean Missileers


May 9, 2020: North Korea is forming another elite tech unit, this one for the SMC (Strategic Military Command), the unit that will control long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. The new SMC recruits were taken from recent graduates of one of the army’s two year technical schools. In North Korea, young men are conscripted to serve up to ten years in the military. Given those long terms of service, the military can justify long training courses to provide an adequate supply of technical specialists. The troops recently moved to the SMC had received training in computer programming, communications and related technical subjects. So, rather than being assigned to headquarters and tech units throughout the army, they will be in the SMC. This is disappointing for some of these troops, who hoped to eventually qualify for further tech training courses. On the plus side, the SMC is one of supreme leader Kim Jong Un’s pet projects. It is no secret that Kim believes SMC, armed with reliable ICBMs and nuclear warheads, is the key to the survival of his North Korean dictatorship.

The new recruits could tell that they were selected for a special unit because the screening process excluded any troops who had a family member in a labor camp (for any reason) or was “missing” (likely fled the country). Those who made it past the screening were given a promotion (from private E-2 to Lance Corporal E-3). Other benefits will include more food and better accommodations. That means electricity most of the time and adequate heat during the long cold weather season. SMC troops will not have to tend farms and livestock as most troops do. While they would have been spared much of that by being assigned to a headquarters or support unit, unless it was a very senior headquarters (corps and above), even tech troops are liable for occasional non-military agricultural or construction duty.

This SMC recruiting effort was unexpected and somewhat improvised. This indicates another impromptu Kim Jong Un decision, something he is noted for. There has been no official announcement about the SMC personnel effort. It was discovered via the “chatter” that regularly gets out of North Korea because of the continued presence of Chinese cell phones and internal Internet. The average North Korean does not consider all information about the military top secret as most families have at least one member in uniform. Then there is information like this that the government does want to be known to the outside world. The North Korean ICBM and nuclear weapons programs have always been long on bluster and short on performance. At the moment North Korea has some long-range ballistic missiles that could, if they were reliable enough, be considered ICBMs. But tests of these missiles, which cannot be hidden, have mostly been disappointing. Same with nuclear weapons development. The weapons developed so far generate a large explosion but apparently not a reliable one nor a weapon designed to survive the rigors of an ICBM launch.

Troops know that being in the SMC early on is beneficial for them. Some have heard about the American equivalent, called “missileers” and featured in numerous unclassified videos, some of which have made their way to North Korea. Being a North Korean missileer won’t mean much unless North Korea gets its ICBMs and nuclear warheads working reliably. The SMC and its weapons have the highest priority in the military. But that can change in an instant if the government changes its mind, for any number of reasons, including leader Kim dying or being removed from power. The SMC gets a disproportionate share of the military budget which, in turn gets over 20 percent of GDP. About five percent of the adult population is in the military or some other uniformed service. All these generate a pervasive of dread and uncertainty about what comes next, even among the new North Korean missileers.




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