May 18, 2022

Join Korea Pro -- the new site for South Korea analysis

A look at North Korea’s “human torpedo” bases

Pair of locations appear key to understanding mysterious program once blamed for Cheonan sinking

At the time of the sinking of the Republic of Korea Navy’s Pohang Class corvette Cheonan (PCC-772) on March 26, 2010 there was much discussion of the loss being caused by a “human torpedo” or “a suicide-bomber riding a torpedo to its target.” While such headlines were dramatic, an international commission of inquiry subsequently concluded that the vessel was sunk by a CHT-02D torpedo manufactured by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This attack is believed to have been conducted by a Yeono Class midget submarine (SSm) from the Reconnaissance General Bureau. But the incident raised interest into the North’s “human torpedo” units.

While the term “human torpedo” is highly evocative of the Japanese “Kaiten” from the end of World War II, the units deployed by Korean People’s Navy (KPN) are more accurately identified as “manned torpedo” and are a small component of the nation’s special operations forces. The primary purpose of the manned torpedo is to quickly deliver over medium distances highly trained combat swimmers and their demolition charges to a target and then allow them to successfully withdraw.