North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Gen. Kim Rak Gyom

KPA Strategic Force Commander General Kim Rak Gyom issues orders during the mobile ballistic missile test on March 11, 2016 (Photo: KCTV screen grab).

KPA Strategic Force Commander General Kim Rak Gyom issues orders during the mobile ballistic missile test on March 11, 2016 (Photo: KCTV screen grab).

updated June 27, 2016

Kim Rak Gyom (Kim Rak-kyo’m) is commander of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] Strategic Forces (formerly known as the KPA Strategic Rocket Forces) and a Member of the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee.

General Kim is a ballistic missile and aeronautics expert.  He has held command positions in the KPA General Staff Ballistic Missile Bureau and KPA Artillery Command.  He was appointed as a deputy commander of the KPA Strategic Forces in April 2007.  He was appointed commander of the KPA Strategic Forces during February 2012, replacing Choe Sang Ryo. General Kim appeared alongside Kim Jong Un on March 2, 2012 when Jong Un visited the KPA Strategic Force headquarters in Kangdong County, Pyongyang, to mark the annual treeplanting day.

Kim Jong Un talks with KPA Strategic Rocket Force commander Col. Gen. Kim Rak Gyom and the SRF's vice commander (Photo: Rodong Sinmun).

Kim Jong Un talks with KPA Strategic Rocket Force commander Col. Gen. Kim Rak Gyom and the SRF’s vice commander (Photo: Rodong Sinmun).

During the 4th Party Conference in April 2012, Kim was elected a Member of the WPK Central Military Commission.  During March 2013, amid heightened inter-Korean tensions following the DPRK’s third nuclear test, Kim Rak Gyom attended an “emergency operations meeting related to the KPA Strategic Force’s conduct of firepower strike duty” at which Kim Jong Un “carried out a final review of and ratified a firewpower strike plan.”  Jong Un ratified the plan following a briefing from General Kim on “the technological status of our forces’ strategic strike means.”

Kim Rak Gyom spoke at an April 25, 2013 meeting marking the KPA’s official anniversary, along with other senior DPRK military command staff.  On February 15, 2014, he was promoted to three-star Colonel-General (sangjang) in military promotions orders issued on late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il’s birth anniversary.  During 2014 and 2015, General Kim supervised several missile tests and drills, including live fire drills during July 2014.  He received his fourth star to General (taejang) between 2015 and 2016, but his effective promotion was not disclosed in DPRK state media.

In 2016, Kim Rak Gyom attended a briefing and inspection of some of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons assets by Kim Jong Un held in March at the Ta’eso’ng plant between Pyongyang and Namp’o.  Two days later, General Kim was present and issued orders when Kim Jong Un attended a mobile missile drill in North Hwanghae Province.  During April 2016, he attended the test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile engine at the Sohae Space Center in Ch’o’lsan County, North P’yo’ngan Province and later the same month, attended and issued orders, again in Jong Un’s presence, during the test firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile off the coast of South Hamgyo’ng Province.

Kim Rak Gyom was elected to the WPK Central Committee during the 7th Congress of the WPK (7th Party Congress) in May 2016.  During the 7th Party Congress he was removed from the WPK Central Military Commission.  General Kim’s removal from the   Central Military Commission was erroneously interpreted as punishment for a series of failed tests of the Hwaso’ng-10 (Musudan) intermediate range ballistic missile [IRBM].  In fact, several senior KPA commanders with equivalent command positions, were removed from the CMC at that time.  On June 22, 2016 attended the successful test firing of the Hwaso’ng-10.

Kim Rak Gyom

Commander, KPA Strategic Forces

Member, WPK Central Committee

2007: (April) deputy commander, KPA Strategic Forces

2012: (February) Commander, KPA Strategic Forces

(April) Elected, Member, WPK Central Military Commission

2014: (February) Promoted, Colonel-General

2015: Promoted, General

(November) Member, Ri Ul Sol Funeral Committee

2016: (May) Elected, Member, 7th WPK Central Committee

Interview data acquired by Michael Madden 2012-2016; “Kim Jong Un Visits Missile Command,” NK Leadership Watch, March 3, 2012 “DPRK Reportedly Appoints Kim Rak-kyo’m as Strategic Rocket Forces Head,” Chosun Ilbo, June 15, 2012; “Kim Jong Un Holds Operations Meeting on 29 March, Ratifies Plan for Firepower Strike,” Korean Central Broadcasting Station, March 28, 2013; “Kim Jong Un Visits Supply Base Under KPA Unit #639,” Korean Central Television (in Korean) May 26, 2013; “Kim Jong Un Confers on KPA Commanding Officers,” Korean Central News Agency, February 16, 2014; “State Funeral Committee  for Ri Ul Sol,” Rodong Sinmun (in Korean), November 9, 2015; “WPK Central Committee and WPK Central Auditing Commission Meet,” NK Leadership Watch, May 10, 2016; “Deciphering the 7th Party Congress: A Teaser for Greater Change?” by Michael Madden, 38 North, May 20, 2016; “Kim Jong Un Attends and Guides IRBM Hwaso’ng-10 Test,” NK Leadership Watch, January 22, 2016

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