North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Gen. O Kuk Ryol

Gen. O Kuk Ryol at a commemorative photo session for war veterans in Pyongyang on 30 July 2013.

Gen. O Kuk Ryol at a commemorative photo session for war veterans in Pyongyang on 30 July 2013.

General O Kuk Ryol is a Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission.  He is also a member of the Party Central Committee (CC KWP), and has been a delegate (deputy) to the SPA since 1967.  Gen. O is the country’s primary manager of intelligence training and operations in East Asia, and is currently believed to head the NDC Reconnaissance Bureau.

O Kuk Ryol was born in Jilin Province, PRC, in 1931.  He is either the son or nephew of North Korean hero O Jung Hup.  O’s ties to the Kim Family go back to the 1930s.  After the war, O was one of the war orphans looked after by KIS first wife (and KJI’s mother), Kim Jong Suk.  O attended the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School and Kim Il Sung University.  O also received military education in Russia at the Soviet Air Force Academy and Frunze Military Academy (currently known as the Combined Arms Academy).

O began his official career in 1964 in the Korean People’s Army Air Force, as an administrator of the Kim Chaek Air Force Academy.  He was first elected a deputy (delegate) to the 4th Supreme People’s Assembly in 1967.  He was promoted to Major General (sojang) in 1968 and became commander of the Air Force.  O Kuk Ryol was elected to full membership to the CC KWP at the 5th Party Congress in 1970.  He officially traveled outside the DPRK three times in the 1970s, including leading a delegation to China in 1971. In October, 1977, O was appointed Deputy Chief of the KPA General Staff.  He was promoted to Chief of the General Staff in September, 1979.

In the 1970’s O Kuk Ryol was one of the principal facilitators of establishing KJI’s monolithic ideological guidance system in the Korean People’s Army. O Kuk Ryol was promoted to Colonel-General (sangjang) in September 1980.  At the KWP 6th Party Congress in October, 1980, Gen. O was elected a member of the Political Bureau (Politburo) and member of the CC KWP Central Military Committee.  In 1982 O gave a keynote speech at the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School.

He was promoted to General (taejang) in April, 1985.  In the 1980’s he was responsible for the creation of the Mirim Electronic Warfare Institute (Automated Warfare Institute), the country’s premier training institution in electronic (cyber) warfare.  He was removed as Chief of the General Staff in 1988, as well as expelled from the CC KWP Political Bureau and suspended from the Central Military Committee, due to policy and personnel disputes with then-Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, O Jin U.  Gen. O was sent on a six-month re-education program at the Kim Il Sung Higher Party School.

Mirim Electronic Warfare Institute in east Pyongyang (Photo: Google Earth)

O returned to the power center as department director of the CC KWP Civil Defense Department in late 1988.  He was responsible for managing personnel shuffles (purges and promotions) among KPA general-grade officers from 1991 to 1993.  Around 1992 or 1993, O Kuk Ryol was appointed to his current position as department director of the CC KWP Operations Department.

The CC KWP #3 Complex in Pyongyang which includes the offices of the Operations Department (Photo: GoogleEarth)

In February, 2009, O Kuk Ryol was appointed Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission.  According to one report, he has also established a foreign trading corporation.  Gen. O has presided over the consolidation of much of the DPRK’s foreign intelligence collection (focused primarily on the ROK and Japan), operations, education and training into the NDC Reconnaissance General Bureau.  Gen. O manages the NDC RGB in coordination with Lt. Gen. Kim Yong Chol.  There are rumors that Gen. O hs had difficulty working with and managing Kim.

O Kuk Ryol attends an event held during Kim Jong Il Birthday celebrations in 2010 (Photo: KCNA)

Gen. O (1st Row C) on the rostrum for the third plenum of the 12th SPA in June 2010

Gen. O Kuk Ryol is highly intelligent, and a respected military commander.  He is one of Kim Jong Il’s  primary intelligence managers and advisers on military strategy and electronic warfare.  He speaks English, Russian and Chinese.

Gen. O is said “to be a commanding officer who is neat and tidy in character and behavior, and has a careful planning ability and propulsive force to push ahead with what should be done.”  Gen. O is neither an active nor prolific participant in the social and party culture of North Korean elites, and is reputed to take care of his health as an avid walker.

O Kuk Ryol

National Defense Commission (NDC), Vice Chairman

Member, Party Central Committee (CC KWP)


1964: Instructor and administrator Korean People’s Air Force Academy

1967: Deputy, 4th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA)

1968: Promoted, Major General

1970: Elected, Member, CC KWP

1972: Deputy, 5th SPA

1977: Appointed, Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff

Deputy, 6th SPA

1979: Elected, Alternate Member, CC KWP Political Bureau

Appointed, Chief of the KPA General Staff

1980: Promoted to Colonel-General

Elected, Member, CC KWP Political Bureau

Elected, Member, Central Military Committee (CMC)

1982: Awarded, Order of Kim ll Sung

Deputy, 7th SPA

1985: Promoted, General

1986: Deputy, 8th SPA

1988: Dismissed from CMC, CC KWP PB

1989: Director, CC KWP Civil Defense Department

1990: 9th SPA

1992: Director, CC KWP Operations Department

1994: Member, Kim Il Sung Funeral Committee

1995: Member, O Jin U Funeral Committee

1998: Deputy, 10th SPA

2003: Deputy, 11th SPA

2009: NDC Vice Chairman

Deputy, 12th SPA

See also:

“Who Controls NK?” North Korea A to Z . Seoul: Korean Broadcasting Station

Lee, Young-jong, “Bigwigs in North vie for power over investments” JoongAng Ilbo, July 5, 2010

Martin, Bradley. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Family Dynasty New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2004 pp. 471, 830 (Ch. 27, note #8)

“Narrative Biographies of DPRK Figures,” Seoul SINDONG-A January 1995, (Supplement) pp 210-278

“O Kuk Ryol Accompanies Kim Jong-il to view KPA live fire exercises” Northeast Asia Matters: the Korean Peninsula (

Suh, Dae-sook. Kim Il Sung: The North Korean Leader pp. 42, 46 and 286

Yonhap News Agency. The North Korea Handbook Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003 p.867

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