Vietnam People's Army

Vietnam People's Army
Vietnam People's Army
Quân Đội Nhân Dân Việt Nam
Flag of Viet Nam Peoples Army.svg
Flag of the Vietnam People's Army. Slogan translates as "Determined to win."
Active December 22, 1944 – present
Country Vietnam, North Vietnam
Allegiance Vietnam, North Vietnam
Type Armed forces
Role Defense of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Size 5,495,000[1] including militia forces
Garrison/HQ Hanoi, Vietnam
Motto Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom
Anniversaries Traditional Founding Date: December 22, 1944. Dien Bien Phu Victory: May 7, 1954. Liberation of the South: April 30, 1975.
Engagements Military history of Vietnam
Võ Nguyên Giáp, Nguyễn Chí Thanh, Văn Tiến Dũng, Trần Văn Trà, Chu Văn Tấn, Vương Thừa Vũ, Lê Đức Anh, Nguyễn Thị Định, Hoàng Văn Thái, Chu Huy Mân, Lê Trọng Tấn, Nguyễn Bình, Trần Nam Trung, Hoàng Cầm, Trần Văn Quang, Đoàn Khuê, Nguyễn Hữu An, Nguyễn Minh Châu, Phùng Thế Tài, Trần Độ, Nguyễn Sơn etc.

The Vietnam People's Army (Vietnamese: Quân Đội Nhân Dân Việt Nam, variously translated as Vietnamese People's Army and People's Army of Vietnam) is the armed forces of Vietnam. The VPA includes: the Vietnamese People's Ground Forces (including VPA Strategic Rear Forces and Border Defense Forces), the Vietnam People's Navy (including VPN Marine Corps), the Vietnam People's Air Force, and the Vietnam Marine Police.

During the French Indochina War (1946–1954), the VPA was often referred to as the Việt Minh. In the context of the Vietnam War (1959–1975), the army was referred to as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) or the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). This allowed writers, the US Military, and the general public, to distinguish northern communists from the southern communists, or Viet Cong. However, northerners and southerners were always under the same command structure. According to Hanoi's official history, the Vietcong was a branch of the PAVN.[3] In 2010 the Vietnam People's Army undertook the role of leading the 1,000th Anniversary Parade in Hanoi by performing their biggest parade in Vietnam's history.




The predecessor of the PAVN was the Armed Propaganda Unit for National Liberation which consisted of 34 fighters headed by Vo Nguyen Giap who later became the first 4 Stars General of VPA on 28/5/1948, a famous military commander known for leading the PAVN to victories over French forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and against US backed South Vietnam in the Fall of Sai Gon in 30/4/1975. At first, This Propaganda Unit was formed under the guidelines of President Hồ Chí Minh on December 22, 1944 with the aim to introduce its members as main force to drive the French colonialists and Japanese occupiers from Vietnam.[1] The group was renamed the "Vietnam Liberation Army" in May 1945.[4] In September, the army was again renamed the "Vietnam National Defence Army."[4] At this point, it had about 1,000 soldiers.[4] In 1950, it was officially named after People's Army of Vietnam.

First Indochina War

On 7 January 1947, its first regiment, the 102th 'Capital' Regiment, was created for operations around Hanoi. Over the next two years, the first division, the 308th Division, later well-known as the Pioneer Division formed by the 88th Tu Vu Regiment and the 102nd Capital Regiment. By late 1950 the 308th Division had a full three infantry regiments, when it was supplemented by the 36th Regiment. At that time, the 308th Division was also backed by the 11th Battalion that later became the main force of the 312nd Victory Division. In late 1951, after launching three campaigns against three French strongpoints in the Red River Delta, PAVN refocused on building up its ground forces further, with five new divisions, each of 10-15,000 men, created: the 304th Glory Division at Thanh Hoa, the 312th Victory Division in Vinh Phuc, the 316th Bong Lau Division in the northwest border region, the 320th Delta Division in the north Red River Delta, the 325th Binh Tri Thien Division in Binh Tri Thien province. Also in 1951, the first artillery Division, the 351th Division was formed, and later, before Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, for the first time in history, it was equipped by 24 captured 105mm US howitzers supplied by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The first siz divisions (308th, 304th, 312nd, 316th, 320th, 325th) became known as the original PAVN 'Steel and Iron' divisions. In 1954 four of these divisions (the 308th, 304th, 312nd, 316th, supported by the 351th Division's captured US howitzers) defeated the French Union forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, ending 83 years of French rule in Indochina.

Second Indochina War

Soon after the 1954 Geneva Accords, the 330th and 338th Divisions were formed by southern Vietminh members who had moved north in conformity with that agreement, and by 1955, six more divisions were formed: the 328th, 332th, and 350th in the north of the DRV, the 305th and the 324th near the DMZ, and the 335 Division of regroupees who had returned from Laos. In 1957, the 'interzones' of the war with the French were reorganised as the first five military regions, and in the next two years, several divisions were reduced to brigade size to meet the manpower requirements of collective farms. In May 1959 the first major steps to prepare infiltration routes into South Vietnam were taken; Group 559 was established, a logistical unit charged with establishing routes into the south via Laos and Cambodia, which later became famous as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. At about the same time, Group 579 was created as its maritime counterpart to transport supplies into the South by sea. Most of the early infiltratees were members of the 338th Division, former southerners who had been settled at Xuan Mai from 1954 onwards. Regular formations were sent to Southern Vietnam from 1965 onwards; the 325th Division's 101B Regiment and the 66th Regiment of the 304th Division met U.S. forces on a large scale, a first for the VPA, at the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. The 308th Division's 88A Regiment, the 312th Division's 141A, 141B, 165A, 209A, the 316th Division's 174A, the 325th Division's 95A, 95B, the 320A Division also faced the US forces which included the 1st Cavalry Division, the 101st Airborne Division, the 173d Airborne Brigade, the 4th Infantry Division, the 1st Infantry Division, and the 25th Infantry Division. Those PAVN formations were seen as extremely brave forces by the US forces. Many of those formations later became main forces of the 3rd Division (Yellow Star Division) in Binh Dinh (1965), the 5th Division (1966) of 7th Military Zone (Capital Tactical Area of ARVN), the 7th (created by 141st and 209th Regiments originated in the 312th Division in 1966) and 9th Divisions (first Division of National Liberation Front of Vietnam in 1965 in Mekong Delta), the 10th Dakto Division in Dakto - Highland in 1972 south of Vietnam.

By Lunar New Year eve of 1968, the VPA launched a general offensive in more than 60 cities and towns throughout south of Vietnam against the US Army and ARVN. The US Embassy in Sai Gon, Presidential Palace, Headquarters of ARVN and ARVN's Navy, TV and Radio Stations, Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Sai Gon were attacked and invaded by commando forces known as "Dac Cong". The offensives caught the world's attention day-by-day and extremely demoralised the US public and military, both at home and abroad. The VPA sustained heavy losses of its main forces in southern military zones, its guerrillas, and its political hubs in South Vietnam. Some of its regular forces and command structure had to escape to Laos and Cambodia to avoid counter attacks from US forces and ARVN. Local guerrilla forces and political hubs in South Vietnam suffered heavy losses and had a hard time remaining within the delta area due to the extensive use of the Phoenix campaigns and military movements of the US Army and ARVN. These series of coordinated attacks came to be known as the "Tet Offensive."

Although the VPA lost militarily to the US forces and ARVN in the south, the political impact of the war in the United States was strong.[5] Public demonstrations increased in ferocity and quantity after the Tet Offensive. From 1968 to 1972, the 5th, 7th, and 9th divisions had to fight for their existence in Cambodia against the US forces, ARVN, and Cambodian Prime Minister Lon Nol's troops but they also gained new allies: a part of the Cambodian army, guerrilla fighters supporting former Prime Minister Sihanouk, and later, the Khmer Rouge . The VPA succeeded against its enemies by supporting Sihanouk's forces rebelling against Lon Nol's regime, fighting and chasing ARVN forces from Cambodia, and containing the US influence in Cambodia.

In early 1975, nearly two years after the United States' withdrawal from South Vietnam (according to the terms of the Paris Peace Accords), the VPA launched a campaign to unite Vietnam. However, when the US left, it took with it billions of dollars in aid intended for South Vietnam, leaving the battered nation defenseless. Nothing now stood in North Vietnam's way, allowing the VPA to push deep into the South to secure victory.


Towards the second half of the 20th century the armed forces of Vietnam would participate in organized incursions into the neighboring Indochinese countries of Laos, Cambodia and China.

  • The PAVN was having forces in Laos in order to secure the Hochiminh Trail and to support the Pathet Lao. In 1975 the Laos forces succeeded in toppling the Royal Laotian regime and installing a new, and some sources claimed to be pro-Hanoi government, the Lao People's Democratic Republic,[6] that rules Laos to this day.
  • Parts of Cambodia were having a number of troops as well, in exchange for a economy and military aid to the neutral Sihanouk government, upsetting the Cambodian military, and with US aid, led to Lon Nol's coup in 1970 and the foundation pro-US Khmer Republic state, which also mark the beginning of the Khmer Rouge forces. In 1978, along with the FUNSK Cambodian Salvation Front, the Vietnamese and Ex-Khmer Rouge forces succeeded in toppling Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea regime and installing a new government, the People's Republic of Kampuchea. Unlike in Laos, the PRK/SOC state would not be recognized by the United Nations, mostly by US and China, despite the genocidal record of the regime that had been overthrown.[7]
  • During the Sino-Vietnamese War and the Sino-Vietnamese conflicts 1979-1990, Vietnamese forces would conduct cross-border raids into Chinese territory in order to destroy artillery ammunition. This greatly contributed to the outcome of the Sino-Vietnamese War, as the Chinese forces ran out of ammunition already at an early stage and had to call in reinforcements.
  • While occupying Cambodia, Vietnam launched several armed incursions into Thailand in pursuit of Cambodian guerillas that had taken refuge on the Thai side of the border.

Both in Cambodia and in Laos, the heavily armed and battle-hardened Vietnam People's Army was a valuable ally to the Pathet Lao or the FUNSK forces, providing economy and military aid, also with new weapons, technologies and intelligence. Some claimed that just like the US Army relationship with the ARVN, Kingdom of Laos and the Khmer Republic and it's successor, the Khmer Rouge, the PAVN was having a key roles in both cases, and could be the real power standing after them.


During peaceful periods, the VPA has actively been involved in Vietnam's workforce to develop the economy of Vietnam, to coordinate national defense and the economy. The VPA has regularly sent troops to aid with natural disasters such as flooding, landslides etc. The VPA is also involved in such areas as industry, agriculture, forestry, fishery and telecommunications. The VPA has numerous small firms which have become quite profitable in recent years. However, recent decrees have effectively prohibited the commercialisation of the military.


Female radio operators march in their 1000th Anniversary in Hanoi.
Vietnamese soldiers parading

Colonel Nguyen Trong Canh, Director of the Vietnamese Army Engineering Command's Technology Center for Bomb and Mine Disposal (BOMICEN)
Hanoi parade march

Soldiers ready to march

The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is the President of Vietnam, though this position is nominal and real power is assumed by the Central Military Commission of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. The secretary of Central Military Commission (usually the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam) is the de facto Commander and now is Nguyễn Phú Trọng. The Minister of National Defense oversees operations of the Ministry of Defence, and the VPA. He also oversees such agencies as the General Staff and the General Logistics Department. However, military policy is ultimately directed by the Central Military Commission of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.

The VPA is a "triple armed force" composed of the Main Force, the Local Force and the Border Force. As with most countries' armed forces, the VPA consists of standing, or regular, forces as well as reserve forces. During peacetime, the standing forces are minimized in number, and kept combat-ready by regular physical and weapons training, and stock maintenance.


The Vietnamese People's Army comprises various units of the Main Forces (Bộ đội Chủ lực), Local Forces (Bộ đội Địa phương) and the Border Forces (Bộ đội Biên phòng).

It is subdivided into the following branches and sub-branches:

  • Vietnam People's Ground Forces (Lục quân Nhân dân Việt Nam)
  • Vietnam Border Defense Force (Biên phòng Việt Nam)
  • Vietnam People's Navy (Hải quân Nhân dân Việt Nam)
  • Vietnam Marine Police (Cảnh sát biển Việt Nam)
  • Vietnam People's Air Force (Không quân Nhân dân Việt Nam).
  • Vietnam Air Defense Force (Phòng không Việt Nam)

As mentioned above, reserves exist in all branches and are organized in the same way as the standing forces, with the same chain of command, and with officers and non-commissioned officers.

See Vietnamese military ranks and insignia.

Note:Vietnam Strategic Rear Force (Lực lượng dự bị chiến lược) is also a part of the ground force.

International presence

The Foreign Relations Department of the Ministry of National Defense organizes international operations of the VPA.

Apart from its occupation of half of the disputed Spratly Islands, which have been claimed as Vietnamese territory since the 17th century, Vietnam has not officially had forces stationed internationally since its withdrawal from Cambodia and Laos in early 1990.

Some pro-Hmong sources and international organizations claimed that since the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnamese forces are sent to Laos repeatedly to quell the Hmong rebellion.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] For example, in late November 2009, shortly before the start of the 2009 Southeast Asian Games in Vientiane, the Vietnamese army undertook a major troop surge in key rural and mountainous provinces in Laos where Lao and Hmong civilians and religious believers, including Christians, have sought sanctuary.[18][19]

Main force

The main force of the VPA consists of combat ready troops, as well as support units such as educational institutions for logistics, officer training, and technical training.

In 1991, Conboy et al. stated that the VPA Ground Forces had four 'Strategic Army Corps' in the early 1990s, numbering 1-4, from north to south.[20] 1st Corps (Vietnam People's Army), located in the Red River Delta region, consisted of the 308th (one of the six original 'Steel and Iron' divisions) and 312th Divisions, and the 309th Infantry Regiment. The other three corps, 2 SAC, 3 SAC, and 4 SAC, were further south, with 4th Corps (Vietnam People's Army), in what was South Vietnam, consisting of two former PLAF divisions, the 7th and 9th.

The IISS Military Balance 2008 attributes the Vietnamese ground forces with an estimated 412,000 personnel.[21] Formations, according to the IISS, include nine military regions, 14 corps headquarters, 10 armoured brigades, three mechanised infantry divisions, and 67 infantry divisions whose strengths range from 5,000 to 12,500. The IISS estimate of 14 corps headquarters appears to be too high. Vietnamese Wikipedia entries suggest that a number of other corps heaquarters, including the 5th, 14th, and 68th, have indeed existed in the past, but now have been disbanded.

Smaller formations include 17 independent infantry regiments, one airborne brigade, various đặc công brigades and battalions of both of land combat - Đặc công bộ, urban combat - Đặc công biệt động and water-based combat - Đặc công nước (special task force units with unique high-level guerrila offensive combat tactics, sometimes incorrectly identified as "Sappers"; previously there had been a commando hunting force of this branch during Vietnam war, which has now evolved into an anti-terrorist force), more than 10 brigades of field artillery, eight divisions and more than 20 independent brigades of engineers, and 10-16 economic construction divisions. ‎

Local forces

Local forces are an entity of the VPA that, together with the militia and "self-defense forces," act on the local level in protection of people and local authorities. While the local forces are regular VPA forces, the militia consists of rural civilians, and the self-defense forces consist of civilians who live in urban areas and/or work in large groups, such as at construction sites or farms. The current number stands at 3-4 million part-time soldiers.


From the 1960s to 1975, the Soviet Union was the main supplier of military hardware to North Vietnam. After the latter's victory in the war, it remained the main supplier of equipment to the united Vietnam. The United States had been the primary supplier of equipment to South Vietnam; some of the equipment abandoned by the United States Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam came under control of the re-unified Viet Nam's government. The PAVN captured the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) weapons on April 30, 1975 after Saigon was captured.

  • 3,000+ tanks: 990 T-55 (to be upgraded to T-55M3), 480 T-72, 220 T-62, 360 Type-59 and 665 light tanks
  • 3,600+ APC: details below, ex Soviet, ex US and IS origin
  • 24290 Artillery
  • 201 Helicopters

The Vietnamese have also produced their own equipment and repaired existing equipment.




Infantry weapons


Vietnamese troops on Spratly Island




The Vietnamese People's Army consists of:

  • Military manpower—military age: age for compulsory service: 18–25 years old; conscript service obligation: 18 months
  • Military manpower—availability:
    • males age 15–49: 21,341,813 (2005 est.)
  • Military manpower—fit for military service:
    • males age 15–49: 16,032,358 (2005 est.)
  • Military manpower—reaching military age annually:
    • males: 915,572 (2005 est.)
  • Military manpower—total troops:
    • 487,000 ( source: the independence)
  • Military expenditures: $4 billion (Military Balance2007)
  • Military expenditures—percent of GDP: 2% (Military Balance2007)


  1. ^
  2. ^ HISTORY - The Hmong
  3. ^ Military History Institute of Vietnam,(2002) Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954–1975, translated by Merle L. Pribbenow. University Press of Kansas. p. 68. ISBN 0700611754.
  4. ^ a b c Early Day: The Development of the Viet Minh Military Machine"
  5. ^
  6. ^ Christopher Robbins, The Ravens: Pilots of the Secret War in Laos. Asia Books 2000.
  7. ^ David P. Chandler, A history of Cambodia, Westview Press; Allen & Unwin, Boulder, Sydney, 1992
  8. ^ THE HMONG REBELLION IN LAOS: Victims of Totalitarianism or terrorists?, by Gary Yia Lee, Ph.D
  9. ^ Vietnamese soldiers attack Hmong in Laos
  10. ^ Joint-Military Co-operation continues between Laos and Vietnam
  11. ^ Combine Military Effort of Laos and Vietnam
  12. ^ Vietnam, Laos: Military Offensive Launched At Hmong
  13. ^ 2008May20: Laos, Vietnam: Attacks Against Hmong Civilians Mount
  14. ^ Laos, Vietnam: New Campaign to Exterminate Hmong
  15. ^ President Obama Urged To Address Laos, Hmong Crisis During Asia Trip, Student Protests in Vientiane
  16. ^ Hmong: Vietnam VPA, LPA Troops Attack Christians Villagers in Laos
  17. ^ Laos, Vietnam Peoples Army Unleashes Helicopter Gunship Attacks on Laotian and Hmong Civilians, Christian Believers
  18. ^ Vietnam, Laos Crackdown: SEA Games Avoided By Overseas Lao, Hmong in Protest
  19. ^ SEA Game Attacks: Vietnam, Laos Military Kill 23 Lao Hmong Christians on Thanksgiving
  20. ^ See also
  21. ^ IISS Military Balance 2008, Routledge for the IISS, London, 2008, p.408

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