O Leadership of the Revolution!
Thousands of lives become guns and shells,
Ready to defend you!"
The Korean People's Army was formed from Kim Il-sung's Korean guerrillas allied with the Soviet Union (and led by the latter) in 1932. By the time of Korea's liberation from the Japanese in 1945, the guerrilla force had been transformed into a well-equipped army, to the point of enabling them to invade South Korea in 1950. Although they were beaten back by a United Nations force spearheaded by none other than Yanks with Tanks, the KPA eventually recovered due to intervention by the Chinese with Chopper Supportnote and, to a lesser degree, the Reds with Rockets.
North Korea is the most militarized country in the world today; they have the third-largest army in the world behind China and America, with about a fifth of its able-bodied men in the military and the rest in the reserve or WPRG and over 30% of national GDP going to military expenses. It has a Worker and Peasant Guard as a paramilitary, numbering 3 to 5 million (though they are mostly armed with World War II weaponry), a relatively huge, if outdated, weapons industry, and has its countryside dotted with bases of all sorts. This has led to the saying that North Korea isn't a country with a military, it's a military with a country.
North Korea also developed its own weapons industry, starting with the Nodong missile (the Trope Namer), and eventually nuclear weapons, cheating the United Nations inspectors in their "peaceful" quest for nuclear energy. In 1994, the U.S. and North Korea signed a treaty intended to halt the North's nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, with the Clinton administration operating under the assumption that North Korea would collapse anyway following the death of Kim Il-sung. Once that did not happen, and once the Republican party gained control of the U.S. Congress and opposed the treaty, believing it to be tantamount to appeasement, the deal broke down.
Of course, Kim Jong-un is the Commander in Chief, in his capacity as Chairman of the State Affairs Commission. The Korean Worker's Party (though its Central Military Commission) also has control over the KPA to ensure that no one in the army will challenge Kim. Though technically, the Commander in Chief of the KPA is still Kim Il-sung, as he was declared "Eternal President", followed by his second in command Kim Jong-il, "Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission". Both of these people are dead, by the way.
The North Korean People's Army is composed of the KPA Ground Force, the Korean People's Navy, and the Korean People's Air Force, plus the Korean People's Strategic Rocket Forces (Formerly known as the Artillery Guidance Bureau) which handles North Korea's nuclear missiles... meaning that they emulated the PRC's military structure. The People's Republic of China is also their biggest foreign provider of materiel and has been allied with them since 1961. The North Korean military has built a network of underground facilities around the country in the event of an attack.
Korean People's Ground Forces:The KPA has approximately 1 million personnel with a mix of mechanized, armored, and artillery units. They have one of the largest collections of armored vehicles, having over twice the number of armored vehicles than its local adversaries. However, though they have numbers over the South Koreans, they still have to work with Cold War era equipment. Even though they've tried to aggressively upgrade their equipment, it's still mostly obsolete compared to the South Koreans and their American allies.
The KPA also has the largest special forces organization of any army in the world, with over 90,000 personnel. They are trained specifically to fight in North Korea's notoriously mountainous terrain. They've also historically been very successful in covert incursions into the South's territory using the tunnels dug under the DMZ.
Their equipment is a mix of old and new; they have modern weaponry such as Type 88 assault rifles (a clone of the AK-74) and Pokpung-ho MBTs, as well as ancient ones like T-34/85 tanks, SU-100 tank destroyers, and PPSh-41 submachine guns. The bulk of their equipment, however, are those in between such as T-62 MBTs (produced and modified as the Chon'ma-Ho, with at least five variants identified) and RPG-7s.
One frightening statistic is that they have something like thirteen thousand artillery pieces and South Korea's capital city, Seoul, is only around thirty miles from the border. In the event of open war breaking out, the number of civilian casualties could be staggering if North Korea shells and rockets the city with everything it can throw at it.
Korean People's NavyThe KPN is the lowest priority of the North Korean armed forces, and hence the least funded and advanced. Their entire navy, barring the submarine forces, is essentially an obsolete brown-water flotilla, consisting of small, aging boats that cannot go out more than 50 nautical miles from the coast. However, these small craft do excel at covert insertions for special forces, and their submarine fleet is notably better than their surface navy. The KPN is also known for having a large stockpile of sea mines, and it's generally assumed that they will be used liberally to fend off potential amphibious assaults. The Navy itself is divided into two separate fleets, East and West, but neither fleet is in a position to support the other. The North Korean navy mainly exists to guard the flanks of the ground force rather than to conduct its own offensive operations.
North Korea has been known to use the KPN to aggressively patrol its waters, especially in the contested waters near the 38th parallel, an issue that has yet to resolved. KPN ships have been known to attack and capture ships that dare venture too close, regardless of nationality.
Korean People's Air ForceLike the KPA and KPN, the KPAF does not lack in quantity but has serious issues with quality. The majority of their 1700 aircraft (though estimates put the number at closer to 940) are Cold War era relics, which only roughly 400 more modern fighters acquired from Russia and China. Their most advanced air-to air fighter is the Mig-29U/B fighter from the 1990s, purchased from Russia. The KPAF only possess 30 such planes and since it is incredibly valuable to the KPAF, only the best pilots are allowed to fly it and the plane is given the important task of defending Pyongyang's airspace. The most numerous and widely fielded fighter in the KPAF inventory is the Mig-21PFM, a fighter from the 1950s and 1960s. They even have a number of biplane transports that they favor because they can be operated from short, improvised landing strips and are notoriously hard to detect on radar. KPAF military doctrine is mostly based off the old Soviet air doctrine, as well as their experiences with American heavy bombing during the Korean War. As a result, the KPAF is mostly concerned with air defence, mostly consisting of fighters and interceptors. This is complemented by the world's densest air defence network, with some 12,000 anti-aircraft guns, some 17,000 MANPADs and up to 1000 heavy SAMs, and radar facilities. The North Koreans may lack in sophistication when it comes to air defense, but they make up for it with brute force and sheer quantity. The KPAF also operates hidden underground bases and airfields built into mountains. Satellite imagery shows runways leading into mountainsides all around the country, meant to hide aircraft from sight and attack.
For North Korea's nuclear weapons, see The Hooves of Chollima.
North Korean military in fiction:
- In general, North Korea tends to get used as a placeholder for the Chinese, typically when the story's already been written and the bean counters come in and point out China is a really big market that will blacklist them if they offend Beijing's delicate sensibilities. Whenever you see a modern/near-future North Korea that's a credible military threat to the United States or Europe, it's a safe bet that they're China with the serial numbers filed off. An exception would be works produced in neighboring South Korea, where the North Korean military does present a real threat.
- Plenty of movies from South Korea deal with the North Korean military. It's worth noting that, unlike the United States, South Korea actually is within attacking distance of North Korea, making such movies more realistic.
- Shiri was one of the country's highest-grossing films in 2001, dealing with South Korean intelligence agents attempting to track down and eliminate a North Korean spy.
- Joint Security Area is about a United Nations fact-finding mission investigating a shooting incident at a small border outpost on the DMZ, where a North Korean officer was shot dead on the northern border and a South Korean soldier from a counterpart outpost is the prime suspect.
- Tae-guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War is a 2004 film and is the biggest budget film ever made about The Korean War. It centers on a pair of brothers who are drafted into the South Korean military and shipped off to fight on the frontlines from 1950 - 1953.
- In the James Bond film Die Another Day, a renegade North Korean colonel, Tan-Sun Moon (who's also the Trope Namer of Majored in Western Hypocrisy) plans to invade South Korea with modern technology developed in Western countries. His father, General Moon, is portrayed by contrast as a honorable military leader who wants none of this folly (and actually had his son study in the West in the hope of bridging the gap between the two Koreas).
- Red Dawn (2012), after alterations to avoid getting Banned in China, has them as the invaders. And you thought China invading the US was implausible.
- World War III Breaks Out, a supposedly lost Japanese flick, features an alternate history where North Korea sparks an Apocalypse How by causing a nuclear war between America and themselves.
- The 2007 Japanese thriller Midnight Eagle centers around an American strategic bomber carrying a nuclear payload that has crashed in the Hida Mountains as a result of sabotage. Interestingly, the film never, ever mentions North Korea by name (only referring to the enemy as "foreign agents"), but it's very obvious to anyone with even the barest understanding of East Asian international relations that the saboteurs are North Koreans after seeing them in action. This may have been because of media regulations: a similar situation happened with the Japanese release of Homefront.
- The Cold Open of G.I. Joe: Retaliation features the Joes smuggling a defector out of North Korea.
- The second Behind Enemy Lines film centers around the real-life Ryanggang explosion in Sept. 2004 and attributes it to U.S. Navy SEAL Team One sabotaging a nuclear missile there.
- The Interview dealt with a talk show host and his show producer who're tasked with assassinating Kim Jong-Un during the titular interview.
- Olympus Has Fallen deals with North Korean terrorists invading the White House.
- Red Phoenix by Larry Bond.
- The online novel Proud Legions by John F. Antal, with a plot not all that dissimilar from that of Red Phoenix.
- North Korean soldiers are also featured in Crysis, as a Captain Ersatz for the significantly more plausible People's Liberation Army.
- Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction takes place in the DPRK; the Korean People's Army is 'Always Hostile' for some reason, as the place was invaded by just about everyone. As mentioned above, enemies can come out from bunkers in the mountains. And while you can blow a few up, they come back later.
- Homefront has them (well, technically South Koreans with Marines commanded by the DPRK) unite with South Korea, annex Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Phillipines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Laos, and Taiwan and then invade the United States. This staggering explosion of North Korea's military strength is the result of Executive Meddling out of fear of being Banned in China, as the invading army were originally meant to be an alliance of China and North Korea (who could conceivably successfully invade some of the aforementioned nations before international intervention would take place).
- The North Korean Army turns out to be the secret Big Bad of True Crime: Streets of LA. They are behind a counterfeiting ring, supplying The Mafiya with funny money to devalue the American currency. To do this sensitive task, the North Koreans get biggest ham they can find.
- North Korean Commandos and transport helicopters are Red Chinese reinforcement units in Red Alert 3: Paradox.
- Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory has a North Korean anti-ship missile sink a U.S. Navy vessel right before they launch an all-out attack on South Korea. Two missions involve Sam infiltrating a North Korean missile battery to obtain intelligence on the circumstances of the launch, and the mission after takes him to war-torn Seoul, right in the middle of a massive NKA invasion. The missile was remotely launched by the real Big Bad, and North Korea is being manipulated the entire time.
- Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: At the start of the game North Korea invades Seoul, the US Marines battle the North Koreans who are armed with high tech weapons such as flying Attack Drones.
- North Korea appears as a playable faction in Wargame: Red Dragon, they possess both modern and Korean War vehicles in their arsenal. One of which is the very modern T-90S tank, along with the Korean War era J-2B fighter (A Chinese copy of the MiG-15).
- One of Spinnerette's major villains, and a VERY important figure in MechaMaid's backstory, is a KPA Colonel with telekinetic control over any and all forms of glass named, fittingly enough, Col. Glass.
Heh heh...No Dongs. Now they have some Type o' Dong.