16 Seriously Scary Facts About The North Korean Military

It comes as no surprise that the North Korean military is one of the largest in the world. It has over one million active soldiers, millions of reservists, and paramilitary members. They have thousands of tanks and spend between a quarter and a third of the country’s budget on armed forces. If that in itself doesn’t scare you, their arsenal will. They have developed nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and even lasers. Here are some more seriously scary facts about the North Korean military forces.


1. Nobody knows exactly how much North Korea spends on their military.

There is a North Korean policy by the name of songun, which prioritizes the military over all other governmental functions. This is actually quite tragic, because it means that while people prepare for famine, money is still going to the army. However, no one seems to know exactly how much money this is. According to the North Korean state, it’s 15.8% of the country’s budget, but other estimates go from 25% to 38%. North Korea is in state of constant financial difficulty, but their military is not something they’re willing to cut back on.


2. North Korea’s paramilitary force is huge.

North Korea has anywhere between 1.5 and 6 million trained reservists in its Workers and Peasants Militia. Most of these reservists are ready to pick up arms and fight if the country went to war. Nearly every male in the North as at least some kind of training, and this is mandatory. Anyone could be called upon to serve as a cannon fodder at any time.


3. North Korea uses banned lasers.

The UN banned blinding laser weapons, but North Korea still has a bunch of them. Before disbanding their laser program, China produced about two dozen ZM-87 blinding lasers, but North Korea is in possession of an undetermined amount of them.

4. Kim Jong-un launches missiles when the US makes him angry.

While normal kids throw a tantrum and slam the door, Kim Jong-un has another way of dealing with his anger. According to Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef who served the Kim family, the supreme leader has no intention of starting a war with the US or South Korea, but he does like a good show of force. When he’s upset about sanctions or false accusations, he orders to launch missiles.


5. North Korea has multiple cyber warfare units.

Yes, they can hack too. North Korea’s hacking capabilities became famously known around the world during the 2014 Sony hack. However, by then, their Bureau 212 had already hacked tens of thousands of computers in South Korea, banks, governmental organizations, and even the president’s office. They also have cyber units stationed in China.


6. North Korea has as many submarines as the US does.

The US has 72 submarines, North Korea has anywhere between 70 and 75. The US has the upper hand here though, because the US subs are sophisticated boats capable of carrying dozens of nuclear or cruise missiles. The North Korean submarine fleet is either 1950s era Soviet models or small coastal patrol subs.

7. Military service is mandatory, even for women.

In North Korea, it is mandatory for every male over the age of 18 to serve a ten-year term in the armed forces. Until recently, the age was actually 13. They usually start as front-line infantry and are often poorly trained and have little in the way of food or equipment. This is reserved for the elite units. To make up for low birth and high mortality rates, just last year, Kim Jong-un ordered that women were to be conscripted as well, though for a shorter term – until they turn 23. Women often serve in front-line positions and are often seen marching in long, armed columns during military parades.


8. North Korea has a lot of tanks, artillery pieces and rockets.

North Korea is believed to own about 4,100 tanks, 6,500 artillery guns, 2,500 rocket launchers and over 1,000 aircrafts. This is immense for such a small country. However, most of the planes are grounded due to a lack of fuel, and most of the tanks and guns are too old to stand up to a sustained conflict.


9. North Korea has chemical weapons, and they are a complete mystery.

All that’s known in that North Korea possesses a robust chemical weapons program. Nothing else is known about what kind of weapons they have, or how much. While the Kim regime doesn’t back away from frequent nuclear threats, it rarely mentions the chemical weapons. However, according to defectors, they have everything from traditional WWI gasses like chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas to modern nerve agents like sarin and VX. There have been accusations from defectors that these agents are tested on political prisoners in labor camps.

10. North Korea has its own Hitler youth.

Tragically, there is no dictatorship without exploited child soldiers. The Young Red Guards, which were created in 1970, serve as the youth arm of the organized paramilitary force. The Young Red Guards are males aged 15 to 17. They go through 10 to 15 days of military and survival training to prepare them for conscription at 18. They’re expected to provide their own uniform and food.


11. North Korea has the biggest military per capita in the world.

North Korea has 47.8 active duty military members per 1000 population members. This is ten times higher than the US and the highest rate of any country in the world.


12. The US has a constantly evolving plan to beat North Korea.

OPLAN 5027 is a US strategy to fight alongside South Korea and defeat an invasion by the North. It was developed in the early 70s and is constantly in progress. As North Korea’s threat capabilities evolve, the strategy is revised. It incorporates the North’s nuclear, biological and cuber abilities, while leaving enough forces to prevent Seoul from being bombed. Little more is known about these plans.

13. Nuclear suicide bombers.

In 2013, the world was shocked to see columns of North Korean soldiers carrying backpacks with the international symbol for nuclear power on them. Earlier indications of the North developing a “backpack bomb” unit made people put two and two together and the world freaked out. Did the North have man-portable nukes? Probably not, and the backpacks were most likely just for show. However, it did expose future plans of the Kim regime.


14. Their nuclear artillery is a mystery.

As far as the rest of the world knows, North Korea has conducted four nuclear weapon tests to date. Evidence exists of two more. However, nobody knows exactly how many nuclear weapons they have or the damage they can do. International watchdog groups have estimated North Korea is in possession of anywhere between 15 and 20 nuclear weapons. However, transporting the weapons don’t seem feasible, as their longest range missile can’t carry nukes and their longest range missile capable of carrying one hasn’t been successfully tested. The furthest they could actually launch nuclear weapons at the moment would be Seoul, Tokyo or Bangkok.


15. North Korea has a huge special forces army.

The North Korean Special Operation Force is a highly capable special forces army which is responsible for some of the most well-known infiltration attempts into South Korea, including a series of tunnels under their shared border and a failed assassination attempt on the South Korean president in 1968.

16. North Korea claims it can turn Seoul into a sea of fire.

North Korea claims it has enough artillery pointed at the South’s capitol to reduce it to rubble. While the North has around 700 artillery pieces and rocket launchers trained on Seoul and the initial bombardment would most likely tragically kill thousands, it’s more likely that a quarter of the shell fired would be duds and that after the South hitting back, North Korea’s attack would slowly trickle to nothing.