Arguably one of the most misnamed countries in the world the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is half joke, half terrifying. The country, which is led by the Korean Workers’ Party, which follows the Juche and Songun principles. The former states that the people of North Korea are self reliant, that educating them in ideology is of primary importance, and that they must have absolute loyalty to the leader. Songun is the military first policy. Which as its anglo name suggests means that the Korean People’s Army gets priority on money, and dominates policy.
Songun comes about from the late Kim Jong-il’s belief that “the armed forces wavered when socialism in Eastern Europe was collapsing emphasizes the importance of a
correct solution to the military question in advancing the socialist cause.” (Kim Chol U “Songun Politics of Kim Jong Il ” April Juche 91 2002 Foreign Languages Publishing House)
The KPA celebrates its foundation as 25 April 1932, however, it was actually formed on 8 February 1948, and it is huge. Not just big. HUGE. There are around 1.1 million people serving as regular armed personnel and a further 7.7million reservists. Twenty per cent of the male population are in the KPA, which isn’t a massive surprise given that most men have to serve a mandatory ten year tenure. DPRK spends $6 billion US a year, and they probably own enough heavy isotopes to make up to nine nuclear weapons. As well as a range of posturing duties, and marching in the kind of formations that would make Busby Berkley proud, they have spent time staring across the Demilitarised Zone sat the South Korean Army and the United States Forces Korea since 1953.
General James D Thurman, United States Forces Korea Commander
DPRK Ground Army Soldiers staring at South Korea across the way
The KPA is comprised of several components:
The Korean People’s Army Ground Force is primarily mechanised infantry force. Though DPRK is incredibly secretive about their weaponry US research suggests that they have something of the order of…
1,000 Type 59 Tanks, 800 T-62s, 1,600 T-55s, and just under 500 PT-76 Amphibious Tanks. From their own design they also have other types of tank. They have a number of Soviet and Chinese Armed Personnel Carriers including the BMP-1, and BTR-50P. The majority of the artillery is home made and many based on Howitzers, however, they do have ZSU-57-2 anti aircraft guns and BM-24 rocket launchers. Similarly most of the small armaments are copies of more famous weapons such as the BREN, the CZ-75 and FN M1900 pistols, and M16 rifles.
Korean People’s Navy
Because of the nature of the division of the Korea the navy is what is known, perhaps not terribly politely, as a Green-Water Navy. DPRK is not alone in this, the Italians, Indians and Royal Australian are also known as green-water because they have only regional capability. DPRK’s regionality is so regional infact that were they to be attacked on the east coast the west coast based navy couldn’t help…
They have around 770 ships, with most of them based on the east side, which is the side facing Japan. Though, given that Japan’s navy is also green-water…there’s low likelyhood of there being much past posing.
Torpedo Boat 21 of the DPRK Navy, the North Koreans claim that this sunk USS Baltimore
Korean People’s Army Air Force
The KPAF has tougher selection than the ground force and the navy. Partly, the selection involves taking into account the political engagement of the family since as a pilot it is much easier to defect than it is if you are stuck in a tank in the middle of nowhere. Their fleet contains both some of the finest in communist aircraft architecture, and some that time probably should have forgotten. They have MiG-29s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s, Aero L-39s and also the painfully retro Antonov An-2s and several somewhat accident prone Ilyushins….Baffling they also own an MD500 Defender, an American helicopter that they imported from Germany…which is absolute proof that you can get *anything* on the black market.
An Ilyushin…this one is a NATo one used in Iraq
A DPRK Ilyushin-II 10 looking less than stellar during the Korean War
The Aero L
Artillery Guidance Bureau
Otherwise known as the boys to be really scared of. The missile launching bureau. Yes they have a bureau just for missiles.
They have a range of technology with varying distance capabilities from the 70km Soviet FROG-7 (much beloved of dictators worldwide) to the 4,000 km range homemade Musudan-1.
As well as the aforementioned fissure stockpile they also keep a ready supple of chemical missiles, though they aren’t keen on biological weapons for fear that they will cause more damage to user than enemy.
Their nuclear reactor facilities work with both plutonium and uranium.
Yongbyon Magnox Reactor
Special Operations’ Forces
Their primary function is, much like grandmother’s footsteps, to get to the other side without grandma noticing. Or in this case South Korea. They are comprised of the Airborne Division, the Reconnaissance Brigades and the Light Infantry. Infiltration is their objective more than anything else.
You would think that those would be quite enough for any army…but oh no, determined to never be out soldiered DPRK also has…
The three and a half million strong Worker-Peasant Red Guard which is essentially what would happen if you mixed ‘Dad’s Army’ with communism and added in some rocket launchers. Whilst for the young North Korean about town there is the Young Red Guards Cadets. No lurking around outside Co-op or K-mart for your average 13 year old in Pyongyang, oh no siree, Saturday mornings are reserved for four hours of drills.
However, the thing that DPRK does incredibly well is keeping secrets. Most of the armour estimates that the United States and NATO have developed are just that, estimates. Good ones, but by no means definitive. DPRK postures an awful lot, but how much of that is bark and how much is bite is not fully known. This, and their rumoured stock pile of food and fuel that would let them wage war for a thousand days solid without having to pop to Tesco make for the terrifying half of their reputation. The Kim family have long been a great resource for comedians the world over, but that NATO regards DPRK as a sufficient enough a threat to have maintained forces in the region so long suggests thay are not so much a joke.
Picture from SikhArchives.com
Though Korean War scenarios, and current Korean armies are not necessarily some of the most popular gaming areas there are plenty of conversion opportunities. There are Russian tanks and aeroplanes in several ranges, including Airfix, which could be painted with DPRK flags. As well as Chinese tanks from Hobby Boss and Italeri. From Imex there are KPA infantry (so Ground Army), which come in a box of 53 figures…so you’d only need eighteen thousand boxes to have the whole force…Let us know what kind of ‘what if?’ scenarios you play…whilst we fervently hope they remain strictly fictional.