Korean People's Air Force

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조선인민군 공군
Korean People's Army Air Force
NKAF flag.svg
Founded 20 August 1947
Country  North Korea
Size 110,000 personnel
1,600-1,700 aircraft
Part of Korean People's Army
Garrison/HQ Pyongyang
Anniversaries 20 August
Engagements Korean War
Vietnam War[1]
Commanding General of the KPAF General Ri Pyong-chol
VMAR Cho Myong-rok
Col. Gen. Oh Gum-chol
Roundel Roundel of the Korean Peoples Army Air Force.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack Shenyang F-5 · Su-7 · Nanchang Q-5 · Su-25
Bomber Harbin H-5 · Ilyushin Il-28
Fighter Chengdu F-7B  · Shenyang F-5
Shenyang F-6  ·
MiG-21  · MiG-23  · MiG-29
Reconnaissance An-24  · Tu-143
Trainer L-39 · MiG-15 · Nanchang CJ-6
Transport IL-76 · AN-24 · AN-2

The Korean People's Army Air Force, (Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선인민군 공군; Hanja: 朝鮮人民軍 空軍), is the name of the unified aviation forces of North Korea. The KPAF is the second-largest branch of the Korean People's Army with an estimated 110,000 personnel.[2] It possesses between 1,600 and 1,700 aircraft of different types, mostly of Soviet and Chinese origin. Its primary task is to defend North Korean airspace.[3] When the People's Army was formed up with Soviet help, the aviation unit became its air force branch on August 20, 1947. North Korea has celebrated August 20 as Air Force Foundation Day ever since.


Kim Il-sung set up the Aviation Association branches in Pyongyang, Sinuiju, Chongjin and other parts of the country in 1945. In December 1945 he merged them into the Aviation Association of Korea. The air force became a separate service in 1948. The KPAF incorporates much of the original Soviet air tactics, as well as North Korean experience from the UN bombings during the Korean War.

The KPAF has on occasion deployed abroad to assist fellow socialist states, with a North Korean flight of MiG-21s deploying to Bir Arida to help defend southern Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.[4]

In 1990-91, North Korea activated four forward air bases near the DMZ.


Operational doctrine[edit]

North Korean Ilyushin Il-10 at Kimpo International Airport, South Korea, on 21 September 1950.

Given North Korea's experience with heavy U.S. bombardments in the Korean War, its aim has been mainly to defend North Korean airspace. The heavy reliance on fighter aircraft, Surface-to-air missile and Anti-aircraft warfare reflects this. However, since nearly all of North Korea's aircraft inventory consists of aging and obsolete Soviet and Chinese aircraft, the primary goal of the air force may have changed in the last years to providing ground support for the land forces and threatening South Korean population centers and military targets with a massive air attack.

In this way, North Korea could try to maintain military parity with South Korea by using its air force as a deterrent, much like its ballistic missiles, instead of trying to maintain a technological parity in aircraft types for individual air-to-air roles. This seems to be confirmed by the recent redeployment of 120 mostly obsolete fighters, bombers and transport aircraft closer to the demilitarized zone, even though 440 modern aircraft are also based near the DMZ. Keeping in mind the production, storage and use of a vast chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons inventory by North Korea, this change in doctrine is even more significant.


From 1978 to 1995 General Jo Myong-rok was the commander of the air force. In October 1995 he was promoted to vice-marshal and appointed Chief of the KPA General Political Bureau and a member of the Korean Workers' Party Central Military Committee. His place as commander of the Air Force was taken by Colonel General Oh Gum-chol.

Annual flying hours[edit]

The number of annual flying hours (AFH) per pilot is, like almost every other aspect of the KPAF, very hard to estimate. Most sources on the subject abstain from giving hard numbers, but all of them estimate the average annual flying hours per pilot as being 'low' to 'very low'. The number of annual flying hours is of course very important in estimating the individual skill and experience of the pilots of an air force: more annual flying hours suggests better trained pilots. Most estimates present a rather grim picture: AFH per pilot for the KPAF are said to be only 15 or 25[5] hours per pilot each year - comparable to the flying hours of air forces in ex-Soviet countries in the early 1990s. In comparison, most NATO fighter pilots fly at least 150 hours a year. Ground training, both in classrooms, on instructional airframes or in a flight simulator can only substitute for 'the real thing' to a certain degree, and the low number of modern jet trainers in the KPAF arsenal points to a very modest amount of flying time for the formation of new pilots.

There are a number of possible explanations for the low AFH: concern over the aging of equipment, scarcity of spare parts - especially for the older aircraft - difficulties with worn airframes, fear of defection and the scarcity of fuel are all contributing factors. It is very likely however that some 'elite' pilots and regiments receive considerably more flying hours. Especially those equipped with modern aircraft and tasked with homeland defence - like the 57th regiment flying MiG-29s and the 60th regiment flying MiG-23s - are receiving multiple times the average AFH per pilot; however, aging equipment, the scarcity of fuel and the general economic crisis in the DPRK will affect these regiments as well, and keep their AFH low compared to NATO AFH.

AFP reported on January 23, 2012 that the KPAF had conducted more flight training than average in 2011.

The Chosun Ilbo reported on March 29, 2012 that the KPAF had dramatically increased the number of flights to 650 per day.[6]


Following is a list of bases where North Korean Army Air Force aircraft are permanently based.[7][8]

Air bases[edit]

Northwestern area

Roundel of the Korean Peoples Army Air Force.svg Uiju Airfield (40°08′59″N 124°29′53″E / 40.14972°N 124.49806°E / 40.14972; 124.49806)

  • 24th Air Wing (Transport) - operating transport aircraft, Il-28 or Harbin B-5s and disassembled MiG-21s

Roundel of the Korean Peoples Army Air Force.svg Panghyon South Highway Strip

  • Air Wing- operating MiG-17F/J-5, F-5/FT-5

Roundel of the Korean Peoples Army Air Force.svg Taechon Airfield

  • 5th Air Transport Wing
  • Kaech'on Airfield - Headquarters, 1st Air Combat Command. 35th Air Fighter Wing (MiG-19/J-6). Fighter base with 2500 m runway.
  • Pukch'ang Airport - 60th Air Fighter Wing (1 ACC) (MiG-23ML/MiG-23UB/MiG-15UTI); Air Transport Wing (5 TD) (H500D/H500E/500D). This base was where most new Soviet fighter aircraft were delivered during the 1960s.[9]
  • Samjangkol - Air Transport Wing (6 TD) (Mi-2)
  • Sunchon Airport - 55th Air Fighter Wing (1 ACC) (Su-25K/Su-25UBK/Su-7BMK)(MiG-29/MiG-29UB)[10]
  • Kanch'on - Air Transport Wing (6 TD) (Mi-4/Z-5/Mi-8/Mi-17/Mi-2)
West Coast and Pyongyang area (Pyongyang is also the location of HQ, KPAAF)
DMZ area
East Coast area
Far Northeast area

Known Aircraft Inventory[edit]

Unless otherwise stated, the number of aircraft is from the principal source in the table. The total amount of aircraft by type is as follows:

  • Fighter aircraft: 484
  • Strike aircraft: 194
  • Trainer aircraft: 357
  • Transport aircraft: ~500
  • Other: 82+
  • Total: around 1,500
  • The annual report of North Korea's military capabilities by the U.S. Department of Defense, released in early 2014, identified the North Korean Air Force's strength at 110,000 personnel, over 800 combat aircraft, 300 helicopters, and over 300 transports.[12]
Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service[13] Comments
Fighter aircraft
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29  Soviet Union Fighter Aircraft
Operational conversion
35 Used to defend Pyongyang and mainland Korea[14] 9.12B and UB 9.51 models; Google Earth Imagery is available.[11]
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23  Soviet Union Fighter Aircraft MiG-23ML 56 Google Earth Imagery is available.[11]
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21  Soviet Union Fighter Aircraft
Fighter Aircraft
Operational Conversion
>150 Google Earth Imagery is available.[11]
Chengdu F-7  China Fighter Aircraft F-7A 40
Shenyang F-5  China Fighter Aircraft Shenyang F-5 100[15]
Strike aircraft
Ilyushin Il-28  Soviet Union
Medium bomber Il-28
Harbin B-5
c. 40 ~20 Il-28's and ~40 H-5/B-5's are confirmed to exist with ~40 believed to be in a serviceable condition at Uiju and Chanjin-Up AFB's. Google Earth Imagery is available.[11]
Nanchang A-5  China Strike aircraft Nanchang A-5 40
Sukhoi Su-25  Soviet Union Strike aircraft
Operational conversion
Google Earth Imagery is available.[11]
Sukhoi Su-7  Soviet Union Strike aircraft Su-7BMK 18
Mil Mi-24  Soviet Union Helicopter gunship Mi-24D 20
Trainer Aircraft
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15  Soviet Union Training aircraft MiG-15UTI 30
Nanchang CJ-6  China Training aircraft Nanchang CJ-6 180
Aero L-39  Czechoslovakia Training aircraft L-39C 12
Shenyang F-5  China Training aircraft FT-5 135
Transport aircraft
Ilyushin Il-76  Soviet Union Heavy transport Il-76MD 3 Also in service with Air Koryo
Ilyushin Il-62  Soviet Union Heavy transport Il-62M 2 state airliner, 1 as VIP jet transport for Kim Jong Un
Antonov An-24  Soviet Union Tactical transport An-24 6 At least one converted to a rudimentary AEW aircraft in the 1990s
Antonov An-2  Soviet Union
Utility transport various c. 300 Formerly grounded due to high fuel costs[16] Recently seen operationally in footage of 2014 Military Exercises
Lisunov Li-2  Soviet Union Utility transport Lisunov Li-2 Few in number Google Earth Imagery is available.[11]
Mil Mi-26  Soviet Union Heavy transport Mi-26 4 Google Earth Imagery is available.[11]
Mil Mi-8  Soviet Union Utility Mi-8T 15 Google Earth Imagery is available.[11]
Mil Mi-2  Poland
 North Korea
Utility various 140 Locally produced[citation needed]
Harbin Z-5  China Medium transport Z-5 48
Kamov Ka-27  Soviet Union Anti-submarine warfare/civil transport Unknown (poss. Ka-27/28/29/32) At least 2 Google Earth Imagery is available. (39°31′55″N 127°22′29″E / 39.53194°N 127.37472°E / 39.53194; 127.37472)
Reconnaissance / UAV
Antonov An-24  Soviet Union AEW Unknown at least 1[17] Local conversion using a N019 radar from MiG-29 aircraft
Tupolev Tu-143  Soviet Union UAV DR-3 at least 1[18]
MD 500D  United States Scout helicopter Unknown 87 Imported from Germany
MQM-107  United States UAV MQM-107D, Local Copies Unknown Developing an unmanned flying bomb version using examples bought from Syria.[19]
Sky-09  China UAV Sky-09P Unknown Recovered after infiltration missions into South Korea.[20][21]
D-4  China UAV Banghyeon Unknown Remodeled Chinese design.[22]
Shmel  Russia UAV Shmel 10 Bomb carrier.[22]
Mil Mi-14  Soviet Union ASW helicopter Mi-14PL 10

Aircraft subtypes and capabilities[edit]

A North Korean Shenyang J-6
A North Korean MiG-29S, 2003
A former Indonesian Lim-5 on display in the United States in North Korean markings


  • MiG-17F/F-5: The MiG-17, and Shenyang F-5 are subsonic jet fighters. North Korea operates the basic variant, armed with 1 x 37 mm cannon and 2 x 23 mm cannons, with a total round supply of 200 rounds. There is no provision for AA missiles, although the fighter could be modified to carry two AA-2 Atoll missiles. It is outdated because of its low maximum speed and may lack radar and any sort of modern avionics. Due to lack of modern avionics, it is defenseless in Beyond-Visual-Range combat. At least some have been modified into ground attack aircraft through the addition of two fuselage pylons. Though its close range maneuverability makes it a powerful ground attack and dogfighter.
  • F-6B/MiG-19: The Shenyang F-6B is a Chinese clear-weather, day fighter version of the Soviet MiG-19. It has a supersonic capability, and is armed with two AA-2 Atoll missiles as well as three 30 mm automatic cannons. Along with the F-5 and the MiG-21 it is equipped with a radar, which has very limited range and capabilities. Having a short range, small payload and outdated avionics, the aircraft is clearly obsolete, as its tiny missile load and poor avionics do not measure up to those of American or South Korean aircraft. Due to lack of modern avionics, it is defenseless in Beyond-Visual-Range combat. At least some have been modified into ground attack aircraft through the addition of four fuselage pylons.
  • MiG-21: North Korea operates a large number of MiG-21PFMs, which are the country's most numerous fighter. The MiG-21PFM is one of the later versions of the original MiG-21, with many improvements over earlier models. It includes systems such as a radar warning receiver and IFF, which are necessary to wage a modern air war; other more modern components are lacking on this fighter, though. The PFM is armed with a GSh-23 cannon with 200 rounds, two AA-2 Atoll missiles, and has a provision for a Kh-66 missile. At least 200 MiG-21s, including 30 built in China, are generally accepted as having been delivered to the KPAF.[citation needed] By 1966-67, 80 MiG-21F-13 were delivered, with the first 14 arriving in or before 1963. 65 MiG-21PFM were delivered 1968-1971 and 24 more in 1974. In May 1968, the United States estimated that a minimum of 400 fighter jets existed in the North Korean Air Force.[23] According to the US DIA, by 1977 there were a total of 120 MiG-21s in DPRK, but by 1983 this number had dropped to 50; 150 MiG-21PFM and MiG-21MF were reportedly delivered in 1985. According to one estimate,[citation needed] 150 MiG-21s are in service. 50 MiG-21 trainers of different variants were delivered, of which 30 are believed to be in service. In 1999, 38 MiG-21bis izdeliye 75A were delivered from Kazakhstan.[24]
  • F-7B: The Chengdu F-7B is an improved Chinese-made copy of the Soviet MiG-21, armed with PL-7 AA missiles.
  • MiG-23ML: The MiG-23ML is a third-generation fighter with many improvements over previous models. It has a look-down capability and effective longer-range radars, as well as other more modern avionics. The ML is very maneuverable, has a large payload and with proper maintenance and good pilot quality can be on par with some newer fighter aircraft.
  • MiG-29B/UB: The MiG-29 is the KPAF's most modern fighter, possessing all types of modern avionics and weaponry. North Korea operates approximately 30 MiG-29B/UB's, which are in flying condition and are used mostly for the defence of Pyongyang's airspace. No other MiG-29 variants are confirmed to be flown, owned or purchased by the KPAF. However photographs obtained by a US RC-135 aircraft intercepted by MiG-29's in 2003 suggests that the KPAF may operate some MiG-29C's[14]

As of 2007, units known to be operating MiG-21s are:[25]

  • One squadron of 46th Air Regiment at Wonsan
  • Three squadrons of 56th Air Regiment at Toksan, flying J-7B, MiG-21PFM and MiG-21bis, but it is not known if the types are mixed or not.
  • One squadron of 60th Air Regiment at Pukch'ang
  • Three squadrons of 86th Air Regiment at Koksan flying MiG-21PF and MiG-21U
  • Three squadrons of an unidentified Air Regiment at Hwangju flying MiG-21PF and MiG-21U
  • An unidentified reconnaissance/electronic warfare regiment.


  • Ilyushin Il-28: Having been developed in the late 1940s, the Il-28 (and the Chinese copy, the Harbin H-5) represents an old generation of bomber aircraft. North Korea originally received 24 Ilyushin Il-28 Beagles in 1960, and after that deliveries of the Chinese H-5 copy continued. The H-5 is a simple, robust, jet-engined bomber, capable of carrying up to 3,000 kilograms (6,600 lb) of bombs, including conventional, biological, chemical or nuclear. Its range is about 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi), capable of hitting targets in most of Japan and all of South Korea. The bomber is supplied with a special aiming radar for the bombardier for precise targeting during poor visibility. Despite these advantages, it has a few grave drawbacks - a low maximum speed of 900 kilometres per hour (560 mph) and a fairly low ceiling of about 13,000 metres (43,000 ft), which renders the aircraft very vulnerable even to older types of SAMs and jet fighters. Despite this, it provides North Korea with a medium-range weapons platform. As of 2006, North Korea had 82 Il-28/H-5 of various types based at Changjin and Uiju.[26]

Ground attack aircraft[edit]

  • Su-7BMK: One of the first mass-produced Cold War-era Soviet ground attack aircraft, the Su-7BMK is a swept-wing aircraft for bombing missions and with a limited fighter capability. It is easy to maintain, but requires very long airfields due to its wing configuration. The Su-7 is generally obsolete. It can carry up to 2,000 kg of armament and is armed with 2x 30 mm cannons.
  • A/Q-5II: A ground attack fighter designed by China and based on the MiG-19, the A-5 has been in service since the 1970s. Like most of North Korea's aircraft, it is obsolete compared to most modern aircraft, lacking modern avionics and weaponry.
  • Su-25K: The Su-25K is the North's most modern strike/CAS aircraft.

Attack helicopters[edit]

  • MD 500D: The MD Helicopters MD 500D is a civilian helicopter which North Korea imported in 1985 by circumventing United States export controls. Ironically, the airframe of the 500D was manufactured in South Korea, was assembled in the United States, and was purchased through a German export firm. The 500D has no attack capabilities, but it can be easily modified to assume the role of a gunship. Of the 87 500Ds North Korea imported, at least 60 are said to be modified in this manner. Although a modified 500D would be effective in the anti-personnel role, it only has a marginal chance of deterring lightly armored vehicles, so it is likely that the 500D would be used in a defensive role or employ guerrilla tactics. With a range of 605 km, the 500D should be capable of scouting much of the Korean Peninsula. However, as the civilian version lacks a radar, its role as an observation helicopter would be limited. The ROKA operates a military variant of the 500D known as the 500MD, which could lead to deceptive operations by the North Koreans if their 500Ds were painted with ROKA livery and infiltrated South Korea. Although there are slight differences between the airframes of the 500D and the 500MD, it would be difficult to differentiate between them if a soldier is unfamiliar with the differences or if the helicopter were flying at high speeds. However, this problem could be resolved if an IFF system is implemented, thereby further limiting the 500D's role as an observation helicopter.
  • Mi-2: Light transport and light combat helicopter. The Mi-2 Hoplite can be armed with PK M.Gs and 57 mm rocket pods and was able to provide close air support. 140 in service with the Korean People's Air Force and 7,200 of these aircraft were produced. This aircraft worked well as a transport and light utility helicopter with the ability to hold up to 8 fully armed men and a pilot. But the Mi-2 was not much more than that because its light armor made it vulnerable to small arms fire.
  • Mi-14: Derived from the flexible Mi-8 Hip design, the Mi-14 Haze is a naval development of the Mi-8, capable of ASW, mine sweeping and SAR roles. It is unclear what the KPAF's ASW arsenal consists of, but it is unlikely that their inventory contains equipment that are feasible in anti-submarine roles by modern standards. It is much more likely that the Mi-14 will be used in the SAR role, as it is unclear which variant of the Mi-14 the KPAF possesses.
  • Mi-24: Also a development from the Mi-8 design, the Mi-24 Hind is a very feasible gunship with troop-transport capability. Although it is unknown which variant of the Mi-24 the KPAF possesses, it is likely to be the Mi-24D Hind-D variant, the most common type of Mi-24 in service around the world. It can be internally equipped with a 12.7 mm Gatling gun, a door mounted machine gun, and has a payload capacity of 1500 kg that can consist of anti-tank missiles, gunpods, rocket launchers, bombs and IR guided AAMs. While the KPAF's anti-tank arsenal is unknown, they are likely to have at least a limited inventory to fit the Mi-24 as a capable attack helicopter. The Mi-24 also has a passenger compartment capable of accommodating up to 8 passengers, with armoured plates protecting this section. The flight performance of the Mi-24 is far from agile, and its mobility would further diminish when carrying the extra passengers. The Mi-24 has a range of 450 km, making it a capable attack helicopter that can cover much of the South Korean peninsula even with a feasible combat load. The Hind would be an excellent complement to the Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft, along with escort fighters. Because it is capable of transporting troops into the front lines, the Mi-24 Hind may also rescue injured soldiers to transport them for treatment. The Mi-24 is also capable of carrying R-60 "Aphid" IR guided AAMs for self-defense. Despite its age, the Mi-24 is still very much capable as a gunship and an anti-armour helicopter.

Special Forces[edit]

  • An-2: The Antonov An-2 is propeller driven cargo and utility aircraft, the world's largest biplane. Although primarily used in the civilian role as an agricultural and firefighting aircraft in other countries, the An-2 is capable of transporting up to 14 passengers in its rear compartment. The North Korean Special Forces possesses around 300 of these aircraft, and due to its 845 km range, it may be used by the KPAF to deploy special forces agents well behind the South Korean front lines. Because the An-2 is almost silent and can operate at very low speeds, the An-2 may also be used as a light bomber in addition to its ability to paratroop special forces agents. Since the An-2 is a STOL aircraft that requires minimal runway space, the airfields for the An-2 are less vulnerable compared to others and may be placed discreetly along North Korea.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles[edit]

North Korea is believed to operate some 300 reconnaissance drones and 10 attack UAVs.

  • Banghyeon: Banghyeon drones are remodeled Chinese D-4 UAVs with a fuselage measuring 3.6 m (12 ft) long, with a 4.8 m (16 ft) wingspan, and a top speed of 160 km/h (99 mph).[22]
  • Shmel: 10 Shmel UAVs were bought from Russia in the 1990s. They have a range of 60 km (37 mi), a top speed of 150 km/h (93 mph), and are capable of carrying bombs.[22]
  • Sky-09: The Sky-09 is a Chinese commercial UAV acquired by North Korea and modified with a different paint scheme, a muffler to make it quieter, and different cameras. It weighs 12 kg (26 lb), has a delta wing configuration with a wingspan of 1.92 m (6.3 ft), and has a payload of 3 kg (6.6 lb). It is launched using a catapult, can operate in a robotic mode to fly over pre-programmed GPS coordinates to take photos, and lands using a parachute. Endurance is 90 minutes and top speed is 90 km/h (56 mph). When controlled, the Sky-09 can operate 40 km (25 mi) from its controller, but can travel 60 km (37 mi) in robotic mode.[21]
  • MQM-107 Streaker: North Korea reportedly acquired MQM-107 Streaker target-towing drones from a middle-eastern country, probably Syria, to develop unmanned attack aircraft based on the Streakers technology. According to Fox News, the South Korean "Yonhap" News Agency reported that "Its [North Korea's] powerful military placed explosives on the drones in a number of tests, but was yet to master the technology." [27]

The DoD's annual report to congress about North Korea's military capabilities states that North Korean press reported that the UAV was capable of carrying out precision strikes by ramming a target.[12]

Aircraft of the KPAF operate the following missiles:

Soviet/Russian AAM[edit]

Name Manufacturer Notes
Kaliningrad AA-1 Alkali Kaliningrad used on MiG-17 and MiG-19; probably withdrawn?
Vympel AA-2 Atoll Vympel used on MiG-21
Vympel AA-7 Apex Vympel used on MiG-23
Molyniya AA-8 Aphid Molniya used on Su-25, MiG-21bis, MiG-23 and MiG-29?
Vympel AA-10 Alamo Vympel used on MiG-29
Vympel AA-11 Archer Vympel used on MiG-29

Chinese AAM[edit]

Name Manufacturer Notes
PL-2 Hanzhong Nanfeng Machine Factory (Hanzhong Air-to-Air Missile Factory)? Chinese copy AA-2 Atoll, used on F-7
PL-5 Hanzhong Nanfeng Machine Factory (Hanzhong Air-to-Air Missile Factory) Radically improved version of PL-2 with all aspect engaging capability, used on F-7?
PL-7 Factory 331 (Zhuzhou Aeroengine Factory) Chinese copy of Matra R-550 Magic 1, used on F-7?

Air Defense[edit]

North Korea has deployed a wide range of SAM and AAA systems ranging from the oldest Soviet designs to highly mobile and modern examples. Most SAM systems are of Soviet design lineage with some locally produced designs, while AA artillery is from both Soviet and local suppliers. The DPRK has the densest air defense network in the world, with air defence pads deployed virtually around every town and major city. MANPADS are used extensively, with over 15,000 units fielded according to a 1995 Pentagon report on the country. North Korea has one of the best hardened integrated air defence systems (IADS) in the world, with many of its radars and launchers positioned on fortified elevating platforms and its aircraft positioned in hardened bunkers and even two underground airbases.[28] The addition of the KN-06 SAM, which was flight-tested in the spring of 2011, and a local model of the Pechora 2 (Upgraded SA-3), unveiled at a 2012 military parade have notably expanded the systems capabilities. According IHS Jane's Defence Weekly currently has on 2014 two different more updated system: the KN-06/Ponghae-5 was probably related to the Chinese HQ-16A system, while the Ponghae-6 could be related with the HQ-9 or the Russian S-300.[29]

  • SAM system summary:
    • 8+ long-range KN-06
    • 24-40 long-range SA-5
    • Up to 440 medium range SA-1, SA-2 and SA-3
    • Unknown number of medium-range SA-4, SA-6 and SA-17
    • At least 15,000 MANPADS
Name Manufacturer Notes Number Range
SA-1 Guild KB-1 Probably Retired 72 launchers delivered in 1961[30][31] 35 km
SA-2 Guideline Lavochkin Single Rail Launchers in fixed sites up to 240 launchers 45 km
SA-3 Goa Aleksei Mihailovich Isaev Hardened Quadruple Launchers and a local version of Pechora 2 32 batteries (128 launchers) 35 km
SA-4 Ganef Kalinin Machine Building Plant Unknown 55 km
SA-5 Gammon NPO Almaz 24-40 launchers[31] 300 km
SA-6 Gainful Ulyanovsk Mechanical Plant Unknown[30] 24 km
SA-7 Grail KBM, Kolomna Local variant, known as Hwasung-Chong in use At least 3,5 km
KN-06(Ponghae-5) Unknown local Maufacturer Flight tested in early 2011, precise capabilities unknown. Possibly related with HQ-16A 8+ 90–150 km?
Ponghae-6 Unknown local Maufacturer Possibly related with Chinese HQ-9 or S-300 8+ 90–150 km?
SA-13 Gopher KB Tochmash Unknown[30] 5 km
SA-14 Gremlin KBM, Kolomna 4,1 km
SA-16 Gimlet KBM Produced locally 550+ 5,2 km
SA-17 Gadfly Almaz-Antey Produced locally  ? (500 missiles manufactured as of 2006, no. of launchers unknown)[32] 30 km
Name Type Number
KS-30 Heavy 130 mm AA gun
KS-19 Heavy 100 mm AA gun 500
KS-12 Heavy 85 mm AA gun 400
M-1985 SP Medium 57 mm AA gun
ZSU-57-2 Twin SP Medium 57 mm AA guns
S-60 Medium 57 mm AA gun
M-1992 SP Medium 37 mm AA gun
M-1939 Medium 37 mm AA gun 1,000
M-1992 Light 30 mm AA gun
M-1992 Light 23 mm AA gun
ZSU-23-4 Multiple 23 mm SP AA gun >100
ZU-23-2 Twin 23 mm AA gun 1,500
M-1984 Multiple SP 14,5 mm AA machine gun
ZPU-4 Multiple 14,5 mm AA machine gun


The KPAF operates a wide range of fighter and attack aircraft. North Korea is one of the few nations still operating the obsolete MiG-17 and MiG-19 fighters, yet it operates more modern and fairly capable MiG-23 and MiG-29 fighters. The KPAF's most numerous fighter is the MiG-21, which is somewhat obsolete but still a worthy foe in air-to-air combat, if maintained properly and crewed by experienced pilots. An assessment by US analysts GlobalSecurity.org reported that the air force "has a marginal capability for defending North Korean airspace and a limited ability to conduct air operations against South Korea."[33] Yet, North Korea operates a wide variety of air defence equipment, from short-range MANPADS and ZPU-4 machine guns, to long-range SA-5 Gammon SAM systems and large-calibre AA artillery guns. DPRK has one of the densest air defence networks in the world. Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle bombers provide a medium-range attack platform, despite being generally obsolete. A large part of the ground attack aircraft are kept in heavily fortified hangars, some of which are capable of withstanding a nearby nuclear blast. Stealth capacity is known in the KPAF through researching in radar-absorbing paint and inventory deception.[34]

Ranks and uniforms[edit]


The Korean People's Air Force has five categories of ranks; general officers, senior officers, junior officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and airmen.


The soldier and NCO ranks are aircraftman, leading aircraftman, senior aircraftman, corporal, junior sergeant, sergeant, flight sergeant and master aircrew.

NCOs Soldiers
Master Aircrew rank insignia (North Korea).svg Flight Sergeant rank insignia (North Korea).svg Sergeant rank insignia (North Korean Air Force).svg Junior Sergeant rank insignia (North Korean Air Force).svg Corporal rank insignia (North Korean Air Force).svg Senior Aircraftman rank insignia (North Korea).svg Leading Aircraftman rank insignia (North Korea).svg Aircraftman rank insignia (North Korea).svg
Ranks in Korean T'ŭkmu-sangsa
Ranks Master Aircrew Flight Sergeant Sergeant Junior Sergeant Corporal Senior Aircraftman Leading Aircraftman Aircraftman


Junior officer ranks are junior lieutenant, lieutenant, senior lieutenant and captain.

Senior officer ranks are major, lieutenant colonel, colonel and brigader.

General officer ranks are major general, lieutenant general, colonel general, and general of the air force.

Generals Officers
General of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Colonel General of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Lieutenant General of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Major General of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Senior Colonel of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Colonel of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Lieutenant Colonel of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Major of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Captain of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Senior Lieutenant of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Lieutenant of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Junior Lieutenant of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg
Ranks in Korean Taejang
Ranks General of the Air Force Colonel General Lieutenant General Major General Brigadier Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Major Captain First Lieutenant Second Lieutenant Third Lieutenant


Marshal officer ranks are Vice-Marshal of the Air Force and Marshal of the Air Force.

Marshal of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg Vice-Marshal of the Air Force rank insignia (North Korea).svg
Ranks in Korean Wonsu
Ranks Marshal of the Air Force Vice Marshal of the Air Force


Generally as a separate service in the KPA the service wears the same KPA uniforms but with air force blue peaked caps (especially for officers) or kepi-styled caps for men and berets for women, worn with their full dress uniforms. Pilots wear helmets and flight suits when on parade and when in flight duty while air defense personnel wear the same duty dress uniforms as their ground forces counterparts but with air force blue borders on the caps.


Due to the political condition of North Korea, several North Korean pilots from the KPAF defected with their jets. These incidents include:

  • On September 21, 1953, 21-year old No Kum-sok, a senior lieutenant, flew his MiG-15 across to the South and landed at Kimpo Air Base near Seoul. Considered an intelligence bonanza, since this fighter plane was then the best the Communist bloc had. No was awarded the sum of $100,000 ($733,813 in 2006 dollars) and the right to reside in the United States. He is now a U.S. citizen.
  • On August 5, 1960, a Shenyang J-5 landed at Kimpo, the second time a J-5 appeared in South Korea. This aircraft was kept by South Korea and was briefly flown in South Korean markings before being scrapped.
  • In February 1983, Lee Ung-Pyong used a training exercise to defect and landed his Shenyang J-6 at an airfield in Seoul. According to the then common practice, he received a commission in the South Korean Air Force eventually becoming a colonel and taught at the South Korean academy until his death in 2002. He received a reward of 1.2 billion South Korean won.
  • On May 23, 1996, Captain Lee Chul-Su defected with another Shenyang J-6, number 529, to Suwon Air Base, South Korea. He reportedly left behind his wife and two children. Lee was rewarded 480 million South Korean Won (approx. 400 thousand US dollars). He is now a colonel in the ROKAF and is an academic instructor.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richard M Bennett. "Missiles and madness". Asia Times. 
  2. ^ North Korea Country Study, pp. 18-19
  3. ^ "KPAF". GlobalSecurity.org. 
  4. ^ Leone, Dario. "The Aviationist". An unknown story from the Yom Kippur war: Israeli F-4s vs North Korean MiG-21s. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  5. ^ Intelligence experts analyse 'North Korean fighter jet crash', The Telegraph, 18 August 2010
  6. ^ "N.Korea Steps Up Air Force Training Flights". The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition) archived at archive.org. 2012-03-29. Retrieved 2013-03-24. North Korea has stepped up the number of training flights since last month to as many as 650 sorties a day. The North Korean air force is conducting training flights even on weekends [...] 
  7. ^ North Korean Special Weapons Facilities, Federation of American Scientists, 2006.
  8. ^ North Korean Air Forces, Scramble, Dutch Aviation Society, 2006. Archived 16 January 2010 at WebCite
  9. ^ Preliminary Assessment of BLACK SHIELD Mission 6847 over North Korea, Central Intelligence Agency, 29 January 1968
  10. ^ "MIG 29 in Sunchon". Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Google Earth image here
  12. ^ a b http://www.defense.gov/pubs/North_Korea_Military_Power_Report_2013-2014.pdf
  13. ^ OrBat North Korea - MilAvia Press.com: Military Aviation Publications
  14. ^ a b Bermudez, Joseph. "KPA Journal Vol.2 No.4". Journal. Retrieved 29 May 2011. 
  15. ^ Adam Baddeley (February 2011). "The AMR Regional Air Force Directory 2011". Asian Military Review. Archived from the original on 2012-11-01. Retrieved 19 July 2011. 
  16. ^ Air Forces Monthly, December 2007 issue, p.27.
  17. ^ Bermudez, J. "MiG-29 in KPAF Service", The KPA Journal, vol. 2 No. 4, April 2011, p. 2
  18. ^ ASIAN REGION UAV PROGRAMMES, Asian Defense Review, 17 December 2010
  19. ^ "N. Korea developing unmanned attack aircraft from U.S. drones: source". Yonhap. 2012-02-05. Retrieved 19 June 2012. 
  20. ^ North Korean drone, Chinese Sky-09 - sUASNews.com, 19 April 2014
  21. ^ a b North Korea Used Cheap Chinese Commercial UAVs - Strategypage.com, 20 April 2014
  22. ^ a b c d N. Korea's Drones Prompt Seoul To Seek Radars - Defensenews.com, 14 April 2014
  23. ^ Narushige Michishita (2009-10-06). North Korea's Military-Diplomatic Campaigns, 1966-2008. Routledge. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-203-87058-7. 
  24. ^ http://www.bu.edu/globalbeat/nuclear/PIR1099.html
  25. ^ North Korean Air Forces (Scramble.nl) Archived 16 January 2010 at WebCite
  26. ^ "S. Korea moves on sanctions as N. Korea issues warning". USA Today. October 27, 2006. 
  27. ^ http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/02/05/report-north-korea-using-old-us-made-drones/
  28. ^ Collapse of Libya's air defence, Defence Today, 2011. Unlike Syria, Libya and Iran - who largely deploy their SAMs from unhardened and often rudimentary open fixed SAM sites - the DPRK's sites are amongst the best hardened globally, with reports of engagement radars mounted on elevating platforms, to permit the radars to be hidden in underground shafts to defeat air attacks.
  29. ^ http://www.janes.com/article/43551/us-s-korean-sources-suggest-north-has-slbm-ambitions
  30. ^ a b c History of the KPAF (in Russian), airwar.ru Archived 17 January 2010 at WebCite
  31. ^ a b Russian stationary air defense missile systems (in Russian)
  32. ^ Армия Ким Чен Ира, Анатолий Цыганок. ПОЛИТ.РУ, October 16, 2006
  33. ^ Korean People's Army Air Force - North Korea
  34. ^ North Korea 'develops stealth paint to camouflage fighter jets'
  35. ^ NK pilot defector promoted to colonel

External links[edit]