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Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force
조선인민군 항공 및 반항공군
Roundel of North Korea.svg
KPAAF roundel
Founded August 20, 1947; ago (1947-08-20)
Country  North Korea
Allegiance Kim Jong-un[1]
Type Air force
Role Aerial warfare
Size 110,000 personnel
940[2]-1,300 aircraft of which over 800 combat aircraft, 300 helicopters and 300 transport aircraft.[3]
Part of Korean People's Army
Garrison/HQ Pyongyang, North Korea
Nickname(s) "Korean People's Air Force", "KPAF", "KPAAF", "NKAF", "North Korean air force" "DPRKAF"
Anniversaries 20 August
Engagements Korean War
Vietnam War[4]
Commander-in-chief General Ri Pyong-chol[5]
VMAR Cho Myong-rok
Col. Gen. Oh Gum-chol
Flag Flag of the North Korean People's Army Air Force.svg
Aircraft flown
Attack Su-7, Q-5, Su-25, Yak-18
Bomber Il-28
Fighter Chengdu F-7B, Shenyang F-5, Shenyang F-6, MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-29
Helicopter MD Helicopters MD 500, Mil Mi-2, Mil Mi-8 Mil Mi-14, Mil Mi-24
Trainer L-39, Shenyang FT-2
Transport IL-76, An-24, An-2

The Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air Force (KPAAF or KPAF; Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선인민군 항공 및 반항공군; Chosŏn inmin'gun hangkong mit banhangkonggun ; Hanja: 朝鮮人民軍 空軍) 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 940 aircraft of different types; mostly of old Soviet and Chinese origin. Its primary task is to defend North Korean airspace.[7] When the People's Army was formed in into its current state with Soviet assistance, the aviation unit became its air force branch on August 20, 1947. North Korea has since celebrated August 20 as Air Force Foundation Day.


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.[8] It deployed a fighter squadron to North Vietnam during the Vietnam war.[9] Kim Il-Sung reportedly told the North Korean pilots "to fight in the war as if the Vietnamese sky were their own."[10]

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.[11]

In 1973, a North Korean flight of MiG-21s deployed to Bir Arida to help defend southern Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.[12]

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. 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 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."[13] 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. North Korea 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.[14]

Operational doctrine

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.[citation needed]

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. Given the production, storage and use of a vast chemical and biological, as well as a small nuclear, weapons inventory by North Korea, this change in doctrine is even more significant.[citation needed]


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

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[15] 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.[16]


Following is a list of bases where North Korean Army Air Force aircraft are permanently based.[17][18]

Air bases

Northwestern area (1st Air Combat Division, HQ Kaechon)
Base Location Units Notes
Uiju Airfield Uiju County40°08′59″N 124°29′53″E / 40.14972°N 124.49806°E / 40.14972; 124.49806 24th Bomber Regiment Il-28 (Harbin B-5s)
Panghyon Naamsi 39°55′57.517″N 125°12′24.804″E / 39.93264361°N 125.20689°E / 39.93264361; 125.20689 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.[19]
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

  • 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
  • Samiyon Airfield - ?? Training Regiment (F-5A)
  • Hyesan Airfield - unknown unit
  • Kilchu West + East - ?? Air Regiment {Helicopter Training} (Mi-2)
  • Orang - 41st Air Regiment {Fighter Training}(MiG-15UTI/J-2/MiG-15)
  • Sungam-Chonhjin - Kimchaek Air Force Academy (BT-6)
  • Kyongsong - Flight Officers School (BT-6)
  • Kang Da Ri Airfield - Underground runway near Wonsan, under construction.[21][22][23]
  • Tongchŏn Airfield(MiG-21PF/J-7/F-7)
  • Inhung - Helipads (Mi-8/Ka-27 (possibly Ka-28/Ka-29/Ka-32)) (39°31′55″N 127°22′29″E / 39.53194°N 127.37472°E / 39.53194; 127.37472)
  • Hamhŭng Airfield(MiG-21PF/J-7/F-7)
  • Sungam Airfield - Air Transport Wing (Y-5/An-2)
  • Riwon north Airfield - (MiG-15UTI/J-2/MiG-15)


Current inventory

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

Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
MiG-21 Soviet Union fighter 26[24]
MiG-23 Soviet Union fighter-bomber 56[24]
MiG-29 Russia multirole 35[24]
Sukhoi Su-7 Soviet Union fighter-bomber 18[24]
Sukhoi Su-25 Russia attack 34[24]
Ilyushin Il-28 Soviet Union medium bomber H-5 80[24] Chinese-built variant designated the H-5
Shenyang F-5 People's Republic of China fighter 106[24] derivative of the MiG-17
Shenyang J-6 People's Republic of China fighter F-6 97[24] license built MiG-19
Chengdu J-7 People's Republic of China fighter F-7 120[24] license built MiG-21
An-24 Ukraine heavy transport 1[24]
MD 500 United States light utility 84[24] aircraft were illegally obtained by circumventing U.S. export controls [25]
PZL Mi-2 Poland utility 46[24]
Mil Mi-8 Soviet Union utility 40[24]
Mil Mi-14 Soviet Union ASW / SAR 8[24]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack 20[24]
Mil Mi-26 Russia transport 4[24]
Trainer Aircraft
Shenyang F-5 People's Republic of China jet trainer FT-5 135[24]
Shenyang FT-2 People's Republic of China jet trainer 30[24] Chinese production of the MiG-15UTI


The KPAAF use the R-23 missile similar to this one

Name Origin Type Notes
Air-to-air missile
AA-10 Russia air-to-air missile 60 medium range missiles[26]
AA-11 Russia air-to-air missile
AA-8 Soviet Union air-to-air missile 190 missiles[26]
AA-2 Soviet Union air-to-air missile 1050 missiles[26]
AA-7 Soviet Union air-to-air missile 250 missiles[26]


Name Origin Type In service Notes
S-200 Soviet Union SAM system 75 missiles[26]
S-125 Neva/Pechora Russia SAM system 300 missiles[26]
S-75 Dvina Soviet Union SAM system 1950 missiles[26]
SA-7 Russia MANPADS 4000 units[26]
Air Defence Artillery
ZSU-57-2 Soviet Union self-propelled 250[26] tracked self-propelled anti-aircraft system
ZSU-23-4 Soviet Union self-propelled 248[26] 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.


OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
North Korea North Korea
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


OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) & Student officer
North Korea North Korea
No equivalent Captain General Superior General Middle General Junior General Captain Commander Superior Commander Middle Commander Junior Commander Captain Lieutenant Superior Lieutenant Middle Lieutenant Junior Lieutenant Unknown
General of the Air Force
Colonel General
Lieutenant General
Major General
Senior Colonel (Brigadier)
Lieutenant Colonel
First Lieutenant
Second Lieutenant
Third Lieutenant


Occasionally KPA Air Force officers promoted above General of the Air Force. In that case, they wear army-style uniform, since ranks from Vice-Marshal and above are not divided into army, navy and air force.[27]

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 ($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.[28]

See also


  1. "North Korean military takes oath of loyalty". 
  2. "Flightglobal - World Air Forces 2015 (PDF)". 
  4. Richard M Bennett. "Missiles and madness". Asia Times. 
  5. One report claimed that General Ri Pyong-chol was executed in August 2014; George Petras, North Korea executions under Kim Jong Un USA Today, 2016-02-10
  6. North Korea Country Study, pp. 18-19
  7. "KPAF". 
  8. Bennett, Richard (August 18, 2006). "Missiles and madness". Asia Times. 
  9. Gady, Franz-Stefan War of the Dragons: Why North Korea Does Not Trust China September 29, 2017 The Diplomat Retrieved September 29, 2017
  10. Gluck, Caroline N Korea admits Vietnam war role July 7, 2001 BBC News Retrieved September 30, 2017
  11. "N Korea in 'US spy plane' warning". 11 June 2006. 
  12. Leone, Dario. "The Aviationist". An unknown story from the Yom Kippur war: Israeli F-4s vs North Korean MiG-21s. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  13. Pike, John. "Korean People's Army Air Force - North Korea". 
  14. "North Korea 'develops stealth paint to camouflage fighter jets'". 23 August 2010. 
  15. Intelligence experts analyse 'North Korean fighter jet crash', The Telegraph, 18 August 2010
  16. "N.Korea Steps Up Air Force Training Flights". The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition) archived at 2012-03-29. Archived from the original on March 30, 2012. 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 [...]" 
  17. North Korean Special Weapons Facilities, Federation of American Scientists, 2006.
  18. North Korean Air Forces, Scramble, Dutch Aviation Society, 2006. Archived January 17, 2010, at WebCite
  19. Preliminary Assessment of BLACK SHIELD Mission 6847 over North Korea Archived 2010-11-05 at the Wayback Machine., Central Intelligence Agency, 29 January 1968
  20. "MIG 29 in Sunchon".,+North+Korea&hl=nl&sll=39.510845,125.95657&sspn=0.001676,0.002411&t=h&z=19. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  21. "The North Korean Air Force by Google Earth". 
  22. Mizokami, Kyle. "North Korea's Secret Strategy in a War with America: Go Underground". 
  23. "North Korea's Thunderbird Runways". 19 May 2008. 
  24. 24.00 24.01 24.02 24.03 24.04 24.05 24.06 24.07 24.08 24.09 24.10 24.11 24.12 24.13 24.14 24.15 24.16 24.17 "World Air Forces 2016 pg. 22". Flightglobal Insight. 2015. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  25. "North Korea’s Illegally Supplied Helicopters Emerge". Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 26.5 26.6 26.7 26.8 26.9 Trade Registers. Retrieved on 29 May 2015
  27. Tertitskiy, Fyodor (March 14, 2017). "North Korea’s baffling personalized rank insignia, explained". NK News. 
  28. "NK pilot defector promoted to colonel". 16 November 2010. 

External links

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