Military Ranks

    North Korean parlance for rank is "ilitary titles".

    A dictionary gives the definition of military title as "a title conferred by the state on a member of the armed forces as a sign of one's status and professional duties" and focuses on the honor of being a soldier and having title. The publication lavishes more praise on the word as a "symbol of the highest trust from the Great Leader Marshal Kim Il-sung and the Worker's Party".

    A rank system similar to its current counterpart was first established at the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly during the Korean War on Dec. 31st, 1952. The ranks are first divided into three groups: marshal, general, and officers, and the three groups are further subdivided as follows:

    • MARSHAL: Marshal of the DPRK. Deputy marshal of the DPRK.
    • GENERAL: Senior general, general, lieutenant general, major general
    • OFFICER: Senior colonel, colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, captain, senior lieutenant, first lieutenant, second lieutenant.

    The rank system was revised several times and some modifications were added each time. The following are North Korean military ranks as they were last known:

    MARSHAL: Divided into grand marshal, marshal, and deputy marshal
    Marshal w/ separate large star and coat of arms
    Deputy marshal w/ coat of arms inside large star
    Deputy marshal's shoulder badge - coat of arms inside large star

    GENERAL: Divided into Senior general, general, lieutenant general. major general.
    Ground forces/ Navy/ Air Force
    Senior general/ General/ Lieutenant general/ Major general

    OFFICERS: Divided into senior and junior grade. Senior grade divided into senior colonel, colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major. Junior grade includes captain, senior lieutenant, first lieutenant, and second lieutenant.

    Ground forces/ Navy/ Air Force
    Senior colonel/ Colonel/ Lieutenant colonel/ Major/ Captain/ Senior lieutenant/ First Lieutenant/ Second lieutenant

    ENLISTED TROOPS: Divided into NCO's and troopers. Subdivided into six ranks. Master sergeant, senior sergeant, sergeant 1st class, sergeant for NCO's. Corporal and private for troopers.

    Ground forces/ Navy/ Air Force
    Master sergeant/ Senior sergeant/ Sergeant 1st class/ Sergeant/ Corporal/

    The North Korean rank system is comprised of a total of 21 ranks.

    A unique part of the North Korean rank system is the title of 'deputy marshal' (chasu). The first person to receive the title was Choi Yong-gun (then Minister of State Security) in Feb. 1953, but it was another year before the title was awarded again, to O Jin-u on April 1985. But eight high-ranking officers including Yi Eul-sul and Choi Kwang received the title during the 60th anniversary of the founding of the KPA. Cho Myung-rok, Kim Yung-choon, and Lee Ha-il also received their deputy marshal badges on October 1995. Kim Il-chul and two other generals became deputy marshals on April 1997. There are currently a total of 11 deputy marshals in North Korea.

    The title of marshal is given only to the supreme commander of the armed forces, and the first person to become marshal was none other than Kim Il-sung, by the decision of the Supreme People's Assembly during the Korean War. Kim Jong-il and state elder O Jin-u were next in April 1992 on recommendations from the Central Committee, Central Military Committee, National Defense Committee, and the Central People's Committee. The last ones to be awarded the title were Choi Kwang and Yi Eul-sul in October 1995. The deaths of O Jin-u and Choi Kwang left Kim Jong-il and Yi Eul-sul as the only two surviving marshals. The same title does necessarily mean of equal rank, as Kim Jong-il's official title happens to be the [Marshal of the DPRK], while Yi Eul-sul is 'merely' the [Marshal of the KPA]. Kim Il-sung himself had to be differentiated from other marshals, and he was recommended and given the title of 'grand marshal' on his eightieth birthday in April 1992. - Though not an official rank, there is another title given to military technicians aside from the twenty-one standard ranks. Enlisted men who served as radar operators and communications men are often made 'junior NCOs' as an incentive for them to stay in the armed forces instead of being discharged, saving the armed forces time and money in having to train a new recruit.