Korean People's Army Special Operation Force

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North Korean Special Operation Force
Founded October 30, 1968; 48 years ago (1968-10-30)
Country  North Korea
Allegiance Kim Jong-un[1]
Type Special forces
Role Special operations
Size 180,000[2]
Part of Korean People's Army
Nickname(s) "NKSOF"

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.[3][4] There are about 180,000 special operational forces soldiers.[2]


The missions of 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.[5]


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, Maritime commandos landed on beaches from Samcheok to Uljin, South Korea and after a series of battles retreated back to North Korea.[6] 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."



SOF use the antiquated Antonov An-2 to infiltrate by air.[7] 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.

Reconnaissance Brigades[edit]

Sometimes known as "sniper" brigades, they are part of the ground intelligence effort of the KPA.[7] These units also have the ability to perform Direct Action. They train and equip to seize or destroy strategic targets within the ROK. Additionally, it is suspected that these units carry out assassination attempts.[7]

Light Infantry[edit]

KPA light infantry battalions are found in forward deployed and rear-area corps-level units of North Korea.[7] 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".[7] 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.[7] In keeping with their name, they are lightly armed and equipped with small arms and antitank weapons. For years, the light infantry SOF were known to be one of the few special forces of the world without body armour: no body armour 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.

Maritime SOF[edit]

Estimates reveal that the North Koreans can deliver over 7,000 SOF personnel to each of South Korea's coastlines.[8] Based on the number of ships available to the SOF, they could deliver 5,000 of these soldiers in one lift (approximately 102 amphibious craft).[7] It is expected that these special forces once ashore, will attempt to infiltrate South Korea‘s rugged terrain to attack the ROK in their rear areas just before and during the renewed commencement of hostilities between the two countries.[7] Further, the added capability of a small ship with "stealthy" characteristics enables the commandos the ability to ferry to the ROK coast.[9]

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 DPRK Navy submarines. The DPRK Navy has 24 Romeo class diesel electric submarines.[7] 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 DPRK Navy possesses at least forty-five midget submarines ideally suited to infiltrate two to five man teams into the ROK.[10] Such small submarines prove difficult to detect among the rugged coastlines of the Korean Peninsula.

2017 Pyongyang parade[edit]

On 15 April 2017, a new unit of Special Forces wearing modern combat uniforms similar to the 707th SMB 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 American Navy SEALs and they called it the Lightning Commandos.[11][12][13][14]


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/.

  1. ^ "North Korean military takes oath of loyalty". www.enca.com. 
  2. ^ a b "N.Korea Boosts Special Forces, Conventional Arms". 
  3. ^ Parry, Richard Lloyd (June 24, 1998). "Captured sub shames North Korea". The Independent. Retrieved April 7, 2013. 
  4. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (November 6, 1996). "One Commando Still At Large In Korea Submarine Manhunt". The New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2013. 
  5. ^ Handbook, North Korea, Defense Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., 1993, p. 3-119
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bermudez, Joseph S. Jr., "North Korean Special Forces", Jane‘s Publishing Company, Surrey, United Kingdom, 1988
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ Major Troy P. Krause (USA), "Countering North Korean Special Purpose Forces", Air Command and Staff College, Air University, April 1999, Accessed 30 May 2009
  10. ^ Andrew Toppan, "World Navies Today: North Korea", Hazegray Online, Accessed 30 May 2009
  11. ^ ARIRANG NEWS (17 April 2017). "N.Korea state media confirms new special forces unit unveiled during Saturday's parade" – via YouTube. 
  12. ^ "North Korea's show of force". 21 April 2017 – via Reuters. 
  13. ^ Jones, Brian Adam (21 April 2017). "Why North Korea’s Special Operations Forces Should Not Be Underestimated". 
  14. ^ "N.Korea Touts Special Ops Forces".