ARMED FORCES OF NORTH KOREA
The armed forces of North Korea, known collectively as the Korean People’s Army (KPA), is comprised of the 1) KPA Ground Forces, 2) KPA Navy, 3) KPA Air Force (includes air defense) and 4) KPA Strategic Forces (missile forces). The Security Guard Command protects the Kim family, other senior leadership figures, and government facilities). The Ministry of Public Security has jurisdiction over border Guards, civil security forces (2021). [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2021 =]
Assessments of the size of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) vary widely. It is widely believed there are approximately 1.1 million to 1.2 million active troops (950,000-1.0 million in the Army; 110-120,000 in the Air Force; 60,000 in the Navy; 10,000 in the Strategic Missile Forces); There are an addition 200,000 in Public Security forces (2020) =
The North Korea’s armed forces was founded in 1935 and is older than North Korea itself. It began as an anti-Japanese militia and is now the heart of the nation’s “military first” policy. [Source: Radio Free Asia, July 20, 2015]
According to to Associated Press: North Korea is fully aware that it is outgunned, technologically inferior and logistically light years behind its primary adversaries, Washington, Seoul and even Tokyo. But it also knows how to shift the equation through what is known as asymmetric tactics that involve stealth, surprise and focusing on cheap and achievable measures that have an outsized impact.” [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016]
The KPA totaled about 1,170,000 personnel in 2006 and was made up of approximately 1 million in the army, including 87,000 special operations troops, 60,000 in the navy and 110,000 in the air force (including 7,000 special forces troops). There also are paramilitary security troops, including border guards and public safety personnel, who number around 189,000. The armed forces are under the direction and control of Kim Jong Il, who is supreme commander of the KPA with the title of grand marshal, general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP), and chairman of the state National Defense Commission. The KWP Military Affairs Committee and the National Defense Commission hold coordinated authority over the armed forces. North Korea is a heavily militarized state with the fourth largest population under arms, after China, the United States, and India. The active military structure is supported by a 7.7 million-strong reserve component, of which 620,000 personnel are assigned to training units, 420,000 are in paramilitary units, and approximately 6.6 million are members of the Workers and Peasants Red Guards, Red Guard Youth, and college training units. An estimated 27 percent of gross national income in 2003 went for defense expenditures. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007**]
The army has 19 corps: 1 tank, 4 mechanized, 9 infantry, 1 artillery, the Pyongyang Defense Command, Border Security Command, Missile Guidance Bureau, and Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau. Among these 19 corps are 27 infantry divisions, 15 armored brigades, 9 multiple rocket launcher brigades, 14 infantry brigades, and 21 artillery brigades. The total ground forces strength in 2006 was about 1 million troops. These included 87,000 organized into the Special Purpose Forces Command, which had 10 sniper brigades, 12 light infantry brigades, 17 reconnaissance brigades, 1 airborne battalion, and 8 battalions organized as the Bureau of Reconnaissance Special Forces. There were 40 infantry divisions in reserve status. The navy, primarily a coastal defense force, is headquartered in Pyongyang and has a strength of 60,000. It has two fleets, the East Sea Fleet, headquartered at T’oejo-dong, and the West Sea Fleet, headquartered at Nampo. The East Sea Fleet has nine naval bases, and the West Sea Fleet has 10 naval bases. The air force has a strength of 110,000, with four air divisions organized into 33 air regiments plus three independent air battalions. Three of the divisions are responsible for north, east, and south defense sectors; a fourth — a training division — is responsible for the northeast sector. The air force has 11 airbases located at strategic points — many aimed at lightning strikes against key South Korean targets — mostly in southern North Korea, with some in rear areas closer to the border with China. **
Weapons and Equipment of the North Korean Armed Forces
In 2016 North Korea had 4,200 tanks, 2,200 armored vehicles, 8,600 pieces of field artillery, 5,500 multiple rocket launchers. The army’s major military equipment in the mid 2000s included 3,500 main battle tanks, 560 light tanks, 2,500 armored personnel carriers, 3,500 pieces of towed artillery, 4,400 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 2,500 multiple rocket launchers, 7,500 mortars, 24 surface-to- surface rockets and missiles, an unknown number of antitank guided weapons, 1,700 recoilless launchers, and 11,000 air defense guns. [Source: Associated Press, Library of Congress, July 2007**]
In the mid 2010s the North Korean navy, according to Associated Press, had 430 patrol combatant ships, 260 amphibious landing craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, about 70 submarines, 40 support ships. In the mid 2000s it had 92 submarines, three frigates, six corvettes, 43 missile craft, 158 large patrol craft, 103 fast torpedo craft, more than 334 patrol force craft, 10 amphibious ships, two coastal defense missile batteries, 130 hovercraft, 23 minesweepers, one depot ship, eight midget ships, and four survey vessels. North Korea completed a naval base for “attack hovercraft” in the early 2010s. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016; Library of Congress, July 2007, The Telegraph]
In the mid 2010s, North Korea had over 800 combat aircraft, 300 helicopters and more than 300 transport planes. In the mid 2000s the North Korean air force had 80 bombers, 541 fighters and ground attack fighters, an estimated 316 transports, 588 transport helicopters (supported by 24 armed helicopters), 228 training aircraft, at least 1 unmanned air vehicle, and a large inventory of air-to- air missiles and surface-to-air missiles. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016; Library of Congress, July 2007**]
Foreign Military Forces: None.
Army of North Korea
The main part of the Korean People's Army (KPA) is the KPA Ground Forces, the regular army. It is widely believed there are approximately 950,000 to 1.0 million active troops in the Army. In 2006, the army contained approximately 1 million troops, including 87,000 special operations troops. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2021; Library of Congress, July 2007**]
In the mid 2000s, the army had 19 corps: 1 tank, 4 mechanized, 9 infantry, 1 artillery, the Pyongyang Defense Command, Border Security Command, Missile Guidance Bureau, and Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau. Among these 19 corps are 27 infantry divisions, 15 armored brigades, 9 multiple rocket launcher brigades, 14 infantry brigades, and 21 artillery brigades. The total ground forces strength in 2006 was about 1 million troops. These included 87,000 organized into the Special Purpose Forces Command, which had 10 sniper brigades, 12 light infantry brigades, 17 reconnaissance brigades, 1 airborne battalion, and 8 battalions organized as the Bureau of Reconnaissance Special Forces.There were 40 infantry divisions in reserve status.
Over 90 percent of all KPA personnel in 1992 — more than 1 million troops — were in the ground forces, the North Korean army. Ground forces in 1960 may have totalled fewer than 400,000 persons and probably did not rise much above that figure before 1972. The force expanded relentlessly over the next two decades; in 1992, there were approximately 1 million personnel. The size, organization, disposition, and combat capabilities of the army give Pyongyang military options both for offensive operations to reunify the peninsula and for credible defensive operations against any perceived threat from South Korea. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
On the capabilities of the North Korean army in 2016, Associated Press reported: “This is, and always has been, North Korea’s real ace in the hole. While its threat to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland appears to be well beyond its current capabilities, turning the South Korean capital into a “sea of fire” is not. The ground forces of the Korean People’s Army form the largest segment of the military, by far. Seventy percent of them are forward-positioned around the Demilitarized Zone for quick mobilization in a contingency with South Korea; they are extremely well dug-in with several thousand fortified underground facilities. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016]
“Despite resource shortages and aging equipment, North Korea’s large, forward-positioned military can initiate an attack on the ROK (South Korea) with little or no warning,” the U.S. report concluded. “The military retains the capability to inflict significant damage on the ROK, especially in the region from the DMZ to Seoul.”
Organization of the North Korean Army
The army is 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, North Korea reorganized, reequipped, and forward deployed the majority of its ground forces. The army places great emphasis on special operations and has one of the largest special operations forces in the world — tailored to meet the distinct requirements of Korean terrain. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
The army initially was organized along Chinese and Soviet concepts. Over time, this organization has adjusted to the unique circumstances of the military problem the KPA faces and to the evolution of North Korean military doctrine and thought. In the 1980s, the mechanized infantry and armored and artillery forces were reorganized into new mechanized armored and artillery corps to implement the change in strategic thinking. This restructuring suggests that some infantry divisions were used to form the new mechanized forces and then reformed, and that a similar pattern apparently was used to reconstruct the armored corps. *
Until 1986 most sources claimed the army had two armored divisions. 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 selfpropelled 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 agree that North Korea's ground forces consist of approximately 145 divisions and brigades, of which approximately 120 are active. There is less agreement, however, on the breakdown of the forces.*
In 1992 North Korea was divided among the conventional geographic corps. The army's armored and mechanized corps, composed of independent combined arms brigades tailored to the restrictive terrain of the peninsula, are positioned along the avenues of approach as exploitation and counterattack forces. Each province has, independent of the collocated conventional geographic corps, a regional Military District Command dedicated to local defense, which controls predominantly reserve forces organized into divisions and brigades. The Military District Commands apparently were formed during a restructuring of the reserves during the 1980s. Their command structure is unclear, although they apparently control the local reserves, some regular forces, and coastal defense units.*
Capability, Readiness, Training, and Modernizations of the North Korean Army
Beginning in the late 1970s, North Korea began a major reorganization and modernization of its ground forces. Between 1984 and 1992, the army added about 1,000 tanks, over 2,500 APC/infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), and about 6,000 artillery tubes or 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, the United States-Republic of Korea defenses to the south. Over 60 percent of the army was located within 100 kilometers of the DMZ in mid1993. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
North Korea conducts exercises at the division, corps, and Ministry of People's Armed Forces levels, but almost no information was available on their size, scope, frequency, or duration as of mid-1993. Province-level defensive training measures are more common than large-scale training exercises. Exercises involving units that consume scarce resources such as fuel, oil, and lubricants occur even less frequently, inhibiting the readiness of exploitation forces. Most training occurs at the regimental level or below, mainly at the company and platoon levels. There may be integration difficulties at division- and corps-level operations.*
During the 1980s, doctrine and organization were revamped to increase the lethality, speed, and combat power of the attack. The shifting of the majority of the North Korean ground forces closer to the DMZ offers the potential for a more rapid advance. The reorganization of Pyongyang's exploitation forces in the 1980s suggests that initial attacking forces will be reinforced by heavier and more mobile units to exploit any breakthroughs.*
The North Korean army was not uniformly successful in its 1980s efforts to modernize its forces in support of a high-speed offensive strategy; more needs to be done to update the army's mobility, artillery, and air defense elements. North Korea has increased its tank fleet, but incomplete information suggests that it remains based largely on dated Soviet technology with retrofitted indigenous improvements. Although the quality and quantity of mobile anti-aircraft gun systems remains unknown, there is no indication of any mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems other than man-portable systems such as the SA-7 and SA14 or SA-16 (based on parade photographs) entering the inventory to augment North Korea's static air defense umbrella. Lack of SAM systems could be a major deficiency in the army's tactical air defense capability during mobile offensive operations. However, in artillery systems the army appears to have made the most of its limited technological base. It has increased the artillery force while maintaining relative quantitative and range superiorities over its potential southern adversary and improving force mobility. In mid-1993 the chances that North Korea will further modernize its forces appear limited. The technological level of Pyongyang's industrial base appears to ensure that, with the possible exception of narrow areas of special interest, built-in obsolescence will be unavoidable, regardless of how undesirable.*
Weapons and Equipment of the North Korean Army
The KPA is equipped mostly with older weapon systems originally acquired from the former Soviet Union, Russia, and China; North Korea manufactures copies and provides some upgrades to these weapon systems; Since 2010, There were no publicly-reported transfers of weapons to North Korea; between 2000 and 2010, Russia was the only recorded provider of arms (2020). [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2021]
In 2016 North Korea had 4,200 tanks, 2,200 armored vehicles, 8,600 pieces of field artillery, 5,500 multiple rocket launchers. According to Associated Press: “Their arms are mostly “legacy equipment,” produced or based on Chinese and Russian designs dating back as far as the 1950s. But they have in recent years unveiled new tanks, artillery and infantry weapons. In the October parade, the KPA displayed a new 240 mm multiple rocket launcher with eight tubes on a wheeled chassis. Kim Jong Un was recently shown by state media observing a new, longer-range anti-tank weapon. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016]
In recent years, the North Korean Army has upgraded main battle tanks, deploying about 1,000 tanks equipped with improved armament in troops across the nation. The Korea Times reported: “The Songun-ho, named after the North's military-first policy, features 800 to 900 meter thick walls, newly equipped with 93 mm-round thermobaric rocket launcher and SA-16 surface-to-air portable missiles, according to military intelligence. The tank's rocket launcher is believed to have been modeled after Russia's RPO-A recoilless flame thrower, with a maximum rage of 1 kilometers, which can destroy personnel and weapons inside various protective shelters with high-explosive and thermal effects. [Source: Korea Times, March 23, 2014]
The army’s major military equipment in the mid 2000s included 3,500 main battle tanks, 560 light tanks, 2,500 armored personnel carriers, 3,500 pieces of towed artillery, 4,400 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 2,500 multiple rocket launchers, 7,500 mortars, 24 surface-to- surface rockets and missiles, an unknown number of antitank guided weapons, 1,700 recoilless launchers, and 11,000 air defense guns. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007**]
Weapons carried by soldiers include AK-47s machine guns, mortars, hand-towed light artillery and recoilless rifles. Among the larger pieces are antiaircraft weapons, 240mm rocket launchers,170mm North-Korean-made Koksan guns (among the longest-range artillery weapons in the world), fuel air explosives, chemical weapons, T-62 and T-55 tanks.
Much of North Korea’s military equipment is old and outdated. The development of nuclear weapons and missiles is seen by some analysts as an effort to make up for the shortcomings of its conventional weaponry. Many weapons , including T-62 tanks, are vintage Soviet models.
The army has an extensive facility hardening program. Almost all the forward deployed artillery can be stored in wellprotected underground emplacements. The passive defenses in the forward corps include a large bunker complex to conceal and protect infantry forces, mechanized units, and war matériel stockpiles. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]
Special Forces of North Korea
The North Korean army has one of the largest elite special forces in the world. Estimates of size of North Korea’s special forces vary depending on available data and what qualifies as special forces. In 2016, Associated Press estimated they were comprises of somewhere around 180,000 troops. In the mid 2000, North Korea had around 87,000 troops organized into the Special Purpose Forces Command, which had 10 sniper brigades, 12 light infantry brigades, 17 reconnaissance brigades, 1 airborne battalion, and 8 battalions organized as the Bureau of Reconnaissance Special Forces. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007**]
According to Associated Press: North Korea is fully aware that it is outgunned, technologically inferior and logistically light years behind its adversaries. But it also knows how to shift the equation through asymmetric tactics that involve stealth, surprise and focusing on cheap and achievable measures with an outsized impact. Special forces operations are among them — and the North’s special forces are the “most highly trained, well-equipped, best-fed and highly motivated” units in the KPA. Commandos can be inserted into the South by air or sea, and possibly on foot through tunnels across the DMZ. The North is working hard on its cyberwarfare capabilities, another key asymmetric military tactic. It is believed to have a growing number of drones. [Source: Associated Press, March 1, 2016]
In the early 1990s, the army was made up of a mixture of conventional and unconventional warfare forces. By any consideration, however, North Korea has one of the world's largest special operations forces. Estimates of the size of the army's special operations forces ranged from 60,000 persons to over 100,000 persons. The uncertainty over the number derives from both the lack of information and the varying definitions of special operations forces. Organized into twenty-two brigades and at least seven independent battalions, the special operations forces are believed to be the best trained and to have the highest morale of all North Korean ground forces. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Objectives and Organization of North Korean Special Forces
Special operations forces were developed to meet three basic requirements: to breach the flankless fixed defense of South Korea; to create a "second front" in the enemy's rear area, disrupting in-depth South Korean or United States reinforcements and logistical support during a conflict; and to conduct battlefield and strategic reconnaissance. The ultimate goal was to create strategic dislocation. The additional missions of countering opposing forces and internal security were added over time. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
The Ministry of the People's Armed Forces controls the bulk of the special operations forces through one of two commands, the Reconnaissance Bureau and the Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau. The Reconnaissance Bureau is the primary organization within the Ministry of People's Armed Forces for the collection of strategic and tactical intelligence. It also exercises operational control over agents engaged in collecting military intelligence and in the training and dispatch of unconventional warfare teams. The Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau is directly subordinate to the General Staff Department. The party directly controls approximately 1,500 agents.*
Operations are categorized on the basis of the echelon supported. Strategic special operations forces support national or Ministry of People's Armed Forces objectives, operationalsupported corps operations, and tactical-supported maneuver divisions and brigades. Strategic missions of special operations forces in support of national and Ministry of People's Armed Forces objectives involve reconnaissance, sniper, and agent operations, but not light infantry operations, which primarily are tactical operations. The main objectives of these units are to secure information that cannot be achieved by other means, neutralize targets, and disrupt rear areas. In executing these operations, special operations troops may be disguised either as South Korean military personnel or as civilians.*
North Korean Special Force Units and Their Missions
Strategic missions require deep insertions either in advance of hostilities or in the initial stages by naval or air platforms. Based on available insertion platforms, North Korea has a one-time lift capability of 12,000 persons by sea and 6,000 persons by air. Most North Korea special operations forces infiltrate overland and are dedicated to operational and tactical missions, that is, reconnaissance and combat operations in concert with conventional operations in the forward corps. Although it is unknown how forces will be allocated, limits on North Korea's insertion capabilities constrain operational flexibility and determine the allocation of strategic, operational, and tactical missions. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
North Korean army special operations forces units are broken down into three categories based on mission and mode of operation: agent operations, reconnaissance, and light infantry and sniper. The Reconnaissance Bureau has four sniper brigades and at least seven independent reconnaissance battalions. The Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau controls fourteen light infantry/sniper brigades: six "straight-leg" brigades, six airborne brigades, and two amphibious brigades. Four light infantry brigades of unknown subordination are under the operational control of the forward corps. In addition, each regular infantry division and mechanized brigade has an special operations forces battalion.*
Reconnaissance units are employed in rear area, strategic intelligence collection, and target information acquisition. Light infantry units operate in company- or battalion-sized units against military, political, or economic targets. Sniper units are distinguished from light infantry units in that their basic operational unit is the team, rather than the larger company or battalion of the light infantry unit.*
A reconnaissance brigade consists of between 3,600 and 4,200 personnel. It is organized into a headquarters, rear support units, a communications company, and ten reconnaissance battalions. The basic unit of operation is the reconnaissance team, which has from two to ten men. A light infantry brigade has between 3,300 and 3,600 personnel organized into between five and ten battalions. The brigade can fight as a unit or disperse its battalions for independent operations. A sniper brigade's organization parallels that of the light infantry brigade.*
The unique special operations forces dedicated to strategic operations are the two amphibious light infantry/sniper brigades subordinate to the Light Infantry Guidance Bureau. These brigades are believed deployed to Wnsan on the east coast and Nampo and Tasa-ri on the west coast. In organization and manpower, they are reduced versions of the regular light infantry brigades. The two brigades have a total strength of approximately 5,000 men in ten battalions. Each battalion has about 400 men organized into five companies each. Some amphibious brigade personnel are trained as frogmen.*
North Korean Commandos
The North Korean special forces includes commandos capable of covering 10 kilometers an hour in mountain terrain with heavy packs and living off roots, berries and food they brought with them for seven weeks. There reportedly is even a special female platoon whose wartime mission would be assassinating key figures and destroying major facilities.
The commando shot in South Korea after the 1996 submarine incidence each carried an M-16 rifle with no identifying serial numbers, three ammunition cases, 198 pieces of ammunition, a handgun and two grenades. They wore thermal underwear, a wool sweater, two windbreakers, warm footwear and other equipments kept in a camouflage backpack. They also carried a saw and shovel for making shelter, a first aid kit with painkillers, cologne and 12 lighters. Among the foodstuffs they appeared to have stolen were crushed noodles, salt, mushrooms, soy paste, red peppers and seasonings.
Commando infiltrators enter South Korea through tunnels under the DMZ, and by Yugoslavian-made mini-submarines, AN-2 aircraft, biplanes capable of flying beneath radar defenses and dropping commandos.
In the 1970s, in support of overland insertion, North Korea began clandestine tunneling operations along the entire DMZ, with two tunnels per forward division. By 1990 four tunnels dug on historical invasion routes from the north had been discovered by South Korean and United States tunnel neutralization teams: three in the mid-1970s and the fourth in March 1990. The South Koreans suspect there were as many as twenty-five tunnels in the early 1990s, but the level of ongoing tunneling is unknown. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
At the operational and tactical level, infiltration tactics are designed for the leading special operations forces brigades to probe and penetrate the weak points of the defense; disrupt the command, control, and communications nodes; and threaten lines of communication and supply. To achieve its goal of nearterm distraction and dislocation of the defender, at least one special operations forces brigade is assigned to each of the four regular army corps deployed along the DMZ. *
Training of North Korean Commandos
Elite commando reportedly endure four years of training in which they are trained in bombing, swimming, scuba diving, parachuting, kidnaping, martial arts, communications and driving. The sessions often last from 6:00am to 10:00pm. They learn to navigate through steep mountains and thick forests, dig secret trenches were they can hide themselves and move at a fast pace with fully-loaded packs. They usually travel in groups of twos and threes.
North Korean commandos reportedly can kill with their bare hands and feet and go through a training in which they walk barefoot over broken glass and have shovels smashed into their abdomens. During one demonstration, Kim Jong Il reportedly swung a shovel at few commandos, saying "I trust them completely." He told the soldiers engaged in a mock hand-to-hand combat to do it for real and was satisfied after they bloodied and bruised themselves.
Describing a training demonstration video shown on North Korean television with Kim Jong-un, Connor Simpson wrote in The Atlantic: “ The leader surveyed his highly-trained, deadly team of martial artists and sharp shooters. First, we get a glimpse of the very organized, in sync, North Korean military doing what appear to be dance steps. Their form is strong and they're clearly working as a unit..... Their high kicks and are impressively high... Their punches pack a lot of, well, punch.” [Source: Connor Simpson, The Atlantic. April 6, 2013]
Next, “we see four soldiers demonstrating their wrestling prowess. On the left, one soldier performs a fireman's carry suplex and appears to kill his victim. He then jumps backward and takes a "bump" himself for good measure.... We have watched this GIF probably 50 times and cannot figure out why he jumps backwards.... Ge gets an assisst from his dance partner jumping into it. It looks like the jumper lands on his head... We cannot figure out a practical application for this flipping manoeuvre on the battlefield but it is undeniably fierce....At this point the video gets kind of boring. Un goes to a shooting range with some guys in funny hats. He watches soldiers fire at long range targets and then goes to inspect the results. Unsurprisingly, they only hit the center of the target...For good measure, Un also inexplicably starts brandishing a handgun..."This is how you kill the American scum dead," he's telling them in this GIF.”
Reserves of the North Korean Army
The active military structure is supported by a 7.7 million-strong reserve component, of which 620,000 personnel are assigned to training units. There were 40 infantry divisions in reserve status and 420,000 reservists are in paramilitary units, and approximately 6.6 million are members of the Workers and Peasants Red Guards, Red Guard Youth, and college training units. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007**]
Approximately 3.5 million North Koreans also are members of the Red Guard Youth (ages 14 to 17) and Workers and Peasants Red Guards (ages 40 to 60). These militia-type forces are organized at the provincial, town, and village levels into brigades, battalions, companies, and platoons. Some militia units have small arms and mortars; others have no weapons. Together with college training units.. **
Lessons learned from the Korean War still shaped military planning in mid-1993. Because Pyongyang has determined that inadequate reserve forces are a critical deficiency, Kim Il Sung has decided to arm the entire population. The Four Military Guidelines formulated in 1962 created a non-active-duty force of between 5 million and 6 million persons. All soldiers serve in the reserves; there were an estimated 1.2 million reservists in mid-1993. The primary reserve forces pool consists of persons who either have finished their active military service or are exempted and are attached to the reserve forces until age forty (age thirty for single women). Reserve training totals approximately 500 hours annually. Afterward, reservists, along with unmarried women, join the paramilitary Worker-Peasant Red Guards and receive approximately 160 hours of training annually until age sixty. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
There are four general categories of reserve forces: reserve military training units, Red Guard Youth, College Training Units, and Worker-Peasant Red Guards. Unit organizations essentially parallel active-duty forces. Some military training units are organized around factories or administrative organizations.*
In 1990 the reserve military training units had approximately 720,000 men and women and included as many as 48,000 active-duty troops assigned to between twenty-two and twenty-six divisions, at least eighteen independent brigades, and many smaller units. All maneuver units are believed to have individual weapons for all troops and about 80 percent of the needed crew-served weapons (those requiring a team for operation), including artillery. Transportation assets probably are much lower.*
Approximately 480,000 college students have been organized into College Training Units. These units have individual weapons and some crew-served weapons. Training is geared toward individual replacement, and soldiers called to active duty are parcelled out as needed as a manpower pool rather than as organized forces.*
Red Guard Youth units are composed of some 850,000 students between the ages of fourteen and seventeen at the senior middle school level. Emphasis is on pre-induction military familiarization.*
The Worker-Peasant Red Guard is composed of some 3.89 million persons between the ages of forty and sixty. They receive 160 hours of military training annually. Unit structure is small, decentralized, and focuses on homeland defense. Units are equipped with individual small arms and have a limited number of crew-served weapons and antiaircraft guns.*
The overall quality of the North Korean reserve structure is difficult to evaluate. Through strong societal controls, Pyongyang is able to regulate forces and maintain unit cohesion to a greater degree than is possible in more open societies. Reserve military training units probably are good quality forces with the ability to take on limited regular force responsibilities during wartime.*
The reserve force structure apparently was fleshed out in the 1980s, when many older weapons were phased out of the regular forces and passed on to the reserves. Weapons refitting led to restructuring and the development of the Military District Command system. Turning over the homeland defense mission to the command system has allowed North Korean force planners the freedom to forward deploy a greater proportion of the regular forces toward the DMZ.
North Korea Discharges Soldiers Amid Wider Military Downsize
In 2015, North Korea’s military discharged a large number of soldiers according to sources inside the country, amid reports a drastic reduction in North Korea’s army. Radio Free Asia reported: “A source in Yanggang province, along the border with China, told RFA’s Korean Service that the majority of soldiers from the region had been sent home as part of a wider downscale of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) between June 5 and July 10 this year. “The majority of soldiers from Yanggang province have returned home since early June,” the source said. The source cited recently discharged soldiers as saying that many more members of the armed forces will be removed from service after the regional elections are over. [Source: Radio Free Asia, July 20, 2015]
While only infantry troops were discharged between June and July, those to be released following the polls will consist of only soldiers over the age of 30 on rear supply and construction details, such as members of sapper (engineer) units and Bureau 8, which serves under the North Korean police. No technicians or specialists will be discharged from the military, the source added.
“A soldier from North Hamgyong province who returned home in recent days told RFA that the new bid to reduce the size of North Korea’s military was unprecedented during the rule of Kim Jong Un, who assumed power in 2012. Since 2012, the regime had even stopped discharging 27-year-old men who had completed their minimum 10 years of military service after graduating from high school, he said.
“While this policy had confused military commanders about the length of service, the soldier said the recent decision to discharge soldiers over the age of 30 had confirmed that the required term had at least been extended to 13 years.
Kim Jong Un has repeatedly stated his intention to “reunify North and South Korea by force by 2015,” and recently ordered stricter regulations for physical examinations required to serve in the armed forces during a military lecture, the soldier said, in the interest of strengthening the KPA. The soldier said that, despite lengthening of the required term of military service, the size of North Korea’s armed forces is destined to decrease because few people born during the 1994-98 “Great Famine,” and who are now of serving age, will be able to pass the KPA physical examination.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.
Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2021