Korea North Military - 2023


Military and security forces

Korean People's Army (KPA): KPA Ground Forces, KPA Navy, KPA Air Force and Air Defense Forces, KPA Strategic Forces (missile forces), KPA Special Forces (special operations forces); Security Guard Command (aka Bodyguard Command); Military Security Command

Ministry of Social Security (formerly Ministry of Public Security): Border Guard General Bureau, civil security forces; Ministry of State Security: internal security, investigations (2023)

note 1: North Korea employs a systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities among its multiple internal security organizations to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provided a check and balance on the other

note 2:
the Security Guard Command protects the Kim family, other senior leadership figures, and government facilities

note 3:
the North also has a large paramilitary/militia force organized into the Worker Peasant Red Guard and Red Youth Guard; these organizations are present at all levels of government (province, county, ward) and are under the control of the Korean Workers' Party in peacetime, but revert to KPA control in crisis or war; they are often mobilized for domestic projects, such as road building and agricultural support

Military expenditures

between 2010 and 2019, military expenditures accounted for an estimated 20-25% of North Korea's GDP annually; North Korea in the 2010s and 2020s has increasingly relied on illicit activities — including cybercrime — to generate revenue for its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs to evade US and UN sanctions

Military and security service personnel strengths

information varies widely; estimated 1.15 million active troops (950,000 Army; 120,000 Air Force; 60,000 Navy; 10,000 Strategic Missile Forces); estimated 200,000 internal security forces (2022)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the KPA is equipped with older weapon systems originally acquired from the former Soviet Union, Russia, and China, and some domestically produced equipment; North Korea produces a diverse array of military hardware, including small arms, munitions, light armored vehicles, tanks, naval vessels and submarines, and some advanced weapons systems, such as cruise and ballistic missiles; most are copies or upgrades of older foreign supplied equipment (2023)

note: since 2006, the UN Security Council has passed nearly a dozen resolutions sanctioning North Korea for developing nuclear weapons and related activities, starting with Resolution 1718, which condemned the North's first nuclear test and placed sanctions on the supply of heavy weaponry (including tanks, armored combat vehicles, large calibre artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers), missile technology and material, and select luxury goods; additional resolutions have expanded to include all arms, including small arms and light weapons; the US and other countries have also imposed unilateral sanctions

Military service age and obligation

17 years of age for compulsory military service for men and women; service obligation varies from 5-13 years; reportedly up to 10 years (7 for women) for those serving in combat units and 13 years (7 for women) for specialized combat units, such as missile forces (2023)

note: the bulk of the KPA is made up of conscripts; as many as 20% of North Korean males between the ages of 16 and 54 are in the military at a given time and possibly up to 30 percent of males between the ages of 18 and 27, not counting the reserves or paramilitary units; women comprise about 20% of the military by some estimates

Military - note

North Korea is one of the most militarized countries in the World, and the Korean People's Army (KPA) is one of the World’s largest military forces; the KPA’s primary responsibilities are national defense and protection of the Kim regime; it also provides considerable support to domestic economic projects such as agriculture production and infrastructure construction; North Korea views the US as its primary external security threat while South Korea and Japan are treated as extensions of perceived US aggression; the North also sees South Korea’s different economic and political systems as a threat to the regime’s legitimacy; the Kim regime is driven by fears of threats to its power from internal sources as well 

in addition to the invasion of South Korea and the subsequent Korean War (1950-53), North Korea from the 1960s to the 1980s launched a considerable number of limited military and subversive actions against South Korea using special forces and terrorist tactics; including aggressive skirmishes along the DMZ, overt attempts to assassinate South Korean leaders, kidnappings, the bombing of an airliner, and a failed effort in 1968 to foment an insurrection and conduct a guerrilla war in the South with more than 100 seaborne commandos; from the 1990s until 2010, the North lost two submarines and a semi-submersible boat attempting to insert infiltrators into the South (1996, 1998) and provoked several engagements in the Northwest Islands area along the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL), including naval skirmishes between patrol boats in 1999 and 2002, the torpedoing and sinking of a South Korean Navy corvette in 2010, and the bombardment of a South Korean Marine Corps installation on Yeonpyeong Island, also in 2010; since 2010, further minor incidents continue to occur periodically along the DMZ, where both the KPA and the South Korean military maintain large numbers of troops

in 2018, North Korea and South Korea signed a tension reduction agreement known as the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA), which established land, sea, and air buffer zones along the DMZ and the NLL; implementation of the CMA required the removal of some land mines and guard posts; the efforts led to a reduction of tension in the DMZ, but North Korea has failed to uphold much of its side of the agreement

the KPA was founded in 1948; Kim Jong Un is the KPA supreme commander, while operational control of the armed forces resides in the General Staff Department (GSD), which reports directly to Kim; the GSD maintains overall control of all military forces and is charged with turning Kim’s directives into operational military orders; the Ministry of National Defense (MND) is responsible for administrative control of the military and external relations with foreign militaries

North Korea’s growing ballistic missile program includes close- (CRBM), short- (SRBM), medium- (MRBM), intermediate- (IRBM), and intercontinental- (ICBM) range ballistic missiles; the North received its first ballistic missiles, short-range FROGs (free rocket over ground), from the Soviet Union in the 1960s, but its modern ballistic missile program is generally thought to date back to the mid-1970s when it received a Soviet Scud-class missile, likely from Egypt; the North reverse-engineered the missile and developed an indigenously built version in 1984; it flight-tested its first Scud-based medium-range Nodong missile in 1990, and probably began development of the multi-stage Taepodong missiles around this time as well; the North revealed its first road-mobile ICBM in 2012 and conducted the first test of an ICBM-class system in 2017; it conducted additional ICBM tests in 2022 and 2023 (2023)

NOTE: The information regarding Korea North on this page is re-published from the 2023 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Korea North 2023 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Korea North 2023 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.

This page was last modified 10 Nov 23, Copyright © 2023 ITA all rights reserved.