North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

VMAR Kim Il Chol

updated February 25, 2018

Kim Il Chol (Kim Il-ch’o’l) is a retired KPA Vice Marshal and National Defense Commission (NDC) Member.  From 1998 to 2009 Kim served Minister of the People’s Armed Forces (MPAF) and from 1998 to 2007 as an NDC Vice Chairman.  Kim Il Chol retired from all of his positions in May 2010, via an NDC order, prior to the 3rd plenum of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA).

Kim Il Chol was born in 1933.  He attended the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School and the country’s Navy University (currently Kim Jong Suk Naval Academy).  He also studied in Russia.  After completing his military education he was assigned as a deputy commander at the Wonsan Naval Base, and held the same position during the Korean (Victorious Fatherland Liberation) War.  In the early 1960s he served on the KPA Naval (Korean People’s Navy) Command Staff, managing base construction and ship building.

Kim Il Chol participated in a command role in the January 1968 attack on USS Pueblo and subsequently promoted to Vice Chief of the KPA Naval Command Staff.  He was promoted to Chief of Staff in 1971.  In the 1970s Kim Il Chol tutored Kim Jong Il in naval warfare and accompanied him on visits to KPA Navy bases.

He was elected to full membership on the Party Central Committee (CC KWP) and a member of the party’s Central Military Committee (CMC) at the 6th Party Congress in October 1980.  Kim Il Chol was also appointed as commander of the KPA Navy.  He was elected a deputy of the 7th SPA in 1982 and promoted to Colonel General in 1985.

During the late 1980s Kim commanded a naval squadron on an annual visit to Siberia.  He was promoted to General in April 1992, and was a member of Kim Il Sung’s Funeral Committee in July 1994.  In 1997 Kim Il Chol was promoted to Vice Marshal and appointed First Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, following the death of Kim Kwang Jin.

Retired VMAR Kim Il Chol (2nd L) at the March 2010 rally in Hamhung (Photo: KCNA)

At the first plenum of the 10th SPA in September 1998, Kim Il Chol was elected an NDC Vice Chairman and also appointed Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, replacing Choe Kwang.  In the early 2000s he received medical treatment in Europe.  In February 2009 he became first vice minister of the PAF, replaced as minister by Kim Yong Chun.  For two months he was an NDC Councilor, until he was elected to NDC Membership at the first plenum of the 12th SPA in April 2009.

Kim Il Chol joined Kim Jong Il for several events, including observation of military exercises and at a rally held in Hamhung, South Hamgyong in March 2010.  In May 2010 KCNA announced that Kim Il Chol was retired from all of his positions, based on an order of the NDC.  His name did not appear on the list of CC KWP Members after the 3rd Party Conference in September 2010.

VMAR Kim Il Chol

Vice Chairman, NDC (1998-2007)

Minister of the People’s Armed Forces (1998-2009)

Member, Central Military Committee (1980-2010)

Commander, KPA Navy (1980-1997)


1948: Assigned, Deputy Commanding Officer, Wonsan Navy Base

1950: Vice Commanding Officer, Korean War

1968: Deputy Chief of Staff, KPA Navy

1971: Chief of Staff, KPA Navy

1980: Elected, Member, 6th WPK Central Committee

Elected, Member, CMC

Commanding Officer, KPA Navy

1982: Deputy, 7th SPA

Awarded, Order of Kim Il Sung

Promoted to Lieutenant General

1985: Promoted Colonel General

1986: Deputy, 8th SPA

1990: Deputy, 9th SPA

1992: Promoted, General, KPA

1994: Member, Kim Il Sung Funeral Committee

1995: Member, O Jin U Funeral Committee

Awarded, Hero of the Republic, Order of National Flag, 1st Class

1997: Promoted, Vice Marshal, KPA

First Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces

1998: Deputy, 10th SPA

Elected, Vice Chair, National Defense Commission

Appointed, Minister of the People’s Armed Forces

2003: Delegate, 11th SPA

2009: Retired, NDC Vice Chairman and Minister of the People’s Armed Forces

Councilor, NDC

Deputy, 12th SPA

Elected, Member, NDC

2010: Retired from all positions


Chong, Bong-uk (editor).  A Handbook on North Korea (Seoul: Naewoe Press, November 1998) pp.75-6

Dictionary of American Fighting Ships <>

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

Yonhap News Agency.  North Korea Handbook.  Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003. pp. 656; 840-41

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