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MAV-199702 Mir Aviatsii N2 1997 (TB-3 story plus excellent scale plans) magazine
On Guard for Peace and Labour (Short History of North Korean Air Force 1948-1996)
Authors: Vladislav Morozov, Sergey Uskov (Ufa, Russia)
Translated by Aviapress (C) 1998
On 25 June 1950 at 3 p.m. Korean time two Yak-9P fighters with North Korean Air Force markings emerged above Kimpo airfield near Seoul where the frantic evacuation of US forces was in progress, pending forthcoming capture of South Korean capital by North Korean ground troops. The Yaks fired upon the control tower, destroyed a fuel tank and damaged a USAF C-54 cargo plane sitting on the ground. Simultaneously a flight of Yaks damaged seven South Korean Air Force planes at Seoul airport. At 7 p.m. the Yaks again strafed Kimpo - they finished off the C-54. This was the first action of the Korean War.
The formation of the NKAF had begun years before these events. It was just three months since the end of WW2 when the "Great Leader of the Korean people", Kim Il Sung, delivered his speech "Let us build the North Korean Air Force" (29 Nov.1945). An Air Force as well as an Army had to be built from scratch - air bases and aircraft repair facilities of Japanese vintage were mainly concentrated in the South and were occupied by the Americans and then the South Koreans. Training of personnel of the Air Force of "New Korea" began (along the lines of Korea's "Great Northern Neighbour") in mid-1946 with the forming of air clubs at Pyongyang, Singu, Hamhin, Chongin and Khvern - places, where air units of the Soviet occupation forces were based. Also Soviet were instructors, procedures and aircraft - Po-2, UTI-2, Yak-18 (it is possible that there were also Yak-9UTI, La-7UTI and Yak-11).
Selection of candidates was a major challenge. The Koreans who served in the Imperial Japanese Air Force during the war were declared "enemies of the people" and were supposed to be caught and tried. The intelligentsia, bourgeoisie and other most literate representatives of Korean society, upon the arrival of Soviet troops, largely went to the American zone. Possibly they had a sense of foreboding about what the "shining reign of Korean socialism" would become. The main body of the Korean population consisted of rather illiterate peasants, who had more pressing concerns than aviation. The average rice-growing peasant could be trained to fire a PPSh sub-machine gun or a Mosin rifle, in between political indoctrination classes on the "Programme of the Provisional Committee of Northern Korea", but making him a pilot was a rather more difficult task.
This problem was solved partly by incorporating 'suitable' military specialists (in all senses) from the Soviet Army, e.g. Chinese of Soviet origin, Koreans, Buryats etc. This policy was also used to "strengthen" armies of other fraternal countries, including the PLA of comrade Mao. The communists also tried to recruit the most literate youth (primarily students, including women) for the air clubs and established a little later military air schools.
The first signs of the new air force in North Korea were regular flights of Li-2 and C-47 military cargo planes, started at the end of 1947 from Pyongyang to the Soviet Maritime region (Vladivostok, Khabarovsk) and China (Harbin).Crews were mixed Soviet-Korean. The main object of these flights was to secure regular links between "Provisional Committee", then the government of North Korea, and "fraternal parties", delivery of diplomatic baggage and specialists of all sorts.
In 1948 occupation forces of the USSR and USA departed from the Korean peninsula. Immediately the "Provisional People's Committee of North Korea" announced the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA), by decree of 8 Feb.1948, and only six months later (9 Sept.1948) the Korean People's Democratic Republic (KPDR) was declared. This untraditional way allowed Pyongyang to have by the end of 1948 a rather powerful army, consisting of several divisions, equipped with Soviet weapons (T-34 tanks, Su-76M and Su-100 self-propelled guns, "Katyusha" rocket launchers and heavy artillery). *)
*) Ten infantry divisions (numbers 1-6, 10, 12, 13, 15), four of them (No 4, 10, 13, 15) in the process of being raised; 105th Tank Brigade, 603th Motorcycle Regiment, an independent artillery regiment (12 x 122mm howitzers and 24 x 122mm cannons), an independent AAA regiment (24 x 37mm, 12 x 85mm cannons and 30 x 12.7mm MG) and three independent specialist regiments: sapper, communications and guard. Overall strength 175,000.
Of course Soviet, and sometimes Chinese, military advisers were present within all HQ's. The NKAF was under command of General Van Len and his adviser Colonel Petrachov. Officially under their command by mid-1950 was one combined air division but it was much larger in strength than a Soviet one. The Americans estimated that KPDR had some 132 combat planes, including 70 Yak-3, Yak-7B, Yak-9 and La-7 fighters and 62 Il-10 ground attack planes. Soviet military advisers gave precise figures: one Air Division (one Ground Attack Regiment - 93 IL-10, one Fighter Regiment - 79 Yak-9, one Training Regiment - 67 training and liaison aircraft), two maintenance battalions. Overall - 2,829 servicemen. The backbone of the force was comprised of ex-Soviet specialists and personnel trained in the years 1946-50 in the USSR, China and locally in Korea. **)
In general there are many legends about NKAF before the Korean War. For example, western experts repeat over and over the story of a female fighter regiment of the NKAF, equipped with Yak-3, but we can only speculate regarding a female squadron or even a flight within the only fighter regiment of NKAF of this period- the 56th Fighter Regiment. The only confirmed fact is that some women pilots for sure served with NKAF. For instance, sometimes mentioned in books is Tha Sen Hi, who allegedly had a squadron of MiG-15 under her command by the end of the war. ***)
**) By May of 1950 on combat planes - 22 ground attack and 10 fighter pilots; on training aircraft - 151 pilots and 17 maintenance specialists finished their course. Having been trained 120 pilots, 60 maintenance and 67 weapons specialists.
***) NK propaganda told about Tha Sen Hi having caught a group of F-84s over their own airfield and giving them a rough time. This is doubtful however because F-84s were based at Taegu and Kunsan, and a Northern fighter could get to these bases, but would not have had not enough fuel to return to Manchuria.
There is no precise information on the combat success of NK female pilots.
During the first week of the war American pilots reported encounters with the first Northern jet fighters (Yak-17, Yak-23 and even Yak-15), thus leading US historians to conclude that the NKAF had begun to train on jet aircraft before the war broke out. Soviet sources give no confirmation of this. However it is known that at the time Chinese pilots during their training on the MiG-15 flew the Yak-17UTI, as the MiG-15UTI was not available at that time. These planes in particular were at Mukden, Anshan and Lyaoyan. Nonetheless, US pilots in Korean skies reported sightings of NK and Chinese La-5, Pe-2, Yak-7, Il-2 and even Airacobras, Bostons and Spitfires. On such occasions in Russia we say "Learn your aircraft recognition" ****)
****) According to our sources, US combat records mentioned Yak-7's, that could be rather easily confused with Yak-9, a Yak-15 (on the night of 2-3 Nov.1952. Admittedly night is not the best time for identification), and La-7, MBR-2, F-86 (!). One can have one's own opinion on the identification abilities of US pilots.
The NKAF was "opposed" by the ROKAF, by the middle of 1950 it had in its inventory eight Piper L-4 liason aircraft and three T-6 Texan trainers. A southern pilot defected to the North in another Piper in May 1949. All remaining aircraft were destroyed on the ground during the first days of the war. The ROKAF was caught at the early stage of its formation; in fact Kimpo was the only air base it had available and none of the five airfields that were under speedy construction was ready by the start of the hostilities. One flight school was founded in Jan.1949 and it had insufficient time to train enough cadres.
The overall strength of the ROKAF on 2 June 1950 was 1,899 officers and men, including at least 100 pilots, and all this force during the opening days of the war was killed, scattered or taken prisoner. Thus when it became necessary to commit to combat some South Korean aircraft, at least for outward show, "Project Bout One", planned before the outbreak of war, was put into effect: ten re-activated F-51D Mustang fighters of USAF with ROKAF markings. The pilots were Americans under Maj.D.Hess, ground crews were also American. In operations during the summer and autumn of 1950 these planes saw much combat, demonstrating that the "...South Korean Air Force, wing by wing with UN aviation, defends the sky of the Motherland". The Americans had no choice in this matter because there were not enough native South Korean pilots.
The origins of the Korean conflict and the unfolding of the events during the war are not the subject of this article, so we will make only brief mention of them. The subject is the impact of the war on the NKAF. At the beginning of the war everything went well for Pyongyang - tank columns thrust forward almost unopposed, Yaks and Ils providing air cover. For operations near Seoul and Taejon some units of the KPA were awarded the coveted Guards titles. Among them were one tank and four infantry brigades, four infantry and two AA artillery regiments, and one MTB detachment. The 56th Fighter Regiment of the NKAF was also given the honorary title "Guards Taejon Regiment".Today it is the only Guards unit of the NKAF.
At the start of the war North Korea was headed for victory. Then the United States became involved in the conflict. As a result of this, by the beginning of August 1950 North Korean aviation was decimated and ceased to give any sizeable resistance to UN forces. The remnants flew to China. *)
*) By the August 20th the NKAF had 21 combat-ready aircraft: 20 ground attack and one fighter. There were six fighter pilots and 17 ground attack pilots.
The ceaseless attack of US aircraft forced North Korean ground troops to shift to night operations. But after the Inchon-Seoul landing operation on 15 Sept.1950 at the rear of North Korean forces and the counteroffensive from Pusan, the KPA was surrounded and had to begin a "temporary strategic retreat", in other words, to run to the North. As a result, by the end of October 1950 North Koreans lost 90 percent of their territory and their armed forces were almost demolished.
The situation changed when Marshal Pen De Hvi's "Chinese People's Volunteers Corps" under the air cover of MiG-15-equipped 64th Air Defence Fighter Corps (* Soviet planes and airmen. Remark by Aviapress)arrived in Korea. The Chinese volunteers pushed the Americans and their allies back below the 38th parallel, but were halted there. So far as the NKAF is concerned, during the winter of 1950-51 only the famous regiment of night bombers under Pak Den Sik was active. This regiment at first flew Po-2 and then Yak-11 and Yak-18. It may seem strange, but their activity had real value. Not without reason the Americans grappled with"the Po-2 problem". Besides the fact that the "Bedcheck Charlies", as the Americans called them constantly got on their nerves, Po-2's did really a lot of damage. For instance, on 28 Nov.1950 they damaged eleven F-51's of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, three of them were later abandoned during the retreat. On 17 June 1951 one F-86 was destroyed and another eight were damaged (four lightly and four seriously). We can also mention a raid of Po-2s on 16 June 1953 which resulted in the destruction of 98,000 barrels of oil at Inchon. It was not long after that a couple of squadrons of the 56th Fighter Regiment and some Chinese units were switched to night raids; they flew mostly La-9/La-11.
In November-December 1950 began organization of Chinese-Korean United Air Army. The Chinese were in the majority in the Army that was under command of a Chinese general, Lyu Zhen. On 10 June 1951 NKAF had 136 planes and 60 well-trained pilots. In December two MiG-15-equipped Chinese fighter divisions (commanding officers Fan Jan and Shi Buan) were committed to combat. A little bit later, from the end of December an air division of the NKAF (only one at that time) joined them; the Korean division was led to combat by pilots of 324th Fighter Division. Later, when the Koreans had to fly alone without their "big friends" they were not eager to fight. By the end of 1952 there were three air divisions, two of them within the United Air Army . At this period Kim Il Sung gave his order 30 Dec.1952 "about strengthening of positional defence": "...Air units must accelerate their flight training and finish preparations within three months for squadron combat, maintain reconnaissance flights and perfect combat manoeuvres, improve the Air Force's tactics".
By the middle of 1953 the NKAF had not been rebuilt as a true fighting force. The brunt of air combat over Korea was borne by Russian and Chinese pilots. As can be concluded from recollections of Soviet participants of the war, North Korean pilots were few and far between and, because they couldn't speak Russian or Chinese, they were hard to teach.
According to some recollections (not without expletives) the Koreans were simply avoiding combat under the pretext of " preservation of national cadres".
The "Great People's General" Kim Il Sung also was no expert on the strategies of air defence. In mid-1951 he convened a meeting with KPA's high command, the main topic being "Strengthening of Air Defence" but, while there was a lot of talking, little action resulted. The brunt of the fight against enemy aviation was in actuality borne by the AA artillery and aircraft of the 64th Fighter Air Corps. Thus the mainstay of North Korea's Air Defence was comprised of Soviet units. The Koreans and Chinese during most of the war performed only an auxiliary role. They did possess air defence units but these were in poor condition.
Almost the only units of Air Defence were groups of "shooters-hunters for aircraft", established in accordance with the order of Kim Il Sung of 2 Dec.1950. The concept behind this "Great Feat" was to have within every infantry regiment a platoon tasked with downing enemy aircraft by any means available - from heavy and light MGs to steel ropes stretched between mountains. North Korean propaganda insists that some groups (for example, crew of the Hero of KPDR Yu Gi Ho) managed to destroy 3-5 enemy planes by the latter method. Even if this is an exaggeration it is a fact that "shooters-hunters" were operational on the frontline and they did a great deal of harm to UN pilots. *)
*) One shouldn't joke about "hunters" and "trip-wires", they were quite an effective weapon. We have heard stories from eyewitnesses of the "downing" of ground attack planes by ropes strung across mountain valleys through which supply roads passed. As the Americans admitted the bulk of their combat losses were planes, shot down by ground fire near the frontline, our statistics confirm this.
The results of the air war over Korea were as follows: fighters of 64th Fighter Air Corps shot down 1097 planes (** figures specified by our magazine), 64th Corps' AAA - 212 planes ** (figures specified by our magazine), United Air Army - 271 planes *** (specified by our magazine), KPA ground troops - 1,284 planes ***. Thus the UN aviation lost 2,864 planes. Own losses: 64th Air Corps - 120 pilots, 335 planes ***, 64th AAA - 68 killed, 165 wounded, 6 cannons, 1 searchlight ***. United Air Army - 126 pilots, 231 planes ***. Thus the"Communist forces" losses are estimated at 556 planes. North Koreans in their turn insist that "invincible and heroic" Korean People's army during the course of the war destroyed 5,729 planes, damaged 6,484 and captured eleven as war prizes. About their own losses the Koreans keep silent as do the Chinese.
There is information that the NKAF had its aces (pilots who shot down 4-5 enemy planes). For example, Hero of the KPDR Kim Gi Ok had six victories already during first months of the war. It seems however that there were few aces, because in the Gallery of the Heroes of KPDR at the "Museum of Victory in the Liberation War of 1950-53"in Pyongyang portraits hang mostly of infantrymen and gunners, very few tank crews and almost no sailors or pilots. It's strange, considering the fact that the quantity of awards per citizen in KPDR is among the highest in the world.
When the armistice was signed on 27 June 1953 the NKAF's combat readiness wasn't high, but numerically it was bigger than the pre-war force. *)
*) According to our sources, at the end of the war United Air Army had 892 planes: 480 Korean and 412 Chinese, including 635 MiG-15 and MiG-15bis. UAA consisted of seven air divisions.
Different experts estimated the strength of the NKAF of this period as 350-400 planes, including at least 200 MiG-15. All of them were based in China because North Korea's pre-war airfields were destroyed and not repaired during the war. By the end of 1953 the Corps of Chinese Volunteers was withdrawn from Korea and KPA units took control of positions at 38th parallel. A major reorganization of all the KPA armed services began, accompanied by massive acquisitions of new weapons systems from the USSR.
Some ten airfields were constructed for the NKAF at that time. Along the 38th parallel an integrated air defence system with radars, observation posts and communication lines was built. The frontline (North Koreans even now call this the disengagement line) and major cities were heavily defended by AAA. In 1953 the NKAF began its conversion to jets. During the following three years from Russia and China large quantities of MiG-15s were acquired. Even before the end of hostilities Koreans had received their first jet bombers- the Il-28. Ten of them took part in the Victory parade flypast over Pyongyang on 28 July 1953.
There were significant structural changes in Korean military aviation - Air Defence Command, Naval and Army aviation were separated from the NKAF.
The Air Defence Headquarters had under its command air targets detection systems, AA artillery and fighters. Naval aviation comprised of several fighter squadrons, defending major ports, and a few Il-28's for reconnaissance and anti-shipping missions.
Army aviation from 1953 was responsible for all civilian flights within Korea. It was particularly busy with such flights during the early post-war years while bridges, highways and railways were still undergoing repair. Besides the old Po-2's and Li-2's army aviation received the An-2, Il-12 and Yak-12. An Unconfirmed possibility exists that during 1953-54 the North Koreans began paradropping their agents into southern territory. Army aircraft not only dropped the agents but also made secret landings in South Korea.An overall black An-2 was captured during one such operation by Southern security forces and is now on the display at a Military Museum.
But the South Korean AF were also very active in the transportation of agents to the North. One such successful operation, carried out along with the Americans, was "Hunt for MiG". On 21 Sept.1953 NKAF lieutenant Kum Suk No defected in a MiG-15bis to the South, enticed by a reward of US$100,000. This allowed the Americans, who had hitherto only encountered the wreckage of downed MiGs, to make a full evaluation of the plane, first at Okinawa and then in the USA.
In general, from the mid-50s on, there were hundreds of cases of infringement and unprovoked fire barrages across the disengagement line. Among the best known is the incident of 2 Feb.1955 over the Sea of Japan - eight North Korean MiG-15's failed to intercept an USAF RB-45 "Tornado" reconnaissance plane on a mission over the North Korean coast under cover of 16 F-86's. In the fight two MiGs were shot down with no losses to the Americans. On 7 Nov.1955 there was another controversial incident when a UN An-2 making an official flight with Polish observers on board crashed near the 38th parallel. There is a possibility that the plane was shot down by South Korean Air Defence by mistake.
In 1956 the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union coined a new term heard around the World - "personality cult". In the international communist movement there emerged a major split between the adherents and opponents of Stalinism. In the KDPR the 3th Congress of Korean Workers' Party declared its displeasure with the "culmination of intrigues of anti-party counterrevolutionary factionists and revisionists" and began a huge party purge. In that period the term "juche" ("help yourself" to build socialism in proper Korea utilising only Korea's own resources) was used for the first time. North Korea from now on considered not only the Soviet but even the Chinese leadership ideologically unreliable. This was not however an obstacle to equipping the North Korean army with the latest weapons from the USSR and China and to simultaneously subject to repression the most proficient military and technical specialists who were trained in other socialist countries.
By 1956 the strengthening of the armed forces was in full swing: the formation of the Navy and structural reorganisation of the Air Force had been completed, modernization of the Army had begun. NKAF took delivery of some dozens of MiG-17F fighters, Mi-4 and Mi-4PL helicopters. In 1958 Koreans received from the USSR MiG-17PF interceptors. On 6 March 1958 a pair of American T-6A trainers breached "the frontlines". They were fired upon by AA artillery and then attacked by MiGs. One of the "Texans" was shot down and its crew killed. The North Koreans later alleged that the Americans were on a "reconnaissance mission".
In 1959 Kim Il Sung solemnly declared the "victory of juche socialism" and resolved to lead the Korean people straight forward to communism. In South Korea local leftists at this time with help of North Korean agents rendered Li Syn Man's government completely unable to control the country. In 1960 the South Korean military saved the situation, gave up any "ideals of democracy" and with full US support launched a coup d'etat. The junta harshly suppressed all organised opposition and thus created the preconditions for subsequent South Korean "economical miracle". US troops in South Korea received tactical nuclear weapons and their carriers - "Sergeant", "Honest John" and "Lance" missiles, later "Pershing". South Korean army, along with the locally based US 7th Infantry Division, began preparations for nuclear war. At the beginning of the 1960's South Koreans built along the 37th parallel the main installations of a so-called "reinforced concrete wall" (chain of fortifications defended not only by usual mines but according to some sources nuclear weaponry) that became the main target of criticism from North Korea. But the North Koreans took advantage of the occasion to build on the demarcation line a chain of more powerful and carefully camouflaged fortifications.
In the 1961 USSR and KPDR signed the Treaty of Mutual Assistance and Military Cooperation with many additional secret protocols that even now are classified. In accordance with these protocols, in 1961-62 the NKAF received MiG-19 supersonic fighters and S-25 "Berkut" SAM's. The KPA received airborne and artillery chemical ordnance and began training for combat under chemical and radiation contamination conditions . After 1965 the North Koreans began receiving MiG-21F fighters and S-75 "Dvina" SAMs.
In December 1962at the 5th plenum of Korean Workers' Party Central Committee Kim Il Sung announced a new course of "simultaneous economical and military build-up". His measures envisaged full militarisation of the economy, making the whole country a fortress, arming of all citizens (the whole population is formed into military cadres) and modernization of the armed forces.
This "new course" defines the existence and policies of KPDR to the present day. North Korea spends 25 percent of its GNP on its armed forces. For the NKAF the 1960's and 70's meant a period of numerous border clashes:
17 May 1963. Ground units of Air Defence Forces fired upon a US OH-23 helicopter which force-landed on North Korean territory
19 January 1968. The South Korean patrol ship number 56 was attacked by North Korean warships and then finished off by MiG-21's.
23 January 1968. North Korean planes and helicopters attacked USN auxiliary vessel "Pueblo" and then directed Northern shipping to it. The vessel was captured and towed to a Northern naval base.
15 April 1969. Air Defence Forces missile crews shot down a USAF four-engined EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft.
17 June 1977. MiG-21's shot down a CH-47 Chinook of the USAF.
17 December 1994. Air Defence ground units shot down an American OH-58D helicopter, pilot killed and copilot taken prisoner.
In all these cases the North Koreans insisted that the aircraft, helicopters and ships attacked entered North Korean air and nautical space for the purpose of spying. the Americans and South Koreans have denied this. Taking into account the fact that during this time South Korean planes repeatedly intruded into Soviet air space (just recall the "Boeings" shot down near Arckhangelsk and over Sakhalin), North Korea's attitude sounds reasonable.
In turn South Korea sank a couple of Northern ships ( North Korea predictably protesting strongly about acts of vandalism towards "defenceless trawlers"), and repeatedly detected intrusion of North Korean planes and helicopters into South Korean air space.
In the 1980's Pyongyang's hope of full-scale conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, in the shadow of which KPDR could win a war against South Korea, didn't materialize. On the contrary, the end of 20th century became a period of massive disintegration of communist regimes in countries that used to be "friends of the USSR". The USSR doesn't exist today, and such "zealots of communism" as Albania and Romania have become bankrupt even faster than the "big brothers". In the Far East China and Vietnam are slowly but surely drifting away from Marxist ideology. Apart from Cuba and some African countries, that would be glad to become friendly with the West but don't know how, by the beginning of 1990's there is only one bulwark of communism left - the KPDR. Despite the loss of almost all allies and mounting pressure from the "free world", the ruling clique of North Korea is still full of faith in the final victory of communism in their own country.
Their faith is strengthened by the KPA. It is considered to be among the most powerful armies of the world. North Korea is completely closed, so military analysts can make only approximate estimates of general situation in the country, and estimates of the status of the armed forces are even more difficult. In the KPDR information on the KPA is scarce and very one-sided. It appears that North Korea is even more enamoured of bluster and secrecy than its Soviet and Chinese friends. Naturally state propaganda constantly declares the KPA to be invincible, that its officers and men are ready to fight "one against a hundred". American experts partly agree with that; they believe that North Koreans have obsolete weapons and equipment but their morale is extremely high."They are well trained soldiers who are used to iron discipline". But even this did not prevent "great general" Kim Il Sung from regular criticising his marshals for "loss of vigilance, lack of morale and passive mood of troops" at all party congresses.
The mainstays of the KPA are some ten thousand cannons and up to seven thousand AFVs from obsolete Soviet-made T-55's and T-62's and Chinese T-59's. Also acquired in the late 80's were the modern T-72M, BMP-2, BTR-70 . Some western experts are too optimistic with their estimates that anti-tank weapons in the possession of South Koreans and US troops stationed in Korea"can make North Korean tank armadas the largest metal junk heap in the World".
Similarly the Americans seem too optimistic in their assessment of North Korean military aviation, they assert that the NKAF "is in a worse technical state than the Iraqi Air Force. The planes are so old that their first pilots are grandfathers now. Today pilots are poorly trained and they spend only seven hours per year in the air. Even if they manage to take off in their pieces of junk, most likely they'll fly to the South and like kamikazes crash their aircraft into the first ground target of opportunity".
One can't bet on this assumption completely, but it's absolutely clear that Soviet and Chinese-made equipment the NKAF is armed with comprises mostly of obsolete types that are not suitable for the modern combat environment. Furthermore air crew are being trained in accordance with outdated procedures and, with lack of fuel, have very little experience. However North Korean aircraft are sheltered in underground hangars and plenty of runways are available. In the KPDR there is absolutely no private vehicle ownership but many highways with concrete surfaces and arched reinforced concrete tunnels (for example the superhighway linking Pyongyang with Wonsan), that in case of hostilities are sure to be used as military airfields. It thus seems highly improbable that the NKAF would be knocked out in one strike, particularly considering the very formidable Air Defence system that US intelligence believes to be "the most tightly-knitted system of anti-missile and antiaircraft defence in the world".
Western analysts estimate that the KPDR's Air Defence Forces have in field positions more than nine thousand AAA systems, including light machine guns, the World's most powerful 100-mm Flak and self-propelled ZSU-57 and ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" systems. Besides that there are ten thousand SAMs including stationary S-25, S-75, S-125, mobile "Cub", "Strela-10" and portable launchers with crews "that don't know the word fear".
As far as quality is concerned NKAF is not just a collection of rusty junk, either. It is true that even into the 1990's they have over 150 MiG-15's and 100 MiG-19's (including the Chinese types Shenyang F-4 and F-6 respectively), 50 Harbin H-5 bombers (Chinese-made Soviet Il-28) and 10 Su-7BMK fighter-bombers. However by the beginning of the 1980's the NKAF began a new round of modernization: in addition to 150 MiG-21's, the NKAF received from the USSR a batch of 60 MiG-23P fighter-bombers and MiG-23ML close-support fighters and from China - 150 Q-5 Fantan ground attack planes. Army aviation, that then possessed only twenty Mi-4 helicopters, received ten Mi-2 and fifty Mi-24. In May-June 1988 North Korea received its first six MiG-29's. By the end of the year the transfer of the whole batch of 30 planes was complete, as well as the transfer of 20 Su-25K ground attack aircraft. A surprise reinforcement for the NKAF at the end of 80's came in the shape of twenty American-built Hughes-500 helicopters acquired in a roundabout way from third countries: these helicopters have no armament and are used for liaison and observation.
In the same period obsolete aircraft (MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19) were being transferred to "fraternal countries, fighting against world imperialism" - first of all to Albania, then Guinea, Zaire, Somalia, Uganda and Ethiopia. In 1983 thirty MiG-19 fighters were transferred to Iraq and used in the war with Iran. The same aircraft positioned at Iraqi airfields as false targets took the brunt of allied aerial strikes during the "Desert Storm" operation.
It should be mentioned that KPDR still has no civilian aviation at all. Any flight, should it be long-range delivery of food and medicine or internal passenger flights or chemical treatment of fields, is made with planes or helicopters in NKAF markings. The mainstay of this military-civilian force is about 200 An-2's and its Chinese replica, the Y-5.Up to the beginning of the 1970's flights to "fraternal countries" were made by five Il-14 and four Il-18. Subsequently the KPDR's air inventory was reinforced by twelve An-24 (according to other sources some of them are An-32 version), three Tu-154B and one "presidential" Il-62, on which Kim Il Sung made a number of official visits abroad. After the collapse of the USSR North Korea acquired some civilian aircraft, bought at bargain prices from "independent airlines"of the CIS, the biggest among them being some Il-76's. At the beginning of 1995 the KPDR signed an international treaty opening its airspace to foreign passenger airlines. In this connection North Korean planes that fly abroad received civilian markings of the newly founded airline "Chosonminhan", but their crews continued to be military.
For crew training by the beginning of the 1990's there were over 100 piston-engined CJ-5 and CJ-6 aircraft (Chinese modification of Yak-18), twelve L-39 Czech-made jets and some dozens of MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-29, Su-25 trainers. It is logical to assert that training of pilots on the NKAF's most modern aircraft is much more significant than "seven flying hours per year". These pilots are first of all from the elite 56th Guards and 57th Fighter Regiments that equipped with MiG-29 and MiG-23 and are based near Pyongyang to defend the capital of KPDR.
One shouldn't forget about "surface-to-surface" missiles of different types in the possession of the KPDR, many of them manufactured in North Korean factories. It was North Korean "Scuds" used by Saddam Hussein that the Americans and Israelis were frightened of during the Gulf War. Americans managed to shoot down only 10 percent of the "Scuds" launched with their brand-new "Patriot" missile system despite the fact that such launches were rare events.
We can imagine in how much trouble the US Air Defence system would have if the North Koreans ever did launch a massive air strike. It would make no difference whether the Americans were able to shoot down half of attacking obsolete North Koreans planes that are really ready for scrap yard. The other half of theNKAF at that time would still be able to reach American artillery positions, command posts, communication lines and shower them with old-fashioned, but nonetheless exploding, bombs or strafe with "ancient"unguided rockets and cannon fire!
The US and South Korea have particular misgivings about North Korea's nuclear program. It gives Pyongyang a possibility to talk from a position which today's Russia can be only envious of. On the other hand North Korean statements on military issues are becoming more restrained and the KPDR's foreign policy - more realistic.
Some years ago US analysts predicted that in case of a new war Pyongyang would be defeated, but only "after a bloodbath that would destroy the whole peninsula". So the situation on the peninsula continues to be the same for forty years, in other words the situation is stalemate. But now it is becoming clear that the Korean problem -a dark vestige of the Cold War - will be solved by peaceful means. It seems that there is no other choice.
NKAF MARKINGS (p.39)
As a rule, the NKAF leave their aircraft in the colour scheme as supplied by the manufacturing country, adding just national insignia and serial numbers.
For instance the first planes received from the USSR remained in typical Soviet AF colours: fighters were overall semi-gloss light grey, ground attack planes, bombers, cargo and training planes had protective green upper surfaces and light blue undersides.
MiG-15 jets during the Korean War were transferred coated with only colourless lacquer over the aluminium airframe. Standard lacquer appeared glossy, but planes of some series were covered (for low visibility in the air) with dull lacquer. The MiG-15bis were wholly painted with semi glossy silver colour.
The aircraft received only the new insignia; a red five-pointed star in a white circle within a red-white-blue ring. Frequently only the red and blue parts were applied on bright backgrounds (light-grey, light-blue, silver), white being compulsory only on dark finishes (protective green). The insignia were on the sides of fuselage and on the wings undersurfaces.
For rapid identification purposes many MiGs had nose and fin undersurfaces painted in red. From 1952 the main bulk of MiGs (including United Air Army and 64th Fighter Air Corps) were camouflaged. There were plenty of camouflage patterns because there were many locations were the planes were based (camouflage being applied in the field). The most common pattern consisted of large ginger-brown blotches above protective green background. Some La-11's and MiG-15's had dark green twisting lines, smoothly evolving into more light green at edging; between the lines remained aluminium or light grey "veins". Information exists about orange-sand MiGs. In all patterns the fuselage was wholly camouflaged while wing and tail units undersurfaces remained light grey or silver, depending on the original finish. MiGs of the 64th had North Korean insignia, Chinese planes of UAA - Chinese insignia.
From the end of the war until the 1970's practically every NKAF combat or large cargo plane was silver, An-2, training planes and helicopters were protective green uppersurface, light blue undersurface. The green colour of Chinese-made aircraft is a little darker and greener than the Soviet equivalent (it looks like the green used on Japanese aircraft of WW2). The exceptions are An-2's used for covert missions to South Korea -they are overall dull black and have no white ring in insignia.
Before the Korean war national insignia and side numbers were carefully painted by hand but from the mid-50's it became usual practice to have them painted with stencils. The proportions of the insignia also changed - originally the rings around the star had the same width, but now red, white and blue rings have proportion of width 2:1:3. The Radial white gaps of the stencil are near the top of star and their width is the same as that of the white ring.
In this period the NKAF received planes and helicopters in the same colours as those of the USSR, China and Czechoslovakia. Late series MiG-21's, for instance, and MiG-23's were light grey. MiG-29's, Su-25's, Chinese Q-5's, Mi-24's and Mi-8 helicopters have blot-type camouflage.
An-24, Tu-154, Il-62 and Il-76 transport planes have silver-grey wings, tail units and fuselage undersurfaces. The fuselage upper surface is white with a red cheat line and narrow white-blue edging above and beneath it. On the fin is a flash of national flag of the KPDR.. Planes of the national airline have a blue outline of a stork within narrow red ring on the fin. On the fuselage is the airline's name in Latin script ("Air Koryo") and Korean alphabet in blue. The North Korean flag appears aft of the cockpit.
Captions for B&W painting schemes (p.38)
Yak-9P. Overall light grey. Number black, spinner red. Victory Museum, Pyongyang.
Yak-18, early series. Protective green upper surface, light blue undersurface. White number. Victory Museum, Pyongyang.
MiG-15bis. Uppersurface: protective green and dark green lines (feathered border in between) with gaps of unpainted metal. Light blue undersurface. Cockpit unpainted. Museum of Aviation and Space Science, Prague.
MiG-15bis. Overall silver. Nose band, eight stars under cockpit and number are red. Victory museum, Pyongyang.
An-2. Captured by South Koreans in 1984. Overall black. Red number. National insignia (fuselage only) without white ring between blue and red rings. Armed Forces Museum, Seoul.
Special thanks from the authors to Ten In Bam (Pyongyang) and Yuri Popov (Irkutsk) for their cooperation in preparation of this article.
Special thanks from the editors to Leonid Krylov and Yuri Tepsurkaev for their cooperation in this work.
Photos are from the private archives of Vladislav Morozov.