The North Korean Air Force: A Declining or Evolving Threat?

By and October 18, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests during the Kim Jong-un era have strengthened the country’s military power, deterring South Korea, Japan, and, in particular, the United States. While North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities are rapidly improving, parallel developments are not occurring in the traditionally technical air and air defense forces. Plagued with aging airframes, technical problems, part shortages, and budget shortfalls, the North Korean Air Force no longer challenges the South Korean and American air forces.

This paper examines the North Korean Air Force, analyzing its organization and deployment, aircraft and air defense systems acquisition, air defense and early warning capabilities, and aircraft production. Shortfalls in each of these areas have caused Pyongyang to develop, test, and operate an increasingly sophisticated drone fleet. While North Korea will not be able to build its own state-of-the-art aircraft industry, it will nonetheless find creative ways to strengthen its air force capabilities.

View PDF