Korean People's Army

Korean People's Army
Korean People's Army
Chosŏn inmin'gun (조선인민군)
The flag of the Korean People's Army
The flag of the Korean People's Army
Founded 8 February 1948 / 25 April 1932[1]
Service branches Flag of the Korean People's Army.svg Korean People's Army Ground Force
Flag of the Korean People's Navy.svg Korean People's Navy
NKAF flag.svg Korean People's Air Force
Artillery Guidance Bureau
North Korean Special Operation Force
Headquarters Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army Marshal Kim Jong-il
Minister of People's Armed Forces Vice Marshal Kim Yong-Chun
Chief of the General Staff Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho
Conscription 17 years of age
Available for
military service
6,515,279 males, age 17-49 (2010 est.),
6,418,693 females, age 17-49 (2010 est.)
Fit for
military service
4,836,567 males, age 17-49 (2010 est.),
5,230,137 females, age 17-49 (2010 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
207,737 males (2010 est.),
204,553 females (2010 est.)
Active personnel 1,106,000[2] (2010)
Reserve personnel 8,200,000 (2010)
Budget ~$8 billion
Percent of GDP ~25.0%
Domestic suppliers Chongyul Arms Plant
Ryu Kyong-su Tank Factory
Sungri Motor Plant
Foreign suppliers  Russia
Annual exports $ 100.00 million
Related articles
Ranks Comparative military ranks of Korea
Korean People's Army
Chosŏn'gŭl 조선인민군
Hancha 朝鮮人民軍
McCune–Reischauer Chosŏn Inmingun
Revised Romanization Joseon Inmingun

The Korean People's Army (KPA), also known as the Inmin Gun, are the military forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Kim Jong-il is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army and Chairman of the National Defence Commission. The KPA has five branches: the (i) Army Ground Force, (ii) the Navy, (iii) the Air Force, (iv) the Artillery Guidance Bureau, and (v) the Special Operation Force.

The KPA's annual budget is US$6 billion. The US research organization ISIS reports that the DPRK may possess fissile material for some 2 to 9 nuclear weapons.[3] North Korea’s Songun “Military First” policy elevates the KPA to the primary position in the Government and society.

In 1978, Kim Il-sung directed that "Military Foundation Day" be changed from 8 February to 25 April, the nominal day of establishment of his anti-Japanese guerrilla army in 1932, to recognize the supposedly indigenous Korean origins of the KPA and obscure its Soviet origin.[1] An active arms industry had been developed to produce long-range missiles such as the Nodong-1.

North Korea is the most militarized country in the world today,[4] having the fourth largest army in the world, at about 1,106,000 armed personnel, with about 20% of men ages 17–54 in the regular armed forces.[5] Military service of up to 10 years is mandatory for most males. It also has a reserve force comprising 7,700,000 personnel.[6] It operates an enormous network of military facilities scattered around the country, a large weapons production basis, a dense air defense system,[7] the third largest chemical weapons stockpile in the world,[8] and includes the world's largest Special Forces contingent (numbering 180,000 men).[9] While the aging equipment,[10] deriving from the economic plight of the country, is seen as major defect of the North Korean military capability, it is nevertheless regarded as a significant threat due to its size and proximity to major civilian areas.

The KPA faces the Military of South Korea and United States Forces Korea across the Korean Demilitarized Zone, as it has since the Armistice Agreement of 1953.



The Korean People's Army history began with the Korean Volunteer Army (KVA), which was formed in Yenan, China, in 1939. The two individuals responsible for the army were Kim Tu-bong and Mu Chong. At the same time, a school was established near Yenan 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 Manchuria, intending to gain recruits from the Korean population of Manchuria and then enter Korea. By September 1945 the KVA had a 2,500 strong force at its disposal.

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 October 12, 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 October 21.

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

The first political-military school in the DPRK, the Pyongyang Military Academy (became No. 2 KPA Officers School in January 1949), headed by Kim Chaek, an ally of Kim Il-sung, was founded in October 1945 under Soviet guidance to train people's guards, or public security units. In 1946 graduates of the school entered regular police and public security/constabulary units. These lightly armed security forces included followers of Kim Il-sung and returned veterans from the People's Republic of China, and the Central Constabulary Academy (which became the KPA Military Academy in December 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.

The State Security Department, a forerunner to the Ministry of People's Defense, was created as part of the Interim People's Committee on February 4, 1948. The formal creation of the Korean People's Army was announced four days later on February 8 seven months before the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed on September 9, 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.

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). The KPA was the primary instigator of the Korean War (called the "Fatherland Liberation War" in the North).

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

Post Korean War

In the early 1970s, following the lead of Soviet military leaders and theorists who were rediscovering and beginning to apply the 1920s–1930s thinking of Soviet military theorists Alexander Svechin, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Vladimir Triandafillov, and others on operational art and “deep operations,” the Soviet-trained officers of the KPA were developing their version, termed “Two Front War.”[11] As they envisioned it, a very large conventional force, greatly reinforced with artillery, armor, and mechanized forces, employing surprise, speed, and shock, would break through the DMZ, envelop and destroy South Korean forward forces, and rapidly overrun the entire peninsula.

During the 1970s, senior KPA officers writing in official journals echoed Soviet military thinking as they characterized the nature of modern warfare as three-dimensional, with no distinction between front and rear, highly mobile, and increasingly dependent upon mechanization, task organization, and improved engineer capabilities. These articles presaged dramatic increases in mechanized and truck-mobile infantry and self-propelled artillery battalions and ultimately a major expansion, reorganization, and redeployment forward of KPA ground forces.

Command and control

The primary path for command and control of the KPA extends through the National Defense Commission which is led by its chairman Kim Jong-il, to the Ministry of People's Armed Forces and its General Staff Department.[12] From there on, command and control flows to the various bureaus and operational units. A secondary path, to ensure political control, extends through the Korean Workers' Party's Central Military Committee.

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. At the Eighteenth session of the sixth Central People's Committee, held on May 23, 1990, the National Defense Commission became established as its own independent commission, rising to the same status as the Central People's Committee and not subordinated to it, as 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 one year later he became the Chairman of the National Defense Commission.

Within the KPA, between December 1991 and December 1995, nearly 800 high officers (out of approximately 1200) 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.

Ground Forces


A North Korean soldier in 2005.

The KPA ground forces are by far the largest component of the DPRK's military. As of 2001 the army was composed of approximately 1,003,000 personnel organised into 20 corps consisting of 176 divisions and brigades. The army is equipped with very large numbers of artillery and combat vehicles and approximately 70 percent of active units are based near the border with South Korea. The KPA also has a special operations force comprising over 90,000 personnel.[13]

Until 1986 most sources claimed the army had two armored divisions.[14] These divisions disappeared from the order of battle and were replaced by the armored corps and a doubling of the armored brigade count. In the mid-1980s, the heavy caliber self propelled artillery was consolidated into the first multibrigade artillery corps. At the same time, the restructured mobile exploitation forces were redeployed forward, closer to the DMZ. The forward corps areas of operation were compressed although their internal organization appeared to remain basically the same. The deployment of the newly formed mechanized, armored, and artillery corps directly behind the first echelon conventional forces provides a potent exploitation force that did not exist prior to 1980.

As of 1992, the army was composed of sixteen corps commands, two separate special operations forces commands, and nine military district commands (or regions) under the control of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces. Most sources agreed that the DPRK's ground forces consisted of approximately 145 divisions and brigades, of which approximately 120 are active. There is less agreement, however, on the breakdown of the forces.

As of 1996, major combat units consisted of 153 divisions and brigades, including 60 infantry divisions/brigades, 25 mechanized infantry brigades, 13 tank brigades, 25 Special Operation Force (SOF) brigades and 30 artillery brigades.[15] North Korea deployed ten corps including sixty divisions and brigades in the forward area south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line.

Ground Forces Equipment

Line drawing of a Ch'ŏnma-ho tank
Soldier conducting maintenance checks on a KPAGF jeep

Beginning in the late 1970s, after South Korea received new technologies and equipment from the United States,[16][17] the DPRK began a major reorganization and modernization of its ground forces. The DPRK began to produce a modified version of the 115 mm gunned T-62 tank, which was the Soviet army's main battle tank in the 1960s. Based on general trends and photography of armed forces parades, it is clear that the DPRK has made considerable modifications to the basic Soviet and Chinese designs in its own production.

In the 1980s, in order to make the army more mobile and mechanized, there was a steady influx of new tanks, self propelled artillery, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and trucks. The ground forces seldom retire old models of weapons and tend to maintain a large equipment stock, keeping old models along with upgraded ones in the active force or in reserve. The army remains largely an infantry force, although a decade-long modernization program has significantly improved the mobility and firepower of its active forces.

Between 1980 and 1992, the DPRK reorganized, reequipped, and forward deployed the majority of its ground forces. The army places great emphasis on special operations and has the largest special operations forces in the world — tailored to meet the distinct requirements of mountainous Korean terrain. Between 1984 and 1992, the army added about 1,000 tanks, over 2,500 APC/IFV, and about 6,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers. In 1992 North Korea had about twice the advantage in numbers of tanks and artillery, and a 1.5-to-1 advantage in personnel over its potential adversaries[citation needed], the United States and Republic of Korea defenses to the south. Over 60 percent of the army was located within 100 kilometers of the DMZ in mid-1993.

North Korean Navy

The Korean People's Naval Command - more commonly known as the Korean People's Navy (KPN) - is a green-water navy and operates mainly within the 50 kilometer exclusion zone. The KPN is the lowest priority military service and most of its equipment is obsolete. As at 2007 the KPN comprised 46,000 personnel and operated 704 ships and landing and infiltration craft. The navy also operates a large number of coastal defence units which are equipped with artillery and surface-to-surface missiles.[18]

The KPN is organised 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 aviation battalion report directly to Naval Command Headquarters at Pyongyang.[19] 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.[20]

Korean People's Air Force

A rare picture of a KPAF MiG-29 flying in 2003. Pictures of modern Korean military equipment are extremely rare.

The Korean People's Air and Air Defense Command, better known as the Korean People's Air Force (KPAF), is primarily an air defense force, with limited offensive capability. The selection criteria for the KPAF is much higher than the ground forces or navy. This has resulted in a force which is qualitatively above the national average in the level of education, technical proficiency, political reliability and ideological conviction. Although it has much higher priority than the Navy and even the Ground Forces in some respects, it is still undertrained and underequipped, largely due to a lack of spare parts, expertise and equipment (most KPAF pilots only have 25 hours of flight time at best, in comparison, NATO member nations require 150 flight time hours for their pilots); constant fears of defections exist as well. However the units operating MiG-29 and MiG-23ML receive multiple times this amount of flight time. As of 2007 it comprised 110,000 personnel and between 1,600 and 1,700 aircraft. The KPAF also operates a very large air defence network of radar and anti-aircraft gun/missile sites. Despite the recent addition of apparent SA-10 variants most of the KPAF's aircraft and surface to air missiles are obsolete and most of the force's pilots conduct little flight training.[21]

The KPAF is organized into six Air Divisions, four of which have air defense responsibilities and two of which provide air transport.

  • The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Air Divisions operate combat aircraft and are responsible for the defense of the north-western, eastern and southern sections of the country respectively.
  • The 5th and 6th Air Divisions operate transport aircraft.
  • The 8th Air Division operates training aircraft and is responsible for the defense of the north-eastern section of the DPRK.

Air Koryo, the DPRK's civil airline, also comes under the control of the KPAF through the Civil Aviation Bureau.[22]

The KPAF operates from 89 bases, including 18 highway strips and 20 helipads. Most of the force's air bases are 'hardened' against attack, with many having large underground components. Some of the primary air bases have underground runways from which aircraft can be directly launched.[23]

Artillery guidance bureau

The Artillery Guidance Bureau (AGB) is the strategic missile forces of the Korean People's Army. It is equipped mainly with scud-derived locally produced ballistic missiles with varying range, payload and accuracy. Some of them, such as the Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6 are land-mobile, while others, such as the Rodong-2 and Taepodong-1 require launch pads. North Korea is currently developing a new ICBM - the Taepodong-2, which was first tested in 2006 unsuccessfully. A second test on April 5, 2009, successfully launched the missile that flew over Japan. According to North Korea, it achieved the goal of putting a satellite in orbit; however, the United States and Japanese authorities denied the claim, contesting that the missile and any payload fell into the Pacific Ocean.

Its shooting range is estimated to be about 6,700 km or more. Currently deployed missiles have a range of up to 3,200 km. The exact number of deployed missiles of all types is unknown, but it is generally accepted there are some 600 Hwasong-6 and 200 Rodong-1 in service, as well as other shorter-range missiles. Major military launch pads are Musudan-ri on the country's east coast, and Pongdong-ri, which is under construction. Smaller launch pads are scattered around the country.

Paramilitary units

Worker-Peasant Red Guard

The Worker-Peasant Red Guard (WPRG) is the largest civilian defense force in the DPRK with a strength of approximately 3.5 million.[24] The militia is organised on a provincial/ town/city/ village level, and structured on a brigade, battalion/group, company/battery, and platoon basis. The militia maintains infantry small arms, with some mortars and anti-aircraft guns and even modernized older equipment such as multiple rocket launchers like the BM-14 and older Ural D-62 motorcycles, although some units are unarmed indicating status as logistics and medical units.[25] The WPRG is 52 years old, having been established in 1959 and is not only under National Defense Commission and Ministry of People's Armed Forces control, but is also attached to the Worker's Party of Korea under its Department of Civil Defense.

KPA Young Red Guards Cadets

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.


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. 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 has developed a wide range of technologies towards this end, such as GPS jammers,[26] stealth paint to conceal ground targets,[27] midget submarines and human torpedoes[28] and a vast array of chemical and biological weapons.[29] The Korean People's Army also operates ZM-87 anti-personnel lasers, which are banned under the United Nations Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons.[30]

Since the 1980s, North Korea has also been actively developing its own cyber warfare capabilities, and as of 2011 has some 1,000 skilled military hackers.[31]

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.[32]

Foreign deployments and exports

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 (aka 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.[33]

See also


  1. ^ a b The KPA was actually founded on February 8, 1948. However, in 1978, North Korea established April 25, 1932 as KPA foundation day in recognition of Kim Il Sung’s anti-Japanese guerrilla activities. See “Puk chuyo’gi’nyŏm’il 5-10 nyŏnmada taegyumo yŏlpyŏngsik” (North Korea Holds Large Military Parades for Anniversaries Every 5-10 years), Chosŏn Ilbo, April 25, 2007; Chang Jun-ik, “Pukhan Inmingundaesa” (History of the North Korean Military), Seoul, Sŏmundang, 1991, pp. 19-88; Kim Kwang-su, “Chosŏninmingun’ŭi ch’angsŏlgwa palchŏn, 1945~1990” (Foundation and Development of the Korean People’s Army, 1945~1990), Chapter Two in Kyŏngnam University North Korean Studies Graduate School, Pukhan’gunsamunje’ŭi chaejomyŏng (The Military of North Korea: A New Look), Seoul, Hanul Academy, 2006, pp. 63-78.
  2. ^ International Institute for Strategic Studies (2010-02-03). Hackett, James. ed. The Military Balance 2010. London: Routledge. ISBN 1857435575. 
  3. ^ ISIS Fast Facts on North Korea; accessed 21 April 2009
  4. ^ Bermudez (2001), pg 1.
  5. ^ " Background Note: North Korea", US Department of State, October, 2006.
  6. ^ "North vs. South Korea: A Military Comparison." Global Bearings, 7 November 2011.
  7. ^ "North vs. South Korea: A Military Comparison." Global Bearings, 7 November 2011.
  8. ^ New Threat from N.Korea's 'Asymmetrical' Warfare, The Chosun Ilbo, 29 April 2010
  9. ^ N. Korea Swiftly Expanding Its Special Forces, Washington Post, 9 October 2009
  10. ^ [1], CNN, 24 Nov 2010
  11. ^ Homer T. Hodge, North Korea’s Military Strategy, Parameters, Spring 2003, pp. 68-81.
  12. ^ United States Department of Defense Virtual Information Center, North Korea Primer accessed June 27, 2011
  13. ^ Bermudez (2001), pg 3–5.
  14. ^ Federation of American Scientists, Korean Peoples' Army, accessed February 2008
  15. ^ Globalsecurity.org, Korean Peoples' Army, accessed February 2008
  16. ^ William P. Rogers. "Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon". National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 324, Foreign Aid, Volume II 1972. Secret. Attached to Document 91. An advance copy of Rogers' memorandum, which was not cleared by the Secretary, was provided to the NSC under cover of a March 14 memorandum from Deputy Executive Secretary Curran to Davis. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 286, State Volume 16), U.S. State Department
  17. ^ Jeffrey B. Gayner, "Withdrawal of U.S. Ground Forces from South Korea", Heritage Foundation
  18. ^ Saunders (2007), pg 434.
  19. ^ Bermudez (2001), pg 93–95.
  20. ^ Bermudez (2001), pg 101.
  21. ^ Jane's World Air Forces (2007), pg 304.
  22. ^ Jane's World Air Forces (2007), pg 304–305.
  23. ^ Jane's World Air Forces (2007), pg 307–308.
  24. ^ IISS Military Balance 2007, p.359
  25. ^ Bermudez (2001), pg 4–5.
  26. ^ North Korea Appears Capable of Jamming GPS Receivers, globalsecurity.org, 7 October 2010
  27. ^ North Korea 'develops stealth paint to camouflage fighter jets', The Daily Telegraph, 23 August 2010
  28. ^ North Korea's Human Torpedoes, DailyNK, 06-05-2010
  29. ^ [2]
  30. ^ North Korea's military aging but sizable, CNN, 25 November 2010
  31. ^ North Korea’s Powerful Cyber Warfare Capabilities, 4 May 2011
  32. ^ Lawmaker Points to 1 Million Tons of War Rice, DailyNK, 7 April 2011
  33. ^ UN Listing of KOMID and Ryonbong


  • Bermudez, Joseph S. (2001). Shield of the Great Leader. The Armed Forces of North Korea. The Armed Forces of Asia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1864485825. 
  • Homer T. Hodge, North Korea’s Military Strategy, Parameters, Spring 2003, pp. 68–81
  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) (2007). The Military Balance 2007. Abingdon: Routledge Journals. ISBN 9781857434378. 
  • Jane's World Air Forces. Issue 25, 2007. Coulsdon: Jane's Information Group. 
  • Saunders, Stephen (editor). Jane's Fighting Ships Vol. 110, 2007-2008. Coulsdon: Jane’s Information Group. 

Further reading

  • Bermudez, Joseph S. (1998). North Korean special forces. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557500665. 
  • 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. 

External links

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