WORLD NEWS TOMORROW : North Korea has deployed about 50 attack helicopters at air bases near the western maritime border in what appears to be a show of force against South Korea’s reinforcements in the West Sea, according to government sources Tuesday.

“North Korea mobilized its military helicopters in May this year at two air bases near the South’s Baengnyeong Island,” a senior government official said asking for anonymity, noting that the North’s helicopters remain there.

“We believe that the forward deployment of helicopters does not pose a serious security threat and that the North has yet to beef up any other military assets, including artillery units, near the border area.”

He said that any movement by the North’s helicopters will be readily spotted.

The official added that the South’s military authorities have ruled out the possibility that Pyongyang is preparing for another armed provocation.

“As helicopters make a loud noise and are slow enough for us to come up with counter measures, it is very unlikely for them to launch a surprise attack with them,” he said. “The new helicopter assets can be best utilized after artillery attacks, but this would mean a full-frontal attack that the North is unlikely to undertake.”

Another senior official said Pyongyang would have deployed the attack helicopters near the border in response to the South’s military reinforcements on northwestern islands, including attack helicopters and multiple launch rocket systems.

The South launched the West Sea Islands Command and increased the number of K-9 self-propelled howitzers, artillery hunting radars, Cobra attack helicopters and 130 millimeter multiple launch rocket systems following the North’s provocations in 2010.

In March 2010, a North Korean submarine torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan near the maritime border off the west coast, killing 46 sailors. In November, the North’s artillery units shelled the western border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people, including two civilians.

“We are closely watching the North Korean military move as it could relocate the helicopters after troops complete their summer training,” the official said, suggesting that the newly deployed choppers have been mobilized for ground attack drills and field maneuvers.

He also pointed out that the North’s forward deployment of helicopters appear to number about 50, including Mi-2 helicopters, which were produced in the North in the 1980s, and Russian-made models.

According to the 2010 Defense White Paper, the North Korean military operates about 300 helicopters, including 500Ds, while South Korea operates about 680 helicopters, including 500MDs, a variant of the 500D.

The North imported American 500D light helicopters, whose airframe was manufactured in the South, through a German export firm.

Seoul and Washington have strengthened their joint intelligence gathering on the reclusive communist regime, following a series of top-level reshuffles in the North’s military, according to defense officials.

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