Korean People's Army Special Operation Force

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Korean People's Army Special Operation Force
Flag of the Korean People's Army Special Operation Force.svg
Founded October 30, 1968 (1968-10-30)
Country  North Korea
Allegiance Kim Jong-un[1]
Type Special forces
Role Special operations
Size 200,000[2][3][4][5][6]
Part of Korean People's Army

The North Korean special operation force (NKSOF), officially the Korean People's Army Special Operation Force, consists of specially equipped and trained elite military units trained to perform military, political, or psychological operations for North Korea. The units are active in testing the defenses of South Korea and have been detected operating in or around South Korea many times in the decades since the end of the Korean War.[7][8] It is estimated that there are 200,000 SOF soldiers.[9]


The missions of the KPA Special Operation Forces are to breach the fixed defense of South Korea, to create a "second front" in the enemy's rear area, and to conduct battlefield and strategic reconnaissance.[10][11]


The official date of formation for the SOF is hard to come by, but reports of activity by these forces have been commonplace since October 30, 1968. On this date, North Korean maritime commandos landed on beaches from Samcheok to Uljin, South Korea and after a series of battles retreated back to North Korea.[12] Kim Il Sung himself was quoted as saying the Special Operation Force "is the strongest elite force of the entire Korean People's Army and is the unique vanguard force of the Armed Forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."[This quote needs a citation]

2017 Pyongyang parade

On 15 April 2017, a new unit of KPA special forces wearing modern combat gear, including night-vision goggles and plate carriers, marched along with elements of the Korean People's Army in a parade on the 105th anniversary of the birth of the founder of North Korea Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang. North Korean state media confirmed the new Elite unit to counter the U.S. Navy SEALs and they called it the Lightning Commandos.[13][14][15][16]


  • Type 88-2 "Top Folding Stock" - North Korean AK-74 copy used with helical magazine attached, now being used alongside the Type 98 as well. The Type 88-2 features a more standard AK-74 receiver frame while the Type 98 is slightly more modified.[17]
  • Type 98 - Variant of the Type 88-2 "Top Folding Stock" with a Helical Magazine that is believed to hold between 75-150 rounds of 5.45x39mm and it has a few exterior modifications in the shape of the weapons near where the stock folds. Features shorter barrel than the Type 88.[18]
  • M16A1 - Locally made copies. Seen in use by North Korean Commandos infiltrating South Korea via midget submarine in 1996, known as the 1996 Gangneung submarine infiltration incident.[19][20]
  • K2 - Locally made copies in production since the 1990s.[21] North Korean commandos with imitation South Korean military digital camo uniforms and K2 rifle copies were been observed by South Korean army soldiers during their shelling of South Korea across Western Front in 2015.[22]
  • Baek Du San - North Korean version of the CZ-75 pistol, the KPA Special Operation Force model features a larger magazine base plate and features a tactical wooden grip in a chest holster, unlike the standard Baek Du San given to standard soldiers or the more chrome plate engraved one given to generals and other high-ranking officers.
  • Sterling Submachine Gun - Used by North Korean commandos during infiltration missions into South Korea.
  • vz.61 - Used by elite North Korean commandos.



North Korean commandos use the antiquated Antonov An-2 to infiltrate by air.[23] The An-2 can deliver paratroopers by airdrop or airland. With the An-2's small airframe, it is possible to land on a highway and insert paratroopers on the ground.

Reconnaissance Brigades

Sometimes known as "sniper" brigades, they are part of the ground intelligence effort of the KPA.[23] These units also have the ability to perform Direct Action. They train and equip to seize or destroy strategic targets within South Korean territory. Additionally, it is suspected that these units carry out assassination attempts.[23]

Light Infantry

KPA light infantry battalions are found in forward deployed and rear-area corps-level units of North Korea.[23] The light battalions are similar to their amphibious light infantry counterparts except for the absence of the additional marine training. The major focus of the light infantry is the "rapid infiltration and disruption of enemy rear areas through concealed movement".[23] The missions of the light infantry include seizure of forward area lines of communication, and destruction of high-payoff targets such as nuclear or chemical sites.[23] In keeping with their name, they are lightly armed and equipped with small arms and anti-tank weapons. For years, the light infantry SOF was known to be one of the few special forces of the world without body armor: no body armor was clearly seen in videos during training or military exercises. Finally in summer 2012 surfaced few pictures with special forces showing body armour during training. It is noted that the armor may not necessarily be military grade, instead being of the kevlar variety, similar to the PASGT.

Maritime SOF

Estimates reveal that the North Koreans can deliver over 7,000 SOF personnel to each of South Korea's coastlines.[24] Based on the number of ships available to the KPA special forces, they could deliver 5,000 of these soldiers in one lift (approximately 102 amphibious craft).[23] It is expected that these special forces once ashore, will attempt to infiltrate South Korea's rugged terrain to attack the South Koreans in their rear areas just before and during the renewed commencement of hostilities between the two countries.[23] Further, the added capability of a small ship with "stealthy" characteristics enables the commandos the ability to ferry to the South Korean coastline.[25]

Like other special forces around the world, close coordination with their sister services provides the needed transportation around the battlefield. For the Maritime SOF, the most commonly used component for modern infiltration has been using the KPA Navy's submarines. The KPA Navy has 24 Romeo class diesel electric submarines.[23] These submarines are used primarily in coastal areas and are an excellent platform to deposit units offshore. Specially outfitted Sang-O class submarines carry a small crew of nineteen and serve the sole purpose of coastal infiltration. Finally, the KPA Navy possesses at least forty-five midget submarines ideally suited to infiltrate two to five man teams into South Korean territory.[26] Such small submarines prove difficult to detect among the rugged coastlines of the Korean Peninsula.


  1. ^ "North Korean military takes oath of loyalty". www.enca.com.
  2. ^ https://thediplomat.com/2017/10/military-stalemate-how-north-korea-could-win-a-war-with-the-us/
  3. ^ http://www.mnd.go.kr/user/mndEN/upload/pblictn/PBLICTNEBOOK_201705180357180050.pdf
  4. ^ https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-arms/north-koreas-new-tactical-weapon-test-highlights-military-modernization-idUSKCN1NN06T
  5. ^ https://beyondparallel.csis.org/north-korean-special-operations-forces-hovercraft-bases-part-1/
  6. ^ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41174689
  7. ^ Parry, Richard Lloyd (June 24, 1998). "Captured sub shames North Korea". The Independent. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
  8. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (November 6, 1996). "One Commando Still At Large In Korea Submarine Manhunt". The New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
  9. ^ http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2010/12/31/2010123100850.html
  10. ^ Handbook, North Korea, Defense Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., 1993, p. 3-119
  11. ^  This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies document "North Korea: A Country Study" by Savada, Andreas Matles, ed. (1994). Retrieved on 27 July 2013. Fourth ed. Washington: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. ISBN 0-8444-0794-1.
  12. ^ Bolger, Daniel P., "Scenes from an Unfinished War: Low Intensity Conflict in Korea, 1966-1969", Leavenworth Papers No. 19, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, p. 86
  13. ^ ARIRANG NEWS (17 April 2017). "N.Korea state media confirms new special forces unit unveiled during Saturday's parade" – via YouTube.
  14. ^ "North Korea's show of force". 21 April 2017 – via Reuters.
  15. ^ Jones, Brian Adam (21 April 2017). "Why North Korea's Special Operations Forces Should Not Be Underestimated".
  16. ^ "N.Korea Touts Special Ops Forces".
  17. ^ "North Korean Helical AK Magazines – Armament Research Services". armamentresearch.com.
  18. ^ "North Korean Rare Type 98 Assault Rifle - Military Forum".
  19. ^ "A Weapon Displayed From North Korea Special Forces and their Submarine". MBC News. 25 September 1996.
  20. ^ "Equipment of North Korean Special Forces and Espionage". Yu Yong-won's Military World, Chosun Ilbo. 16 April 2013.
  21. ^ "시사저널 - 북한 5만 특공대, 저공 침투 대기중". sisapress.com. 19 September 1996. Archived from the original on 3 June 2018.
  22. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/world/asia/north-korea-and-south-korea-exchange-rocket-and-artillery-fire.html
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bermudez, Joseph S. Jr., "North Korean Special Forces" (1988), Jane‘s Publishing Company, Surrey, United Kingdom
  24. ^ Military Review, "Solving Threat SOF Challenges", MarApr 98, General John H. Tilelli Jr., U.S. Army, and Lieutenant Colonel William P. Gerhardt, U.S. Army
  25. ^ Major Troy P. Krause (U.S.), "Countering North Korean Special Purpose Forces", Air Command and Staff College, Air University, April 1999, Accessed 30 May 2009
  26. ^ Andrew Toppan, "World Navies Today: North Korea", Hazegray Online, Accessed 30 May 2009
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