Ahead of the North Korean military’s winter training set to begin from Dec. 1, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has issued a new training order to all of the armed forces calling on them to complete preparations for war with a focus on the country’s strategic forces.

Founded in 2014, the Korean People’s Army Strategic Force is one of the four branches of the North Korean military and controls the nation’s short, medium and long-range missile units. By switching the direction of training from a focus on conventional weapons to a focus on asymmetrical forces, the order suggests that the country is set to prepare for changes in circumstances following the electoral victory of Joe Biden in the US presidential election.

According to a Daily NK source in the North Korean military on Monday, the new training order was issued to the entire military through the General Staff Department. Unit operation departments immediately held meetings regarding the order in their meeting halls.

In North Korea, the military receives a “Training Order from the Command-in-Chief” at the end of every November. The order presents the Korean People’s Army’s training doctrine and guidelines. This year, however, it was reportedly sent a week earlier than usual. This suggests an intention to set straight the military’s chronic poor attitudes towards annual training and discipline due to the military’s mass mobilization for natural disaster recovery and economic construction.

According to the source, the Commander-in-Chief’s Training Order, called “Regarding the Tasks of Operations and Combat Politics Training in 2021 for the Korean People’s Army, Strategic Force, Social Security Forces and Militia,” laid out the specific training methods for each service, branch of arms, specialists, the Strategic Force, the “Social Security Forces” and the militia.

The order is divided into 14 sections, including the preface, conclusion and training period, subjects and content. The opening of the document revealed the significance of the new training order. Stressing North Korea’s status as a nuclear power, it calls for the entire military to prepare itself as “fighters proficient in modern warfare” in order to defend “the peace of the nation and of the people” from “armed provocations by US imperialists.” 

“The newest thing in the training order is that it sets the training period of the Strategic Force and rocket launcher battalions at nine months,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “In last year’s training order (2019-2020), the Strategic Force’s training period was set at seven months, while the rocket launcher troops were lumped in the training method for artillery. They were not mentioned separately.”

anti-socialist punishment
North Korean soldiers / Image: KCNA

In fact, the order sets out the first and second training periods for the Strategic Force and rocket troops from Dec. 1, 2020 to Mar. 31, 2021 (four months) and from July 1 to Nov. 30 (five months).

Another military source told Daily NK, “The thing that sets this training order apart is that by greatly increasing the training time for the Strategic Force, the unit under the direct control of the Commander-in-Chief, the order concentrates on firepower training for troops manning the new rocket launchers that have been deployed to the field.”

The source further noted that, “The heart of the new training order is to block the provocative schemes of the three main enemies [the US, Japan and South Korea] and the imperialist invaders that oppose the Republic and improve our deterrent for self-defense.”

The order appears to be based on a training strategy that focuses on low-cost, high-efficiency asymmetrical forces rather than emphasizing costly conventional forces. This is likely because North Korea’s difficulties are being amplified due to sanctions by the international community, the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent series of natural disasters.

In fact, the source said that soldiers are saying that the keynote of the latest training order will be maintained going forward, with the military’s regular training focusing on tactical training in response to modern warfare centered on asymmetrical forces.

There is also speculation that while supplies and service conditions for units of the Strategic Force may improve from this point on, the supplies and treatment of units armed with conventional weaponry may worsen.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.