North Korean Special Operations

North Korean Special Forces

The DPRK Special Operation’s Forces (SOF) are the specially trained and equipped military units tailored to perform military, political, or psychological operations. The units are active in testing the defenses of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and have been detected operating in or around ROK many times over the 50 years since the end of the Korean War. There are about 200,000 special operational forces soldiers.


The missions of Special Operation’s 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.


The official date of formation for the SOF is hard to come by, but reports of activity by these forces have been commonplace since 30 October, 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.


SOF use the antiquated but effective Antonov An-2 to infiltrate by air. It has been retrofitted with wooden materials to provide limited stealth ability to reduce detection by radar. 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

Sometimes known as “sniper” brigades, they are part of the ground intelligence effort of the KPA.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.

Light Infantry

KPA light infantry battalions are found in forward deployed and rear-area corps-level units of North Korea. The light battalions are similar to their amphibious light infantry counterparts except for the additional marine training. The major focus of the light infantry is the “rapid infiltration and disruption of enemy rear areas through concealed movement”. 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. In keeping with their name, they are lightly armed and equipped with small arms and antitank weapons.

Maritime SOF

Estimates reveal that the North Koreans can deliver over 7,000 SOF personnel to each of the ROK coastlines. 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). 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. Further, the added capability of a small ship with “stealthy” characteristics enables the commandos the ability to ferry to the ROK coast.

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. These submarines are used primarily in coastal areas and are an excellent platform to deposit units offshore. Specially outfitted Sang-O submarines carry a small crew of nineteen and serve a 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. Such small submarines prove difficult to detect among the rugged coastlines of the Korean Peninsula.

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