Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Has Col. Gen. Pyon In Son been appointed director of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] General Staff Operations Bureau [GSOB] ?
Film footage of the military parade and demonstration on the 65th anniversary of the country’s foundation on 9 September 2013 shows a KPA officer who resembles Col. Gen. Pyon briefing Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) during the Worker-Peasant Red Guards’ parade. Since the Kim Jong Il era, one of the Operations Bureau director’s ceremonial functions is to brief the KPA Supreme Commander during a military or reserve unit parade, or military exercise. If Col. Gen. Pyon was briefing Kim Jong Un during the WPRG parade then he has replaced previous GSOB director Ri Yong Gil. Ri was recently promoted to four-star general and appointed Chief of the KPA General Staff, replacing Gen. Kim Kyok Sik.
The directorate of the GSOB is one of the most powerful positions in the DPRK’s national security community. The GSOB is responsible for the daily operational management and administration of the KPA’s conventional forces. It interfaces with all KPA corps-level units to implement DPRK military planning, strategy and operations plans, as well as assessing combat readiness. It also formulates and implements military training for all KPA conventional units, the Pyongyang Defense Command and the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces. During a war or national crisis, command and control over KPA forces passes from the core leadership directly to the Operations Bureau.
Pyon In Son’s last reported position, as of July 2013, was Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces,. From August 2011 until April 2013, Col. Gen. Pyon served as commanding officer of the IV Army Corps. From about 2007 to 2011 he served as Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces. He led a KPA delegation on an official visit to China in October 2010. Prior to his appointment at the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, Pyon was commanding officer of the VII Army Corps in South Hamgyo’ng Province. Col. Gen. Pyon has patronage links to VMar Kim Yong Chun, Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission and current Director of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Civil Defense Department.
If Pyon has been appointed director of the GSOB then it indicates that Kim Jong Un applies a similar criteria in selecting the GSOB chief as his father, having selected someone with a career both in military administration (such as at MPAF or the General Staff) and field command experience and holding the rank of Colonel General. Being former commander of the IV Army Corps, Pyon’s possible appointment to the GSOB would also mean another new member of the KPA’s high command whose immediate past field experience was at one of the four frontline (1st echelon) corps units. These are the KPA ground force units stationed in areas along the inter-Korean border, the Military Demarcation Line and the North Limit Line. Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Jang Jong Nam (appointed in May 2013) commanded the I Army Corps and Ri Yong Gil (appointed Chief of the General Staff in August 2013 and GSOB director in February 2012) commanded the V Army Corps.