Procurement: North Korean Air Force Left To Rot


October 19, 2011: South Korea recently revealed that North Korea had gone looking for someone to sell them new combat aircraft, and had been turned down by China and Russia. South Korean diplomats were pleased to find this out, and South Korean Air Force officers were not surprised that the North Koreans were desperate to upgrade their air force.

This was because it had earlier been revealed that in late 2010, after North Korea artillery fired on South Korea (Yeonpyeong Island), North Korea quickly made preparations for war. These preparations were apparently ordered without much warning. So too, apparently, was the attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

What the South Korean intel analysts were particularly amazed by was the poor performance of the North Korean air force during this hasty mobilization. It was known that North Korean pilots had been getting less and less flying time in the past decade, but when ordered into the air on a large scale for this hasty mobilization, the results were amazingly bad. The flying skills of combat pilots were particularly unimpressive, as was the performance of many aircraft (indicating poor maintenance). There were several crashes, and many near misses in the air, and a general sense of confusion among the North Korean Air Force commanders and troops.

While North Korea was apparently trying to impress, and intimidate, South Korea with this display of aerial might, the impact was just the opposite. With the exception of ten MiG-29s, the North Korean air force consists of several hundred Cold War era Russian and Chinese warplanes. The Chinese aircraft are knockoffs of older Russian designs, and most of the North Korean fleet consists of aircraft designs that were getting old in the 1970s. The North Korean Air Force training exercise merely confirmed what many South Korean and American intelligence analysts already suspected; that the North Korean Air Force could barely fly, and hardly fight.

Neither China nor Russia wants to encourage North Korea to undertake any more such misadventures; thus the refusal to provide new aircraft. Moreover, North Korea is difficult to do business with, often refusing to pay, or delaying payment for a long time. North Korea is not a good customer, and even China and Russia, who supported the north for over half a century, are fed up with North Korea's increasingly bizarre behavior.



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