Korean People's Army

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Korean People's Army
Flag of the Korean People's Army
Flag of the Korean People's Army.
Founded 25 April 1932 (claimed)
8 February 1948 (current form)
Service branches
Headquarters Pyongyang, North Korea
Marshal Kim Jong-un
General Pak Yong-sik
General Ri Yong-gil
Conscription 17 years of age
Available for
military service
6,515,279 males, age 15-29 (2010),
6,418,693 females, age 15-29 (2010)
Fit for
military service
4,836,567 males, age 15-29 (2010),
5,230,137 females, age 15-29 (2010)
Reaching military
age annually
207,737 males (2010),
204,553 females (2010)
Active personnel 1,190,000 (2012) (ranked 5th)[1]
Reserve personnel 600,000 reserves (2012)
5,889,000 paramilitary (2012) (ranked 1st)
Budget ~$15 billion [2]
Percent of GDP 20.8%[3][4]
Domestic suppliers
Foreign suppliers  China
Annual exports $100 million [5]
Related articles
History Korean War
Korean DMZ Conflict
Vietnam War
Yom Kippur War
Ranks Comparative military ranks of Korea
Korean People's Army
Chosŏn'gŭl 조선인민군
Hancha 朝鮮人民軍
Revised Romanization Joseon Inmingun
McCune–Reischauer Chosŏn Inmingun
Emblem of North Korea.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
North Korea
Foreign relations

The Korean People's Army (KPA; Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선인민군; Chosŏn inmin'gun) constitutes the military defence forces of North Korea. Kim Jong-un is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army and Chairman of both the Central Military Commission and National Defence Commission. The KPA defence consists of five branches: Ground Force, the Navy, the Air Force, the Strategic Rocket Forces, and the Special Operation Force. The Worker-Peasant Red Guards also come under control of the KPA.

The KPA faces its primary adversaries, the Republic of Korea Armed Forces and United States Forces Korea, across the Korean Demilitarized Zone, as it has since the Armistice Agreement of July 1953. As of 2013, with 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel, it is the fourth largest military organization on Earth.[citation needed] This number represents nearly 40% of the population,[6] and is the numeric equivalent of the entire population between ages 20 and 45.[7]


North Korea officially dates the foundation of the KPA back to the establishment of Kim Il-sung's anti-Japanese guerrilla army. In the 1970s, "Military Foundation Day" was changed from 8 February to 25 April, the nominal day of establishment of this army in 1932.[8]

In 1939, the Korean Volunteer Army (KVA), was formed in Yan'an, China. The two individuals responsible for the army were Kim Tu-bong and Mu Chong. At the same time, a school was established near Yan'an for training military and political leaders for a future independent Korea. By 1945, the KVA had grown to approximately 1,000 men, mostly Korean deserters from the Imperial Japanese Army. During this period, the KVA fought alongside the Chinese communist forces from which it drew its arms and ammunition. After the defeat of the Japanese, the KVA accompanied the Chinese communist forces into eastern Jilin, intending to gain recruits from ethnic Koreans in China, particularly from Yanbian, and then enter Korea.[9] By September 1945, the KVA had a 2,500 strong force at its disposal.[citation needed]

Just after World War II and during the Soviet Union's occupation of the part of Korea north of the 38th Parallel, the Soviet 25th Army headquarters in Pyongyang issued a statement ordering all armed resistance groups in the northern part of the peninsula to disband on 12 October 1945. Two thousand Koreans with previous experience in the Soviet army were sent to various locations around the country to organize constabulary forces with permission from Soviet military headquarters, and the force was created on 21 October 1945.[10]

The headquarters felt a need for a separate unit for security around railways, and the formation of the unit was announced on 11 January 1946. That unit was activated on 15 August of the same year to supervise existing security forces and creation of the national armed forces.[10]

Military institutes such as the Pyongyang Academy (became No. 2 KPA Officers School in Jan. 1949) and the Central Constabulary Academy (became KPA Military Academy in Dec. 1948) soon followed for education of political and military officers for the new armed forces.

After the military was organized and facilities to educate its new recruits were constructed, the Constabulary Discipline Corps was reorganized into the Korean People's Army General Headquarters. The previously semi-official units became military regulars with distribution of Soviet uniforms, badges, and weapons that followed the inception of the headquarters.[10]

The State Security Department, a forerunner to the Ministry of People's Defense, was created as part of the Interim People's Committee on 4 February 1948. The formal creation of the Korean People's Army was announced on four days later on 8 February, the day after the Fourth Plenary Session of the People’s Assembly approved the plan to separate the roles of the military and those of the police,[11] seven months before the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed on 9 September 1948. In addition, the Ministry of State for the People's Armed Forces was established, which controlled a central guard battalion, two divisions, and an independent mixed and combined arms brigade.[10]

Conflicts and events

A monument in Pyongyang, depicting North Korean airmen and a MiG fighter.

Before the outbreak of the Korean War, Joseph Stalin equipped the KPA with modern tanks, trucks, artillery, and small arms (at the time, the South Korean Army had nothing remotely comparable either in numbers of troops or equipment). During the opening phases of the Korean War in 1950, the KPA quickly drove South Korean forces south and captured Seoul, only to lose 70,000 of their 100,000-strong army in the autumn after U.S. amphibious landings at the Battle of Incheon and a subsequent drive to the Yalu River. On 4 November, China openly staged a military intervention. On 7 December, Kim Il-sung was deprived of the right of command of KPA by China.[12] The KPA subsequently played a secondary minor role to Chinese forces in the remainder of the conflict. By the time of the Armistice in 1953, the KPA had sustained 290,000 casualties and lost 90,000 men as POWs.

In 1953, the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) was able to oversee and enforce the terms of the armistice. The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), originally made up of delegations from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary on the Communist side, and Sweden and Switzerland on the United Nations side, monitored the activities of the MAC.

Soviet thinking on the strategic scale was replaced since December 1962 with a people's war concept. The Soviet idea of direct warfare was replaced with a Maoist war of attrition strategy. Along with the mechanization of some infantry units, more emphasis was put on light weapons, high-angle indirect fire, night fighting, and sea denial.[13]


North Korean soldier, 2005.

Commission and leadership

The primary path for command and control of the KPA extends through the National Defense Commission which was led by its chairman Kim Jong-il until 2011, to the Ministry of People's Armed Forces and its General Staff Department.[14] From there on, command and control flows to the various bureaus and operational units. A secondary path, to ensure political control of the military establishment, extends through the Workers' Party of Korea's Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea.

Since 1990, numerous and dramatic transformations within the DPRK have led to the current command and control structure. The details of the majority of these changes are simply unknown to the world. What little is known indicates that many changes were the natural result of the deaths of the aging leadership including Kim Il-sung (July 1994), Minister of People's Armed Forces O Chin-u (February 1995) and Minister of People's Armed Forces Choi Kwang (February 1997).

The vast majority of changes were undertaken to secure the power and position of Kim Jong-il. Formerly the National Defence Commission, from its founding in 1972, was part of the Central People's Committee while the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces, from 1982 onward, was under direct presidential control. At the Eighteenth session of the sixth Central People's Committee, held on 23 May 1990, the NDC became established as its own independent commission, rising to the same status as the CPC (now the Cabinet) and not subordinated to it, as was the case before. Concurrent with this, Kim Jong-il was appointed first vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission. The following year, on 24 December 1991, Kim Jong-il was appointed Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army. Four months later, on 20 April 1992, Kim Jong-il was awarded the rank of Marshal and his father, in virtue of being the KPA's founding commander in chief, became Grand Marshal as a result and one year later he became the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, by now under Supreme People's Assembly control under the then 1992 constitution as amended.

Within the KPA, between December 1991 and December 1995, nearly 800 high officers (out of approximately 1,200) received promotions and preferential assignments. Three days after Kim Jong-il became Marshal, eight generals were appointed to the rank of Vice-Marshal. In April 1997, on the 85th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birthday, Kim Jong-il promoted 127 general grade officers. The following April he ordered the promotions of another 22 generals. Along with these changes many KPA officers were appointed to influential positions within the Korean Workers' Party. These promotions continue today, simultaneous with the celebration of Kim Il-sung's birthday and the KPA anniversary celebrations every April and since recently in July to honor the end of the Korean War. Under Kim Jong-il's leadership, political officers dispatched from the party monitored every move of a general’s daily life, according to analysts[15] similar to the work of Soviet political commissars during the early and middle years of the military establishment.

Today the KPA exercises full control of both the Politburo and the Central Military Commission of the WPK, the National Defence Commission, the KPA General Political and General Staff Departments and the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces, all having KPA representatives with a minimum general officer rank.

Conscription and terms of service

Korean People's Army soldiers

North Korea has universal conscription for males and selective conscription for females with many pre- and post-service requirements. North Korea has a mandatory service that ranges between 3 and 5 years. Article 86 of the North Korean Constitution states, "Defending the fatherland is the supreme duty and honor of citizens. Citizens shall defend the fatherland and serve in the armed forces as prescribed by law".

KPA soldiers serve 10 years of military service in the KPA, which also runs its own factories, farms and trading arms.[15]

Paramilitary organizations

The Young Red Guards are the youth cadet corps of the KPA for secondary level and university level students. Every Saturday, they hold mandatory 4-hour military training drills, and have training activities on and off campus to prepare them for military service when they turn 18 or after graduation, as well as for contingency measures in peacetime.

The Memorial of Soldiers at the Mansudae Grand Monument

Under the Ministry of People's Security and the wartime control of the Ministry of People's Armed Forces, and formerly the Korean People's Security Forces, the Korean People's Internal Security Forces forms the national gendarmerie and civil defense force of the KPA. The KPISF has its units in various fields like civil defense, traffic management, civil disturbance control, and local security. It has its own special forces units. The service shares the ranks of the KPA (with the exception of Marshals) but wears different uniforms.

Budget and commercial interests

The KPA's annual budget is approximately US$6 billion. The U.S. Institute for Science and International Security reports that the DPRK may possess fissile material for around two to nine nuclear warheads.[16] The North Korean Songun ("Military First") policy elevates the KPA to the primary position in the government and society.

According to North Korea's state news agency, military expenditures for 2010 made up 15.8 percent of the state budget.[17] Most analyses of North Korea’s defense sector, however, estimate that defense spending constitutes between one-quarter and one-third of all government spending. As of 2003, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, North Korea’s defense budget consumed some 25 percent of central government spending.[18] In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, according to figures released by the Polish Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, between 32 and 38 percent of central government expenditures went towards defense.[19]

Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok meets Bill Clinton at the White House, October 2000

North Korea sells missiles and military equipment to many countries worldwide.[20] In April 2009, the United Nations named the Korea Mining and Development Trading Corporation (KOMID) as North Korea's primary arms dealer and main exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. It also named Korea Ryonbong as a supporter of North Korea's military related sales.[21]

Historically, North Korea has assisted a vast number of revolutionary, insurgent and terrorist groups in more than 62 countries. A cumulative total of more than 5,000 foreign personnel have been trained in North Korea, and over 7,000 military advisers, primarily from the Reconnaissance Bureau, have been dispatched to some forty-seven countries. Some of the organisations which received North Korean aid include the Polisario Front, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, the Communist Party of Thailand, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution. The Zimbabwean Fifth Brigade received its initial training from KPA instructors.[22] North Korean troops allegedly saw combat during the Libyan–Egyptian War and the Angolan Civil War.[23] Up to 200 KPAF pilots took part in the Vietnam War,[24] scoring several kills against US aircraft.[25][26][27] Two KPA anti-aircraft artillery regiments were sent to North Vietnam as well.[28]

North Korean instructors trained Hezbollah fighters in guerrilla warfare tactics around 2004, prior to the Second Lebanon War.[29] During the Syrian Civil War, Arabic-speaking KPA officers may have assisted the Syrian Arab Army in military operations planning and have supervised artillery bombardments in the Aleppo area.[30]

Service branches

People's Ground Force

Koksan, one of North Korea's principal heavy artillery pieces. This example was captured in Iraq.

The Korean People's Army Ground Force (KPAGF) is the main branch of the Korean People's Army responsible for land-based military operations. It is the de facto army of North Korea. The size, organization, disposition, and combat capabilities of the Ground Force give Pyongyang military options both for offensive operations to reunify the peninsula and for credible defensive operations against any perceived threat from South Korea.

People's Navy

The Korean People's Navy is organized into two fleets which are not able to support each other. The East Fleet is headquartered at T'oejo-dong and the West Fleet at Nampho. A number of training, shipbuilding and maintenance units and a naval air wing report directly to Naval Command Headquarters at Pyongyang.[31] The majority of the navy's ships are assigned to the East Fleet. Due to the short range of most ships, the two fleets are not known to have ever conducted joint operations or shared vessels.[32]

People's Air Force and Air Defence Forces

A former Indonesian Lim-5 on display in the United States in North Korean markings

The KPAF is also responsible for North Korea's air defence forces through the use of anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air (SAM) missiles. While much of the equipment is outdated, the high saturation of multilayered, overlapping, mutually supporting air defence sites provides a formidable challenge to enemy air attacks.[33]

People's Strategic Rocket Forces

The Korean People's Strategic Rocket Forces is a major division of the KPA that controls the DPRK's nuclear and conventional strategic missiles. It is mainly equipped with surface-to-surface missiles of Soviet and Chinese design, as well as locally developed long-range missiles.

Missile tests




Worker-Peasant Red Guard Militia

The Red Guards (1997 complement 3.5 million) is the DPRK equivalent of an ROTC/Home Guard/National Guard/Territorial Army. It is regarded as a part of both the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces and the National Defence Commission and its service flag enjoys the same status as that of the other services. With units organized from University level down to the village level made of part-time national servicemen and women from all walks of life, it provides the Korean People's Army with a ready-available pool of trained reinforcements during both peacetime and wartime deployments. As part of its responsibilities as a national militia, the WPRG also reports to the Workers' Party of Korea's Military Affairs Department (until 2010 it reported also to the Civil Defense Department).


Semi-submersible infiltration craft used by North Korean Special Forces[citation needed]

Although the North Korean military once enjoyed a startling advantage against its counterpart in South Korea, its relative isolation and economic plight starting from the 1980s has now tipped the balance of military power into the hands of the better-equipped South Korean military.[20] In response to this predicament, North Korea relies on asymmetric warfare techniques and unconventional weaponry to achieve parity against high-tech enemy forces.[20] North Korea is reported to have developed a wide range of technologies towards this end, such as stealth paint to conceal ground targets,[34] midget submarines and human torpedoes,[35] blinding laser weapons,[36] and probably has a chemical weapons program and is likely to possess a stockpile of chemical weapons.[37] The Korean People's Army operates ZM-87 anti-personnel lasers, which are banned under the United Nations Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons.[36]

Since the 1980s, North Korea has also been actively developing its own cyber warfare capabilities. As of 2014, the secretive Bureau 121 - the elite North Korean cyber warfare unit - comprises approximately 1,800 highly trained hackers. In December 2014, the Bureau was accused of hacking Sony and making threats, leading to the cancellation of The Interview, a comedy based on the assassination of Kim Jong-un.[38][39] The Korean People's Army has also made advances in electronic warfare by developing GPS jammers.[40] Current models include vehicle-mounted jammers with a range of 50 kilometres (31 mi)-100 kilometres (62 mi). Jammers with a range of more than 100 km are being developed, along with electromagnetic pulse bombs.[41] The Korean People's Army has also made attempts to jam South Korean military satellites.[42]

A KPAF Ilyushin Il-76MD strategic airlifter in the mid-2000s, in Air Koryo markings.

Despite the general fuel and ammunition shortages for training, it is estimated that the wartime strategic reserves of food for the army are sufficient to feed the regular troops for 500 days, while fuel and ammunition - amounting to 1.5 million and 1.7 million tonnes respectively - are sufficient to wage a full-scale war for 100 days.[43]

The KPA does not operate aircraft carriers, but has other means of power projection. Korean People's Air Force Il-76MD aircraft provide a strategic airlift capacity of 6,000 troops, while the Navy's sea lift capacity amounts to 15,000 troops.[44] The Strategic Rocket Forces operate more than 1,000 ballistic missiles according to South Korean officials in 2010,[45] although the U.S. Department of Defense reported in 2012 that North Korea has fewer than 200 missile launchers.[37] North Korea acquired 12 Foxtrot class and Golf-II class missile submarines as scrap in 1993.[46] Some analysts suggest that these have either been refurbished with the help of Russian experts or their launch tubes have been reverse-engineered and externally fitted to regular submarines or cargo ships.[47] However GlobalSecurity reports that the submarines were rust-eaten hulks with the launch tubes inactivated under Russian observation before delivery,[48] and the U.S. Department of Defense does not list them as active.[37]

A photograph of Kim Jong Un receiving a briefing from his top generals on 29 March 2013 showed a list that purported to show that the military had a minimum of 40 submarines, 13 landing ships, 6 minesweepers, 27 support vessels and 1,852 aircraft.[49]

The Korean People's Army operates a very large amount of equipment, including 4,100 tanks, 2,100 APCs, 8,500 field artillery pieces, 5,100 multiple rocket launchers,[37] 11,000 air defense guns and some 10,000 MANPADS and anti-tank guided missiles[50] in the Ground force; about 500 vessels in the Navy[37] and 730 combat aircraft in the Air Force,[37] of which 478 are fighters and 180 are bombers.[51] North Korea also has the largest special forces in the world, as well as the largest submarine fleet.[52] The equipment is a mixture of World War II vintage vehicles and small arms, widely proliferated Cold War technology, and more modern Soviet or locally produced weapons.

North Korea possesses some 700 long-range artillery pieces — Koksan 170 mm howitzers and 240 mm multiple rocket launchers — that are capable of bombarding Seoul. Given the city's population of 24 million people, the fear has always been that a preemptive attack on the capital could kill millions and turn it into a "Sea of Fire." However, a study released by the Nautilus Institute shows that the scenario may not be as devastating as previously considered. If the bombardment was focused at military targets in Seoul, some three thousand people may be killed within a few minutes, but casualties would drop soon after as surprise wears off and counter-battery fire engages. If civilian areas were hit, casualties could approach 30,000 very shortly. Many factors influence how much firepower could be brought to bear against Seoul at any one time including North Korean doctrine to hold 25 percent of guns back in reserve, a shell dud rate of up to 25 percent, a poor logistics and resupply system, and air attacks that would likely whittle down the number of artillery pieces.[53]

Military equipment


The KPA soldiers are mostly armed with locally produced Kalashnikov-type rifles as the standard issue weapon, notably the Type 58 assault rifle, Type 68A/B (AKM/AKMS), QBZ-03. Rifles are designated like the Kalashnikov naming system, but they are named as "Type XX", making it more like the Chinese naming system. Aside from AK-type rifles, the KPA would gain some foreign made weaponry, mostly from China.[54][55]

Chemical weapons

The U.S. Department of Defense believes North Korea probably has a chemical weapons program and is likely to possess a stockpile of weapons.[37]

Nuclear weapons

5 MWe experimental reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.

Nuclear tests

On 9 October 2006, the North Korean government first announced that it had successfully fulfilled a nuclear test for the first time. Experts at the United States Geological Survey and other Japanese seismological authorities detected an earthquake with a preliminary estimated magnitude of 4.3 from the site in North Korea, proving the official claims to be true.[56]

North Korea also went on to claim that it had developed a nuclear weapon in 2009. It is widely believed to possess a small stockpile of relatively simple nuclear weapons. The IAEA has met with Ri Je Son, The Director General of the General Department of Atomic Energy (GDAE) of DPRK, to discuss nuclear matters.[57][58] Ri Je Son was also mentioned in this role in 2002 in a United Nations article.[59]

2006 North Korean nuclear test
2009 North Korean nuclear test
2013 North Korean nuclear test


Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground
Ryanggang explosion
Stealth paint
Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center
Asymmetric warfare
The launching of Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 and Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2 in 2012

See also


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  3. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/dprk/budget.htm
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  59. United Nations News Centre - DPR of Korea informs IAEA of intent to lift 'freeze' on nuclear power plants


Further reading

  • Bermudez, Joseph S. (1998). North Korean special forces. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-066-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Boik, William A. (2008). Orders, Decorations, and Medals of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Springfield, VA: DBMPress.com. ISBN 978-0-615-19087-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

bn:উত্তর কোরিয়ার সামরিক বাহিনী