In a country where military strongmen have long been key to the regime's vice-like grip on power, the succession of Kim Jong-un looks set to follow this pattern of a political and military power coalition.

The legacy left by late North Korea leader Kim Jong-il is one of "military first politics" where the army are vital to propping up a despotic dictator.

Reports that the young Kim Jong-un will be required to share power have focused on the figure of his uncle Jang Song-thaek, believed to now be acting as "regent" to the young heir apparent.

Analysts have suggested that the failing health of longtime leader Kim Jong-il would have enabled the top military bras to pave the way for a smooth transition to power in the event of the Dear Leader's demise.

The only way Kim Jong-un could have been elevated to the position of successor over the past two years is with the approval of the military, sources suggest.

"He's there because the military officials believe they can control him, at least for several years, and there's no other institution that can hold the place together," TIME magazine quotes one intelligence official as saying.

Another key figure to watch will no doubt be Vice Marshal Ri Young Ho, a chairman of the military commission that acts as the key policy-making body in the country.

The Korean People's Army constitutes more than 1 million soldiers, or nearly 20 per cent of the male population of North Korea. It is the largest employer and most powerful economic entity in the country. It is also overseer of the rogue nation's nuclear programme and the exporter of missiles via the shadowy Second Economic Committee, run by the mysterious and powerful Park Se Bong.

"[Kim Jong-un] would not be in this position if people like Park had strenuously objected," believes the intelligence source.

"People are reacting too much to the so-called suddenness of Kim Jong Il's death. This is a guy who had a severe stroke three years ago. For a while there he looked like death warmed over. The idea that the regime didn't have its ducks in a row, that everyone assumed the Dear Leader was going to be around for another decade or more, doesn't withstand scrutiny. And the 'regime' very much includes the military."