5 Branches of the North
Korean Military & the
Korean People's Army (2021)

North Korean Military & the Korean People's Army

North Korea Military & The Korean People’s Army

North Korea Military: History
Korean People’s Army Ground Force
Korean People’s Army Air and Anti-Air Force
Korean People’s Army Naval Force

The Korean People’s Army is the active military of North Korea and the armed wing of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea.

There are 5 official branches of the Korean People’s Army (KPA).

The Ground Force, Air and Anti-Air Force, Naval Force, Strategic Force and Special Operations Force.

The military is well-known internationally due to the large-scale military parades held in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square.

Soldiers from all branches of the Korean People’s Army march past the podium in front of the Grand People’s Study House on the western side of the square.

The North Korea military is also known for the large-scale military exercises which have seen huge artillery live-fire drills take place near Wonsan and even a full-scale exercise simulating a raid on the Blue House, South Korea’s Presidential Palace, by members of the Special Operations Force. 

North Korea Military: History

In 1932, the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army was founded by then-General Kim Il Sung. Before this point, the bulk of Anti-Japanese activities were undertaken by paramilitary groups allied with the Chinese Communist forces in northern Korea and Manchuria.

Between 1945 and 1948, various institutions were put in place to prepare for the formation of an official national military force. The Korean People’s Army was formally created on the 8th of February 1948, 7 months before the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea itself.

Initially, as with many Soviet-aligned countries, the KPA was equipped by the Soviet Union. This gave them a significant advantage during the opening phase of the Korean War. The KPA pushed the southern forces down to the south-eastern port city of Busan before UN and US reinforcements were called in to retaliate.

From 1972 until 2016, the KPA came under the direct control of the National Defence Commission. Since 2016, this agency has been dissolved and replaced by the multi-function State Affairs Commission which oversees the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces.

Korean People’s Army Ground Force

The most well-known branch of the KPA is the Ground Force, the de-facto army of North Korea responsible for conducting land-based operations. The number of soldiers in the KPA Ground Force is estimated to be almost 1 million.

The Ground Force soldiers are an important part of the country’s security force as well as their military strength. Soldiers can be seen throughout the country, in cities such as Pyongyang or on operations at the northern border with China or on the DMZ.

Korean People’s Army Air and Anti-Air Force

The de-facto Air Force of North Korea, the Korean People’s Army Air and Anti-Air Force operate numerous aircraft, many from the USSR and China.

There is, however, a belief that North Korea operates no modern aircraft; the KPA Air Force operates MiG-29s, currently Russia’s foremost combat aircraft, alongside its fleet of older MiG and Sukhoi aircraft.

The KPA also operates small biplanes such as the Antonov An-2. Such aircraft would likely be used to drop Special Forces operatives into South Korea in the event of war. The smaller, lighter aircraft would be harder to track and much more difficult to hit, making them ideal for covert operations.

These strategies are part of North Korea’s ongoing asymmetric warfare strategy; accepting that a front-on conflict with the US military would not be possible and so deferring to more complex strategies, similar to the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.

Korean People’s Army Naval Force

The KPA Naval Force operates in the West and East Sea off the coast of North Korea.

Their capabilities are unknown, although, the force has undergone a significant modernisation in recent years.

One of the most important developments has been the introduction of wave-piercing vessels which would have the capability to deploy small numbers of highly trained commandos onto outlying islands of South Korea in the event of war.

The force also operates a large number of torpedo boats and submarines.

Other Branches of the Korean People's Army (KPA)

There are two other branches of the North Korea military.

The first, the Strategic Force, is responsible for the missile development programme and operating the currently active missiles. This group is likely responsible for organising the large-scale missile test firings, alongside the scientific community responsible for developing them.

The other branch, the Special Operations Force, is the most well-equipped, elite unit of the KPA.

Little is known about the KPASOF, although, they seem to be North Korea’s answer to the Navy Seals.

Better equipped than the standard KPA Ground Force troops, and likely to be incredibly effective in guerrilla warfare tactics.

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