Mandatory service in the country’s 1.19 million-strong military already stands at 10 years, and is the longest conscription period in the world.
Pyongyang is also conscripting more women into its armed forces, defectors to South Korea told The Korea Herald.
“The North has yet to officially announce its policy to extend the term, but I have heard that the ruling party has been encouraging soldiers to volunteer to serve one or more years beyond their service period,” Jang Se-yul, who served in the North Korean military for 12 years before escaping to the South, told the paper.
Jang added that the conscripts are being urged to demonstrate their loyalty to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
The troop shortage is in large part due to the devastating famine that affected North Korea in the mid-1990s.
Referred to as the “Arduous March” in the North, as many as 3.5 million of North Korea’s 22 million citizens died of starvation or malnutrition caused by chronic economic mismanagement, natural disasters, and the policy of prioritising the armed forces.
The majority of the victims were children, meaning there are now fewer young people of conscription age.
Even though it has the largest army per capita in the world, North Korea’s conscripts lead difficult lives. Images and video footage smuggled out of the country by “citizen journalists” working for Japan-based Asiapress International news agency show junior conscripts foraging for food.
North Korean men are required to join the military at the age of 17 and serve for a decade. Women serve for seven years and are similarly summoned into different arms of the Korean People’s Army. Some estimates suggest that as much as 22 per cent of the North Korean military is made up of women.
As well as undergoing intensive training, the military provides a large source of cheap labour when the regime requires it.
In early 2013, troops were mobilised to construct a “world-class” ski resort at Masik Pass to rival the winter sports facilities being built in South Korea to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Kim, a keen skier thanks to the years he spent at a private school in Switzerland, was given a guided tour of the resort.
“He was greatly satisfied to learn that soldier-builders have constructed a skiing area on mountain ranges covering hundreds of thousands of square metres,” the KCNA state press agency reported.
The army is also sent into the fields every autumn to help collect crops by hand.
North Korean soldiers march during the parade.