Air Force organization and deployment

The Korean People’s Army Air and Anti-Air Force (KPAF) is the second-largest branch of the Korean People’s Army with the primary task of defending North Korean airspace. The KPAF defending mechanism has declined to a point where it can no longer contend with its neighbors’ modern airspace[1]. The air force combat power is based on a collection of obsolete fighters of Soviet and Chinese origin. The majority of KPAF aircraft were procured during the 1960s, and include Soviet jets fielded in the 1940s and 50s[2]. While most fighter pilots in western air forces fly a minimum of one hundred and eighty hours a year, the KPAF pilots are limited to twenty to forty hours yearly in an effort to preserve aging airframes and conserve limited stocks of aviation fuel. This paper will focus on discussing the North Korean Air Force’s capability to defend Air Space from any threat.

Regarding the Air Force organization and deployment, it lacks long-range aircraft and in-flight refueling capability which affects the deployment, organization, and tactics in the event of countering an attack. Offensive air operations are limited to those targets within countries bordering North Korea, with an obvious focus on the U.S. and ROK forces deployed in the South.  The majority of Air Force aircraft are exposed in the open and the fuel shortage with aging airframes limit pilots to participate in only basic tasks.

The Air Force early warning system is full of old defense systems used in the 1950s and 1960s with only a few modern systems appearing over the last decade. The Air Force enhanced systems were first seen in 2012 where upgraded systems provided flexibility in the deploying system and better concealment from air attacks[3]. The KPAF warning system is mainly used to protect key targets from American and South Korean helicopters and light transport planes[4]. Although North Korea has tried improving warning systems, it still uses manually operated systems that lack radar guidance, which is highly inaccurate and ineffective.

Despite the Air Force having capabilities for indigenous aircraft production, it has continued to assemble rotary and fixed-wing aircraft of foreign countries. Most of the components and parts used to assemble aircraft and air defense systems are purchased from China, Poland, and Russia. For instance, using components and parts supplied by Poland, North Korean engineers assembled around 150 PZL-Swidnik light utility helicopters. As the country Air Force continues to rely on imported aircraft, defense systems, and spare parts, they are unable to acquire the most advanced equipment where, in case they try, sanctions are imposed on them[5].

In conclusion, the North Korea Air Force faces considerable challenges as it struggles to improve its air space against any threat. Ranging from fuel shortage, inability to procure spare parts, and aging airframes leading to pilots’ fewer flight hours, decreased proficiency, and reduced readiness. The country has faced other challenges such as limited suppliers and economic sanctions which have been an obstacle to the acquisition of enhanced and improved defense systems and aircraft. In case there is hostility, the Air Force assets are incapable of withstanding the United States and ROK Air Forces. However, with these challenges facing the Air force, one should not underestimate North Korea’s desire to overcome these disadvantages. North Korea has always found creative ways to strengthen its Air Force capabilities[6].


Bechtol, Bruce E. Jr. “North Korean Illicit Activities and Sanctions: A National Security Dilemma,” Cornell International Law Journal, 2017. Accessed from

Hartoch, Noam, & Levkowitz, Alon. The North Korean Air Force: A Declining or Evolving Threat? 2018. Accessed from file:///C:/Users/user/AppData/Local/Temp/TheNorthKoreanAirForceADecliningorEvolvingThreat.pdf

Roehrig, Terence. The abilities and limits of North Korean early warning. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2017. Accessed from

Tasic, Mirko. “Exploring North Korea’s Asymmetric Military Strategy.” Naval War College Review 72, 2019

[1]Hartoch, Noam, & Levkowitz, Alon, 2018

[2]Hartoch, Noam, & Levkowitz, Alon, 2018

[3] Roehrig, 2017

[4] Roehrig, Terence, 2017

[5] Bechtol, Bruce, 2017

[6] Tasic, Mirko, 2019


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