The Korean People's
Army (KPA; Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선인민군;
MR: Chosŏn inmin'gun) is an institution of the Workers' Party of
Korea, and constitutes the de facto military force of North Korea.
Songun policy, it is the central institution of North Korean
Kim Jong-un is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's
Army and Chairman of the Central
Military Commission. The KPA 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 the 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
2016[update], with 5,889,000 paramilitary personnel, it is the largest
paramilitary organization on Earth. This number serves as 25% of the
North Korean population.
1.1 Conflicts and events
2.1 Commission and leadership
2.2 Conscription and terms of service
2.3 Budget and commercial interests
3 Service branches
3.1 People's Ground Force
3.2 People's Navy
Army Air Force and Air Defence Forces
3.4 People's Strategic Rocket Forces
Special Forces (11th Sniper Brigade)
3.6 Worker-Peasant Red Guard Militia
5.2 Chemical weapons
5.2.1 Nuclear capabilities
5.2.2 Nuclear tests
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
A monument in Pyongyang, depicting North Korean airmen and a MiG
Kim Il-sung's anti-Japanese guerrilla army, the Korean People’s
Revolutionary Army, was established on 25 April 1932. This
revolutionary army was transformed into the regular army on 8 February
1948. Both these are celebrated as army days, with decennial
anniversaries treated as major celebrations, except from 1978 to 2014
when only the 1932 anniversary was celebrated.
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
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. By September 1945., the KVA
had a 2,500 strong force at its disposal.
World War II
World War II and during the Soviet Union's occupation of
the part of Korea north of the 38th Parallel, the Soviet 25th Army
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.
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
Military institutes such as the
Pyongyang Academy (became No. 2 KPA
Officers School in Jan. 1949) and the Central
Military Academy in Dec. 1948) soon followed for the
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 the
distribution of Soviet uniforms, badges, and weapons that followed the
inception of the headquarters.
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
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, 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.
Conflicts and events
The Memorial of Soldiers at the Mansudae Grand Monument
Before the outbreak of the Korean War,
Joseph Stalin equipped the KPA
with modern tanks, trucks, artillery, and small arms (at the time, the
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
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. 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
Czechoslovakia and Hungary on the Communist side, and Sweden
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.
North Korean soldier, 2005.
Commission and leadership
The primary path for command and control of the KPA extends through
the State Affairs 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. 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 State Affairs Commission, from
its founding in 1972 (originally the National Defence Commission), 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 SAC became established as its own
independent commission, rising to the same status as the CPC (now the
Cabinet of North Korea) and not subordinated to it, as was the case
before. Concurrent with this,
Kim Jong-il was appointed first
vice-chairman of the State Affairs 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 State Affairs
Commission, by now under
Supreme People's Assembly
Supreme People's Assembly control under the
then 1992 constitution as amended.
Almost all officers of the KPA have begun their military careers as
privates; only very few people are admitted to a military academy
without prior service. The results is an egalitarian military system
where officers are familiar with the life of a military private and
"military nobility" is all but nonexistent.
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 and admiral grade officers. The following April
he ordered the promotions of another 22 generals and flag officers.
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 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
Military Commission of the WPK, 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. Following changes made during the 4th session of the 13th
Supreme People’s Assembly on 29 June 2016, the State Affairs
Commission has overseen the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces as
part of its systemic responsibilities. All members of the State
Affairs Commission have membership status (regular or alternate) on
the WPK Political Bureau.
Conscription and terms of service
Further information: Conscription in North Korea
North Korea has universal conscription for males and selective
conscription for females with many pre- and post-service
requirements. Article 86 of the North Korean
Constitution states: "National defense is the supreme duty and honor
of citizens. Citizens shall defend the country and serve in the armed
forces as required by law."
KPA soldiers serve 3 years of military service in the KPA, which also
runs its own factories, farms and trading arms.
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
Ministry of People's Security
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. The North Korean
Military First") policy
elevates the KPA to the primary position in the government and
Army vehicles on parade
According to North Korea's state news agency, military expenditures
for 2010 made up 15.8 percent of the state budget. 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. 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.
Jo Myong-rok meets
Bill Clinton at the White House,
North Korea sells missiles and military equipment to many countries
worldwide. 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.
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
Palestine Liberation Organization and the Army
of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution. The Zimbabwean Fifth
Brigade received its initial training from KPA instructors. North
Korean troops allegedly saw combat during the Libyan–Egyptian War
and the Angolan Civil War. Up to 200 KPAF pilots took part in the
Vietnam War, scoring several kills against US
aircraft. Two KPA anti-aircraft artillery regiments were
North Vietnam as well.
North Korean instructors trained
Hezbollah fighters in guerrilla
warfare tactics around 2004, prior to the Second Lebanon War.
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
People's Ground Force
Koksan, one of North Korea's principal heavy artillery pieces. This
example was captured in Iraq.
DPRK soldiers standing at the JSA between the blue buildings.
Main article: Korean People's
Army Ground Force
Korean People's Army Ground Force
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.
Main article: Korean People's Navy
Korean People's Navy
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. 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.
Army Air Force and Air Defence Forces
A former Indonesian
Lim-5 on display in the United States in North
Main article: Korean People's
Army Air Force
The KPAF is also responsible for North Korea's air defense 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 defense sites
provides a formidable challenge to enemy air attacks.
People's Strategic Rocket Forces
Main article: Strategic Rocket Forces (North Korea)
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
Special Forces (11th Sniper Brigade)
The special forces of the Korean People's
Army are asymmetric forces
with a total troop size of 200,000. Since the
Korean War (North Korea:
Korean War of Liberation), it has continued to play a role of
concentrating infiltration of troops into the territory of the
Republic of South Korea and conducting sabotage.
Worker-Peasant Red Guard Militia
Main article: Worker-Peasant Red Guards
The Red Guards (1997 complement 3.5 million) is the DPRK equivalent of
Army Reserve (US)/Home Guard (UK)/National Guard (US)/Territorial
Army (UK). As a part of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces, 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
Semi-submersible infiltration craft used by North Korean Special
After the Korean War,
North Korea maintained a powerful, but smaller
military force than that of South Korea. In 1967 the KPA forces of
about 345,000 were much smaller than the South Korean ground forces of
about 585,000. North Korea's 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.
In response to this predicament,
North Korea relies on asymmetric
warfare techniques and unconventional weaponry to achieve parity
against high-tech enemy forces.
North Korea is reported to have
developed a wide range of technologies towards this end, such as
stealth paint to conceal ground targets, midget submarines and
human torpedoes, blinding laser weapons, and probably has a
chemical weapons program and is likely to possess a stockpile of
chemical weapons. The Korean People's
Army operates ZM-87
anti-personnel lasers, which are banned under the United Nations
Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons.
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.
The Korean People's
Army has also made advances in electronic warfare
GPS jammers. 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. The Korean
Army has also made attempts to jam South Korean military
North Korea does not have satellites capable of
obtaining satellite imagery useful for military purposes, and appears
to use imagery from foreign commercial platforms.
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
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. The Strategic Rocket Forces
operate more than 1,000 ballistic missiles according to South Korean
officials in 2010, although the U.S. Department of Defense
reported in 2012 that
North Korea has fewer than 200 missile
North Korea acquired 12 Foxtrot class and Golf-II class
missile submarines as scrap in 1993. 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. However GlobalSecurity
reports that the submarines were rust-eaten hulks with the launch
tubes inactivated under Russian observation before delivery, and
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense does not list them as active.
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.
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, 11,000 air defense guns and some 10,000
MANPADS and anti-tank guided missiles in the Ground force; about
500 vessels in the Navy and 730 combat aircraft in the Air
Force, of which 478 are fighters and 180 are bombers. North
Korea also has the largest special forces in the world, as well as the
largest submarine fleet. 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 a vast array of long range artillery in shelters
just north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. It has been a
long-standing cause for concern that a preemptive strike or
retaliatory strike on
Seoul using this arsenal of artillery north of
the Demilitarized Zone would lead to a massive loss of life in Seoul.
Estimates on how many people would die in an attack on
When the Clinton administration mobilized forces over the reactor at
Yongbyon in 1994, planners concluded that retaliation by North Korea
Seoul could kill 40,000 people. Other estimates projects
hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of fatalities if North
Korea uses chemical munitions.
The KPA possess a variety of Chinese and Soviet sourced equipment and
weaponry, as well as locally produced versions and improvements of the
former. Soldiers are mostly armed with indigenous Kalashnikov-type
rifles as the standard issue weapon. Front line troops are issued the
Type 88, while the older
Type 58 assault rifle
Type 58 assault rifle and Type 68A/B have
been shifted to rear echelon or home guard units. A rifle of
unknown nomenclature was seen during the 2017 'Day of the Sun'
military parade, appearing to consist of a grenade launcher and a
standard assault rifle, similar to the U.S
OICW or South Korean
S&T Daewoo K11. It is however more likely that the "grenade
launcher" (the large tube present under the rifle) is actually a large
helical magazine, similar to that used by the Bizon SMG. North Korea
generally designates rifles as "Type XX", similar to the Chinese
North Korea and weapons of mass destruction
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense believes
North Korea probably has a
chemical weapons program and is likely to possess a stockpile of such
Main article: Intercontinental ballistic missile
North Korea's ballistic missiles
North Korea has tested a series of different missiles, including
short-, medium-, intermediate-, and intercontinental- range, and
submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Estimates of the country’s
nuclear stockpile vary: some experts believe
Pyongyang has between
fifteen and twenty nuclear weapons, while U.S. intelligence believes
the number to be between thirty and sixty bombs. The regime conducted
two tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of
carrying a large nuclear warhead in July 2017. The Pentagon confirmed
North Korea’s ICBM tests, and analysts estimate that the new missile
has a potential range of 10,400 kilometers (6,500 miles) and, if fired
on a flatter trajectory, could be capable of reaching mainland U.S.
Main article: North Korean nuclear program
On 9 October 2006, the
North Korean government
North Korean government announced that it had
unsuccessfully attempted a nuclear test for the first time. Experts at
United States Geological Survey
United States Geological Survey and 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.
North Korea also went on to claim that it had developed a nuclear
weapon in 2009. It is widely believed to possess a stockpile of
relatively simple nuclear weapons. The
IAEA has met Ri Je Son, The
Director General of the General Department of Atomic Energy (GDAE) of
the DPRK, to discuss nuclear matters. Ri Je Son was also
mentioned in this role in 2002 in a
United Nations article.
On September 3, 2017, the North Korean leadership announced that it
had conducted a nuclear test with what it claimed to be its first
hydrogen bomb detonation. The detonation took place at an
underground location at the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site in North
Hamgyong Province at 12:00 pm local time. South Korean officials
claimed the test yielded 50 kilotons of explosive force, with many
international observers claiming the test likely involved some form of
a thermonuclear reaction.
2006 North Korean nuclear test
2009 North Korean nuclear test
2013 North Korean nuclear test
January 2016 North Korean nuclear test
September 2016 North Korean nuclear test
September 2017 North Korean nuclear test
Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground
Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center
The launching of
Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2 in
North Korea portal
Military Band of the Korean Peoples Army
Republic of Korea Armed Forces
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