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North Korea Table of Contents

North Korea

Reserves and Paramilitary Forces

Lessons learned from the Korean War still shaped military planning in mid-1993. Because P'yongyang 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.

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, P'yongyang 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.

Data as of June 1993