Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force


Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force
KPAAF patch.svg
Patch of the Korean People's Army Air and Anti Air Force
Founded1946; 75 years ago (1946)
Country North Korea
AllegianceKim Jong-un[1]
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Aerial defence
  • 110,000 active personnel
  • 950 aircraft [2]
Part ofKorean People's Army
CommanderMarshal Ri Pyong-chol[5]
  • Vice Marshal Cho Myong-rok
  • Colonel-General Oh Gum-chol
RoundelRoundel of North Korea.svg
FlagFlag of the Korean People's Army Air Force.svg
Aircraft flown
AttackSu-25, Su-7, Nanchang Q-5
BomberHarbin H-5
FighterShenyang J-5, Shenyang J-6, Chengdu F-7, MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-29
HelicopterMD Helicopters MD 500, Mil Mi-2, Mil Mi-4, Mil Mi-8 Mil Mi-14, Mil Mi-26
Attack helicopterMil Mi-24
TrainerShenyang FT-2, FT-5, Aero L-39C
TransportIL-76, An-24, An-2, PAC P-750
Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force
조선인민군 항공 및 반항공군
朝鮮人民軍 航空 및 反航空軍
Revised RomanizationJoseoninmingun hanggong min banhanggonggun
McCune–ReischauerChosŏn inmin'gun hangkong mit banhangkonggun

The Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force (KPAAF; Korean: 조선인민군 항공 및 반항공군; Hanja: 朝鮮人民軍 航空 및 反航空軍; Chosŏn-inmin'gun hangkong mit banhangkong'gun) is the unified military aviation force of North Korea. It is the second largest branch of the Korean People's Army comprising an estimated 110,000 members.[6] It possesses around 950 aircraft of different types, mostly of decades-old Soviet and Chinese origin. Its primary task is to defend North Korean airspace.[7]


The Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force began as the "Korean Aviation Society" in 1945. It was organized along the lines of flying clubs in the Soviet Union. In 1946, the society became a military organization and became an aviation division of the Korean People's Army (KPA). It became a branch of the army in its own right in November 1948.[8] 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.[9] It deployed a fighter squadron to North Vietnam during the Vietnam war.[10] Kim Il-sung reportedly told the North Korean pilots "to fight in the war as if the Vietnamese sky were their own."[11]

On April 15, 1969, MiG-21s of the KPAF shot down a Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star in international waters, in the Sea of Japan.[12]

In 1973, a North Korean flight of MiG-21s deployed to Bir Arida to help defend southern Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.[13]

In 1990–91, North Korea activated four forward air bases near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).



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, MiG-19, MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters, yet it operates more modern and fairly capable MiG-29 fighters. Analysts have also long speculated whether the KPAF fields the MiG-25,[14] however no evidence has yet emerged as to whether they do field MiG-25s. 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."[15]

North Korea operates a wide variety of air defense equipment, from short-range MANPADS such as 9K34 Strela-3, 9K38 Igla and ZPU-4 heavy machine guns, to long-range SA-5 Gammon and Pon'gae-5 SAM systems and large-calibre AA artillery guns.[citation needed] North Korea has one of the densest air defence networks in the world.[citation needed] Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle bombers provide a medium-range attack platform, despite being generally obsolete, although it is likely they have the ability to launch Kh-35 and P-15 Termit missiles.[16] 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.[17]

It has been noted that the North Korean Air Force operates a few MD-500 helicopters that were exported to North Korea by German merchants through Soviet vessels.[18] Several were seen equipped with Soviet AT-3 anti-tank missiles during a military parade commemorating 60 years since Korean War armistice.[19] They later made another public appearance at the Wonsan Air Festival in which they were seen sporting the new green camouflage paint scheme that has also been incorporated on An-2s and Mi-17s that have also been displayed at the air show.[20]

KPAF possesses precision guided munitions such as Kh-25 and Kh-29 air to ground missiles along jamming pods such as SPS-141 for SAM suppression.[21] At least some of Il-28's/H-5's bombers are capable of launching air launched variant of Kumsong-3 anti-ship cruise missiles with known flight tests done in 2008 and 2011.[22] Ground launched coastal defense variant of Kumsong-3 has range of 240 kilometers.[23]


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 O Kum-chol.

Annual flying hours

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 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[24] 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 North Korea will affect these regiments as well, and keep their AFH low compared to NATO AFH.

Agence France-Presse 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.[25]

Tongil News reported on July 20, 2013, that KPAF's fighter jets and helicopters had conducted 700 sorties a day for 11 days as reported by a source in South Korean government on March 13 after Key Resolve military exercise started on March 11. 700 hours of sorties is considered by the United States military as the capability to wage all-out war.[26]


Following is a list of bases where North Korean Army Air Force aircraft are permanently based.[27][28]

Air bases

Northwestern area (1st Air Combat Division, HQ Kaechon)
Base Location Units Notes
Uiju Airfield Uiju County 40°08′59″N 124°29′53″E / 40.14972°N 124.49806°E / 40.14972; 124.49806 24th Bomber Regiment Il-28 (Harbin H-5s)
Panghyon Naamsi 39°55′57.517″N 125°12′24.804″E / 39.93264361°N 125.20689000°E / 39.93264361; 125.20689000 49th Fighter Regiment F-5A(MiG-17F)
Taechon Airfield 39°54′12″N 125°29′13″E / 39.90333°N 125.48694°E / 39.90333; 125.48694 5th Air Transport Wing
Kaech'on Airfield 39°44′45″N 125°53′43″E / 39.74583°N 125.89528°E / 39.74583; 125.89528 HQ, 1st Air Combat Command
35th Fighter Regiment
Fighter base with 2500 m runway.
Pukch'ang Airport 39°29′50″N 125°58′32″E / 39.49722°N 125.97556°E / 39.49722; 125.97556 60th Air Fighter Wing (1 ACC)
Air Transport Wing (5 TD)
This base was where most new Soviet fighter
aircraft were delivered during the 1960s.[29]
Samjangkol Air Transport Wing (6 TD) Mi-2
Sunchon Airport South Pyongan Province 39°24′43″N 125°53′25″E / 39.41194°N 125.89028°E / 39.41194; 125.89028 55th Air Fighter Wing (1 ACC) Su-25K/Su-25UBK/Su-7BMK
Kanch'on Air Transport Wing (6 TD) Mi-4/Z-5/Mi-8/Mi-17/Mi-2
West Coast and Pyongyang area (1st Air Combat Division) - HQ: Kaechon

Pyongyang is also the location of HQ, KPAAF[31]

  • Uiju - 24th Air Regiment {Bomber} (H-5/Il-28, MiG-21PFM)
  • Kaechon - 35th Air Regiment {Fighter} (J-6/MiG-19)
  • Onchon - 36th Air Regiment {Fighter} (J-6/MiG-19)
  • Sunchon - 55th Air Regiment {Attack} (Su-25K), 57th Air Regiment {Fighter} (MiG-29/UB)
  • Panghyon - 49th Air Regiment {Fighter Bomber} (J-5/MiG-17F, MiG-21PFM, Mi-2)
  • Pukchang - 58th Air Regiment {Fighter} (MiG-23ML/UM), 60th Air Regiment {Fighter Bomber} (MiG-21Bis)
West coast and Pyongyang area (5th Transport Division) - HQ: Taechon
  • Taechon - ?? Air Regiment {Transport} (Y-5/An-2)
  • Kwaksan - ?? Air Regiment {Transport} (Y-5/An-2)
  • Kangdong - ?? Air Regiment {Bomber} (CJ-6/BT-6)
  • Sonchon - ?? Air Regiment {Helicopter} (Mi-2)
  • Pukchang East - 65th Air Regiment {Helicopter} (Mi-8T, Mi-26), 64th Air Regiment {Helicopter} (MD-500)
  • Pyongyang Sunan Intl - Special Service Air Transport Wing (KPAAF-CAAK) (Air Koryo) (Tu-134B/Tu-154B-2/Il-62M/Il-76MD/Il-18/An-24/An-148)
  • Mirim Airfield - ?? VIP Unit (Mi-17) This base serves as a light transport base and closed sometime in the 1990s, now used as a KPA training facility.
DMZ area (3rd Air Combat Division) - HQ: Hwangju
  • Chunghwa - Headquarters, Air Defense and Combat Command
  • Taetan - 4th Air Regiment {Fighter Bomber} (J-5/MiG-17F, MiG-21PFM, Mi-2)
  • Nuchon-ni - 32nd Air Regiment {Fighter Bomber} (J-5/MiG-17, MiG-21PFM, Mi-2)
  • Kwail - 33rd Air Regiment {Fighter Bomber} (J-5/MiG-17F), 11th Air Regiment {Fighter Bomber} (J-5/MiG-17F)
  • Hwangju - 50th Air Regiment {Fighter} (MiG-21PFM)
  • Koksan - 86th Air Regiment {Attack} (Q-5A)
  • Ayang-ni - 63rd Air Regiment {Attack Helicopter} (Mi-24D)
East Coast area (2nd Air Combat Division) - HQ: Toksan
  • Toksan - 56th Air Regiment {Fighter}(MiG-21PF/J-7/F-7)
  • Chanjin-Up - 25th Air Regiment {Bomber} (Il-28/H-5); ??th Air Regiment {Fighter} (MiG-21PFM)
  • Wonsan - 46th Air Regiment {Fighter}(MiG-21PFM,F-5), 66th Air Regiment {Helicopter} (Mi-14PL)
  • Kuum Ni - 71st Air Regiment {Fighter}(MiG-21PFM)
  • Hwangsuwon - 72nd Air Regiment {Fighter}(MiG-21PFM)
East Coast area (6th Transport Division) - HQ: Sondok
  • Sondok - ?? Air Regiment {Transport} (Y-5/An-2)
  • Yonpo - ?? Air Regiment {Transport} (Y-5/An-2)
  • Manpo - ?? Air Regiment {Transport} (Y-5/An-2)
  • Kuktong - ?? Air Regiment {Transport} (Y-5/An-2)
  • Kowon - Air Transport Wing (6 TD) (Z-5/Mi-4/Mi-8/Mi-17)
  • Pakhon - Air Transport Wing (6 TD) (Z-5/Mi-4/Mi-8/Mi-17/Mi-2)
Far Northeast area (8th Training Division) - HQ: Orang



A North Korean Shenyang J-6
A MiG-29 similar to this one is used by North Korea
A former Indonesian Lim-5 on display in the United States in North Korean markings
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
MiG-29 Russia multirole B/SE/UB[35] 35[36]
MiG-21 Soviet Union fighter F/PFM/Bis/U[37] 26[36]
MiG-23 Soviet Union fighter-bomber ML/UB[37] 56[36]
Sukhoi Su-7 Soviet Union fighter-bomber B[37] 18[36]
Sukhoi Su-25 Russia attack K/UBK[35] 34[36]
Ilyushin Il-28 Soviet Union medium bomber H-5 80[36] Chinese-built variant designated the H-5
Shenyang F-5 People's Republic of China fighter 106[36] derivative of the MiG-17
Shenyang J-6 People's Republic of China fighter F-6 97[36] license built MiG-19
Chengdu J-7 People's Republic of China fighter F-7 120[36] license built MiG-21
PAC P-750 New Zealand transport 3[38] illegally exported via China[39]
Antonov An-24 Soviet Union heavy transport 1[36]/6[37]
Antonov An-2 Soviet Union/China transport Y-5 about 200[37]
MD 500 United States light utility 84[38]/80[37] illegally obtained by circumventing U.S. export controls[40]
PZL Mi-2 Poland utility 47[36]
Mil Mi-8 Soviet Union utility 41[36]
Mil Mi-14 Soviet Union ASW / SAR 8[36]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack 20[36]
Mil Mi-26 Russia transport 4[36]
Trainer Aircraft
Shenyang F-5 People's Republic of China jet trainer FT-5 135[36]
Shenyang FT-2 People's Republic of China jet trainer 30[36] Chinese production of the MiG-15UTI
MiG-15 Soviet Union jet trainer U[35] 4[36]

Air Defence

Name Origin Type In service Notes
KN-06 DPRK SAM system 156 systems[41] Indigenous system based on S-300
Pon'gae-6 DPRK SAM system Long-range SAM[42]
S-200 Soviet Union SAM system 75 missiles[43]
S-125 Neva/Pechora Soviet Union SAM system 300 missiles[43]
SA-7 Soviet Union MANPADS 4000 units[43]
Short-range SAM DPRK SAM system Short-range SAM based on Tor missile system[44]
Air Defence Artillery
ZSU-57-2 Soviet Union self-propelled 250[43] tracked self-propelled anti-aircraft system
ZSU-23-4 Soviet Union self-propelled 248[43] tracked self-propelled anti-aircraft system

Ranks and uniforms


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


Rank group Senior NCOs Junior NCOs Enlisted
 Korean People's Army Air Force
Master Aircrew rank insignia v (North Korea).svg Flight Sergeant rank insignia v (North Korea).svg Sergeant rank insignia v (North Korean Air Force).svg Junior Sergeant rank insignia v (North Korean Air Force).svg Corporal rank insignia v (North Korean Air Force).svg Senior Aircraftman rank insignia v (North Korea).svg Leading Aircraftman rank insignia v (North Korea).svg Aircraftman rank insignia v (North Korea).svg No equivalent
Sergeant major Master sergeant Sergeant first class Staff sergeant Sergeant Corporal Airman first class Airman


Rank group General/flag officers Field/senior officers Junior officers Officer cadet
 Korean People's Army Air Force
Captain General Superior General Middle General Junior General Captain Commander Superior Commander Middle Commander Junior Commander Captain Lieutenant Superior Lieutenant Middle Lieutenant Junior Lieutenant


Occasionally KPA Air Force officers are promoted above General of the Air Force. In that case, they wear an army-style uniform, since ranks from Vice-Marshal and above are not divided into army, navy and air force.[45]

Supreme commanders Marshals
Generalissimo rank insignia (North Korea).svg Marshal of the DPRK rank insignia.svg Marshal of the KPA rank insignia.svg Vice-Marshal rank insignia (North Korea).svg
Ranks in Korean Tae wonsu
Konghwaguk Wonsu
Ranks Generalissimo Marshal of the DPRK Marshal of the KPA Vice Marshal


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 ($963,325.84 in 2019 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 (ROKAF), eventually becoming a colonel and teaching 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.[46]

See also


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External links

  • The North Korean Air Force by Google Earth: a compilation of Google Earth images of North Korean fighters, bombers, ground attack aircraft, transports, and special-operations aircraft
  • Korean People's Air Force Victory record by Jan Josef Safarik