The Soviet View
"On Guard For Peace and Labor"
Mir Aviatsii 2-97 pp. 29-39
- Vladislav Morozov, Sergey Uskov, Ufa
A Short Observation on the DPRK Air Forces from 1948 to 1996
At 1500 hours Central Korean Time on 25 June 1950, a pair of Yak-9P fighters sporting the markings of the North Korean Air Forces arrived over Kimpo Airfield near Seoul where they found the Amerians evacuating the place at a high rate of operations, feeling that the South Korean capital would soon fall to the advancing ground forces of the DPRK. The Yaks shot up the control tower, destroyed a fuel tank, and then strafed a C-54 transport belonging to the USAF which was sitting on the ground. At the same time, a flight of Yaks shot up seven ROK Air Force aircraft at the Seoul International Airport. At 1900, the Yaks returned to Kimpo and finished off the C-54. This was the first such episode in the war in Korea.
The formation of the DPRK Air Forces began considerably earlier than the events which were described above. Not even three months after the end of the Second World War had passed when the Great Leader of the Korean People, Kim Il Song, made the decision to "Create an Air Force for the New Korea" (29 November 1945). Training the cadres for the air forces of "New Korea" began (with the experience of the "Great Northern Neighbor") during mid 1946 with the organization of aviation clubs in Pyongyang, Sinuiju, Hamhung, Chonjin, and Huer Ne - there where the units of the Soviet occupation forces were located. The Soviets became the instructors, of course, and taught programs on the Po-2, UT-2, Yak-18 (and, perhaps the Yak-9UTI as well as the La-7UTI and Yak-11).
The search for candidates caused serious problems. Those Koreans who had served with the Japanese Air Force during the war years were labeled "enemies of the People" - they were unacceptable and not asked. The intelligentsia, the bourgeois, and other more literate members of Korean society had, after the arrival of Soviet troops, largely fled to the American zone of occupation, since they felt, and with some truth, that staying behind would result in them falling under "the true light of Korean Socialism". On the other hand, the majority of the Korean population remained relatively illiterate peasantry, which had only the barest knowledge of aviation. The simple "ricepaddy workhorse" could be taught how to fire a PPSh submachine gun with relative ease, or even a Mosin rifle, by filling his head with some of the theses of "The Program of the Temporary Peoples' Committee of North Korea", but turning him into a pilot would be a very difficult task.
In order to break this problem into its constituent parts for solution, it was decided to send Kim Il Song military specialists from the Soviet Army (including those which could approach the people most directly - those who were Soviets of Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, or other extraction). This was the standard method used to "strengthen" the armies of other brother countries in those days, including the Peoples' Liberation Army of China led by Comrade Mao. The most literate young people were selected for the aviation clubs and the Communist military aviation schools, who had not only boys but girls in the first groups selected.
The "First Swallows" to fly from the new Air Forces in North Korea began at the end of 1947; these were Li-2 and C-47 military transports making regular flights from Pyongyang to the Soviet Primorye area (Vladivostok and Khabarovsk) and China (Harbing). The flights were manned by mixed Soviet-Korean crews. The main task of these flights was to establish regular liaison between the "Temporary Committee", later the government of the DPRK, and its "brother partners" via the delivery of diplomatic mail and various types of specialists.
In 1948 the Soviet and American forces abandoned the Korean Peninsula. Nearly immediately afterwards the "Temporary Peoples' Committee of North Korea" turned to the creation of the Korean Peoples' Army - KPA - (Decree dated 8 February 1948) and just over six months later (9 September 1948) declared themselves the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea or DPRK. Using this non-traditional approach meant that by the end of 1948 Pyongyang had assembled a reasonably powerful army of several divisions and equipped with Soviet arms (the
T-34 tank, the SU-76M and SU-100 SP guns, the Katyusha rocket launcher, and heavy artillery).(1) Consider this in the light of the fact that at every echelon there were Soviet (or on occasion, Chinese) military advisors. The Korean Air Forces were under the command of General Van Len and his Soviet advisor Colonel Petrachev. His command officially consisted of one mixed aviation division in mid 1950, but numerically it was significantly larger than a Soviet air division. American calculation showed that the Koreans had 132 combat aircraft including 70 Yak-3, Yak-7B, Yak-9, and La-7 fighters, as well as 62 Il-10 ground attack aircraft. The precise numbers tallied by Soviet advisors were: 1st Aviation Division (1st Assault Aviation Regiment - 93 x Il-10 aircraft; 1st Fighter Aviation Regiment - 79 x Yak-9 fighters; 1st Training Aviation Regiment - 67 trainers, transports, and liaison aircraft) and two aviation technical battalions. Total number of men was 2,829 . The framework of the armed forces consisted of former Soviet aviation specialists and flying personel who had received their training between 1946 and 1950 in the USSR, China, and immediately upon the territory of the DPRK.(2)
In general, and in regard to the DPRK Air Forces in specific during the Korean War, a number of legends have been created. For example, Western experts stoutly support the existence of a DPRK Air Forces Yak-3 regiment manned by women, but at the same time, the only womens' regiment or even flight singled out was a part of the North Korean 56th Fighter Aviation Regiment. Precise information is given as to participation by a number of DPRK Air Forces women pilots. Their literature recalls, in particular, Tua Sen Hi(3),who was commanding a MiG-15 squadron at the end of the war. There is no verified data on any combat operations by any women available in regard to North Korean pilots.
Beside that, the achievements of American pilots during the first weeks of the war have recollections of encountering North Korean jet fighters using the "stepped" configuration (either the Yak-17, Yak-23,or Yak-15), which led American historians to conclude that the KPAFAC had begun the war initially equipped with jet fighters. No Soviet historian supports this claim, since they knew at that time the Chinese (e.g. who were training on the MiG-15, as there was no MiG-15UTI at the time) were training on the Yak-17UTI. These aircraft were located, for the most part, in Mukden, Anshang, and Laoyang. Furthermore, the Americans also reported encounters over North Korea with La-5, Pe-2, Yak-7, Il-2, and even ((P-39)) Airacobras, ((A-20)) Bostons, and Spitfires! As the Russians say in those situations, "Check the material units..."(4)
The KPAFAC was "opposed" by the air forces of the South Korean ROKAF, which in mid 1950 consisted of eight L-4 Piper Cub liaison aircraft and three T-6 Texan trainers. One other Piper had been lost in May 1949 when the pilot defected to the north. The rest of the aircraft were destroyed on the ground during the first days of the war. The war caught the ROKAF in its very earliest stages of formation - the Kimpo airfield was virtually all it had: of five airfields which had been laid out and were under construction, not one of them was ready by the beginning of the war. South Korea had only organized a flying school in January 1949 and had not succeeded in training an adequate number of aviation specialists.
The South Korean air force numbered a total of 1,899 soldiers and officers as of 2 June 1950; of this number, less than 100 were pilots, and since all their aircraft "died" in the first days of the war, they either fled or were captured by the North Koreans. Therefore, when it came to bringing them in on operations, as the South needed some sort of visible presence in the air, the Americans carried out an original initiative which was called Project BOUT ONE, which was called for just prior to the start of the war: ten USAF Reserve F-51D Mustangs were reassigned and repainted with South Korean markings. They were piloted by Americans led by Major D. Hess, and serviced by American technicians. During the summer and fall battles of 1950, these Mustangs actively participated in combat operations, which were described as "...the South Korean Air Force is flying wing to wing with the UN air forces to protect their country." The Americans had simply no other approach that they could make at that time, since there were not a sufficient number of real South Korean pilots available.
Discussing the reasons that led to the Korean War is outside the scope of this article, and therefore we will only provide a short overview of the factual events. Our interest in the war only concerns this or that event which directly related to the North Korean air forces. Initially, combat operations went successfully for Pyongyang: tank columns moved forward nearly without opposition, and the Yaks and Ils provided them good support from the air. For their participation in the "battles" near Seoul and Taejong several Korean Peoples' Army units were given Guards honorifics. Among them were four infantry and one tank brigade, four infantry and two antiaircraft artillery regiments, and a torpedo boat detachment. The KPAFAC 56th Fighter Aviation Regiment was given the honorific of "Guards Taejong" for its achievements. To this day, this is the only Guards unit among the units of the KPAFAC.
Thus, in the initial stages of the war, success was on the North Korean side. This continued up to the point where the US forces interfered in the war. As a result, even by the end of August 1950 the North's aviation had been destroyed, and what was left could only put up token resistance to UN forces; the rest of the KPAFAC fled to Chinese territory.(5) Continuous attacks by American aviation had forced the DPRK ground units to switch over to night combat operations. But after the landing by UN forces on 15 September 1950 in the Inchon area in the rear of the DPRK forces, and the simultaneous commencement of a counterattack by US forces in the Pusan beachhead, the forces of the DPRK began a "temporary strategic withdrawal" (translated into plain Russian, they ran to the north). As a result, by the end of October 1950 the North Koreans had lost over 90% of their own territory and their army was nearly completely crushed.
This position changed dramatically with the entry into Korea of the "Chinese Peoples' Volunteer Corps" under Marshal Pen Dehuan, under the cover of the Soviet 64th PVO Fighter Aviation Corps (IAK), which was equipped with the MiG-15 fighter. The Chinese pushed the Americans and their allies back to the 38th Parallel, but were stopped at that line. As for the KPAFAC, the only element which they had that conducted widespread operations and is listed in their writings was the night bomber regiment (commanded by Pak Den Sik), which began flying the Po-2 and later also used the Yak-11 and Yak-18. And, as is not strange, there was a real value to their combat operations. The Yankees never did successfully solve the "Po-2 Problem", while they were seriously concerned about it. Beside that, the "Chinese alarm clocks" as the Americans dubbed the Po-2s, always played on the psyche of the enemy, as they caused much alarm on the other side. For example, on 28 November 1950 the 8th Fighter Bomber Wing suffered damage to 11 F-51D Mustangs, three of which had to be left behind when they withdrew. On 17 June 1951, their attacks destroyed one F-86 Sabre and damaged eight more (four seriously and four with only light damage). One can recall that it was a raid by a Po-2 on 16 June 1953 in the Inchon area which caused the destruction of 98,000 barrels of petroleum products. And the list goes on. Ultimately, two squadrons from the 56th Fighter Aviation Regiment and some Chinese aviation units also joined in the night attacks - but they were flying La-9 and La-11 aircraft.
In November-December 1950, the Chinese and Koreans began forming the "Unified Air Forces" (OVA). Dominated by the Chinese, command of the OVA was therefore given to Chinese General Lu Chien. On 10 June 1951, the Korean Air Forces numbered 136 aircraft and 60 well-trained pilots. In December of that year, they commenced combat operations in MiG-15 equipped fighter divisions (those of commanders Fan Tsuan and Si Buan). A bit later on, at the end of December, they were unified with a PLA aviation division (only one) as part of the Soviet 324th IAD, with whom they flew into combat. Then, when the Koreans felt they could operate independently, without support from their "Big Friends", they were not very eager to join in battle with the enemy. By the end of 1952, the number of divisions had been increased to three, of which two belonged to the OVA. At that time, a order from Kim Il Sung dated 30 December 1952 "On Strengthening Our Defensive Position" read as follows: "...Aviation units are to forcefully complete their flight training and in three months be ready to participate in combat operations in squadron size formations, continue to conduct reconnaissance and maneuvering raids, and improve the tactics of the Air Forces..."
As a fully function combat force, even by the middle of 1953 the KPAFAC was still not completely ready. The main workload for the air battles in the skies over Korea lay upon the Russians and the Chinese pilots. As one can understand after reading the memoirs of the Soviet participants in that war, there were few North Korean pilots, and teaching them was difficult, particularly since they spoke neither Russian or Chinese. In their own recollections, the Koreans (and not without some shouting) simply claimed that they stayed out of combat in order to ensure that they retained their "nationalist cadres".(6)
Not being in a great hurry, the "Great Peoples' Combat Leader", Kim Il Sung, organized an air defense system. In mid 1951, he held an interview with the leadership of the PLA "On Strengthening Air Defense", but at the same time, further negotiations did not move forward. The fact of the matter is that the brunt of the air defense of the DPRK fell to the Soviet units, as the Koreans and Chinese only played an auxiliary role in supporting the effort up until the end of the war. And they did want and get an air defense, but only one corresponding to their input.
Apparently the only air defense subunits created by order of Kim Il Song on 2 December 1950 were the "aircraft hunter riflemen". The idea put forward by the "Great Leader" was based on each infantry regiment creating a platoon designated to combat enemy aircraft via their organic weapons - using either tripod mounted machine guns or light machine guns to cables strung across valleys and vertical supports to trap the closing aircraft.As assured in Northern propaganda, several of these groups (for example, that led by Hero of the DPRK Yu Gi Ho) used these methods to destroy between three and five enemy aircraft! No matter whether the reader feels these are viable means or not, the fact remains that the "hunter-riflemen" remained massed at the front and did cause the UN pilots to shed more than a little blood.(7)
The summary results of the air war in Korea were as follows: the fighters of the 64th IAK shot down 1,097 aircraft; the antiaircraft units of the 64th IAK claimed another 212;(8) OVA fighters claimed 271; and PLA ground forces, another 1,284 aircraft.(9) For that reason, UN aviation lost 2,864 aircraft. Our own losses: 64th IAK, 120 pilots and 335 aircraft; 64th IAK antiaircraft units, 68 killed,165 wounded, and one gun and one searchlight destroyed; and the OVA, 135 pilots and 231 aircraft shot down. Overall losses for the "Communist Forces" were 556 aircraft. The North Koreans, in their own assessment, assure us that "The Indomitable and Heroic Korean Peoples' Army" destroyed 5,729 aircraft in the course of the war, damaged 6,484, and captured 11 as trophies; but as to their own losses, they have been as silent with us as well as with the Chinese. (10)
There is information which identifies DPRK aces (e.g. those pilots who shot down four or five of the enemy's aircraft). For example, Hero of the DPRK Kim Gi Ok was recorded to have racked up six victories even in the first months of the war. But, as can be seen, when one enters the "Gallery of Heroes" in Pyongyang's "Museum of the National-Liberation Fatherland War 1950-53" nearly all of the portraits which hang there are of infantrymen and artillerists; there are a few tanks, but next to zero sailors or pilots. And this is in the DPRK - a country where the number of awards to inspire the spirit of the population are the highest in the world!
On the day that the ceasefire was signed - 27 July 1953 - the North Korean aviation still had low combat skills, but their size had been greatly increased.(11) Various experts have estimated their numbers at 350-400 aircraft, which included at least 200 MiG-15s. All of these were based on Chinese territory, since prewar airfields in North Korea had been destroyed and during the course of the war had not been reestablished. The Chinese Volunteer Corps was withdrawn from the DPRK and control of the 38th Parallel turned over to the units of the KPA. A deep reorganization of all of the arms of service of the North Korean Army was begun, which was accompanied by a wider fielding of new military equipment provided by the USSR.
For the Air Forces, there was a driving speed to build tens of airfields which were connected as a single air defense network along the 38th Parallel by radar stations, VNOS (ground air observer) posts, and communications lines. The "Front Line" (as the demarcation line between the forces has been referred to by the DPRK up until the present time) and major cities were completely covered by air defense artillery. In 1953, there was a complete conversion of the KPAFAC to jet aircraft: over the next three years, the USSR and China transferred a large number of MiG-15s to them. Even by the end of the war, the first Il-28 bombers had been given to them, in time for the first ten aircraft to take part in the "Victory Parade" over Pyongyang on 27 July 1953.
Military aviation continued to undergo major organizational changes - the Air Defense Forces (PVO) were separated from the Air Forces, as were Army and Naval Aviation.
The Air Defense Forces included subordinate staffs for aerial target acquisition, antiaircraft artillery, and fighter aviation.
Naval Aviation included several fighter squadrons, which were tasked with covering the primary ports, and a small number of Il-28 bombers which could be used for naval reconnaissance and maritime strike efforts.
Since 1953, Army Aviation has included all civil aviation in the DPRK, which was particularly voluminous during the immediate postwar years, when the road network and railroads had not been restored. Beside the old Po-2 and Li-2 aircraft, Army Aviation included the An-2, Il-12, and Yak-12. According to unsubstantiated data, the North Koreans used these aircraft in 1953-54 to drop its agents into the South. These Army Aviation aircraft did not drop them by parachute, but made secret landings in South Korea itself. One of these An-2 aircraft, completely painted black, was captured during one of these operations by the South Korean security service and is on display at the present time in their military museum exposition.
Likewise, the South Korean Air Forces were actively involved in inserting their spies into the DPRK. In one of their successful operations, which received a great deal of cooperation from the Americans, was "MiG Hunt". On 21 September 1953, North Korean Senior Lieutenant Kim Sok No received a medal and the award of $100,000 US for turning his MiG-15bis over to the South. This was greatly appreciated by the Americans, who until that time had only had pieces of destroyed MiGs to examine, and the aircraft received thorough testing on Okinawa and then in the US.
In general, the lines of demarcation, whether on the ground or in the air, still saw a nearly continuous firing across them; nearly a hundred such incidents have occurred since the early 1950s. The most frequently quoted episode in literature took place on 2 February 1955 over the Sea of Japan. At that time, eight North Korean MiG-15 aircraft unsuccessfully attempted to intercept an American RB-45 Tornado reconnaissance aircraft which was photographing the coastal areas of the DPRK while under the protection of 16 USAF F-86 Sabres As a result of the engagement, the North Koreans lost two aircraft, and the American losses were nil. Another scandalous incident took place on 7 November 1955, when an officially authorized UN flight of an An-2 carrying Polish observers along the DMZ was shot down by the South Koreans. The official answer was that it was mistakenly shot down by the Southerners.
At the XXth Congress of the CPSU in 1956, the international lexicon was expanded by the introduction of the term "The cult of personality". In the world Communist movement, there was a deep division between the pro- and anti-Stalinist supporters. In the DPRK, at the IIIrd Congress of the Korean Workers' Party, it was with disapproval that they noted "The cumulative searches for anti-party counter-revolutionary factions and revisionists" began with a grandiose purge that thinned out the Party ranks. At that time, the term Chu Che (self reliance) was heard for the first time (the idea of building a separate brand of Socialism in Korea without any support from external forces). In North Korea, the Soviets, as well as the Chinese, see that the idea for this plan is insufficiently supported. Nevertheless, while there was no interruption in the receipt of new armaments for their Armed Forces from either the USSR or the PRC, but there was a simultaneous questioning of the repression of the most literate military and technical specialists from the educated members of the population in socialist countries.
The strengthening of the armed forces had gone to full speed in 1956: a complete navy was formed, the organizational structure of the Air Forces was completed, and the Army began modernization. For armament, they received the first tens of MiG-17F fighters and Mi-4 and Mi-4PL helicopters. In 1958, the Koreans received the MiG-17PF fighter interceptor from the USSR. On 6 March 1958, a pair of American T-6A training aircraft flying along the "Front Lines" were shot at by antiaircraft artillery, and then attacked by MiGs. One of the Texans was shot down and its crew killed. The North Koreans asserted that the Americans were "preparing to make an intelligence flight..."
In 1959, Kim Il Sung solemnly proclaimed the "Victory of Chu Che Socialism" and named himself as the leader who would bring Communism to the Korean people! But in South Korea, at that time local "leftists", supported by the agents of the North, had fought with the former Singman Ree government, which hadcompletely lost their influence over the situation. This set up things so that in 1960 South Korean generals saved the country, espousing the "ideals of democracy" and called upon the USA to assist them in a complete military turnaround, sharply suppressed organized opposition in the country, and set up the conditions which would lead to the "economic juggernaut". American forces in South Korea received tactical nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them - the Sergeant, Honest John, and Lance missiles, and somewhat later, the Pershing. The South Korean Army, together with the US 7th Infantry Division which was deployed in the South, began to train for combat operations under the conditions of the use of weapons of mass destruction. In the early 1960s, the South Koreans began building what they termed "reinforced concrete positions" along the 37th Parallel (reinforced firing steps, reinforced by not just conventional mine fields, but in some instances, nuclear munitions), which could rapidly be occupied and made operational in any instance of a sharp crisis with the DRPK. Nevertheless, the North Koreans, under the covering noise of resurveying their lines, turned themselves to building more powerful and more carefully concealed fortifications.
In 1961, a treaty on mutual aid and defense was signed by the USSR and the DPRK with a massive number of additional secret protocols, which have not been revealed even now. Under this treaty, in 1962 the KPAFAC began to receive the supersonic MiG-19S and the S-25 Berkut surface to air missile system; the KPA also received chemical aviation and artillery delivered munitions, and soldiers began receiving training in fighting battles under conditions of chemical and radiological contamination. After 1965, the North Korean aviation was rearmed again, this time with MiG-21F fighters and S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile complexes.
At the Vth Plenum of the Central Committee of the KWP in December 1962, Kim Il Sung declared a new course for conducting "parallel economic and defensive construction". This was predicated on measures which undertook the complete militarization of the economy, converted the entire country into a fortress, armed the entire nation (e.g. the entire population became military cadres), and modernized the army. This "new course" captured and held the entire life and policy of the DPRK until the present time: North Korea puts 25% of its gross national product into its armed forces.
In the 1960s and 1970s the KPAFAC became embroiled in an number of border conflicts and actions:
- On 17 May 1963 KPAFAC air defense ground elements fired on an American OH-23 helicopter, forcing it down on the territory of the DPRK;
- On 19 January 1967, South Korean patrol boat Number 56 was attacked by North Korean ships, and then sunk by MiG-21 fighters;
- On 23 January 1968, North Korean planes and ships attacked the US Navy auxiliary ship Pueblo, and then assaulted it with their own ships and landing craft; the ship was captured and taken to one of the naval bases in the DPRK;
- On 15 April 1969, the air defense missile forces of the DPRK attacked and shot down a USAF EC-121 four-engined reconnaissance aircraft;
- On 17 June 1977, North Korean MiG-21 fighters shot down an American CH-47 Chinook helicopter;
- On 17 December 1994, North Korean air defense ground elements shot down an American OH-58D helicopter, killing one pilot and capturing a second.
In all cases, the North Koreans assert that their attacks on aircraft, helicopters and ships were substantiated due to violations of North Korean air and sea space on spying missions, but the South Koreans and Americans flatly deny this. If they are correct, and remembering that in those years South Korean aircraft more than once violated the borders of the USSR (recall the Boeings which was shot down near Arkhangel'sk and over Sakahlin Island) then the position of the DPRK in these matters is more or less legally justified.
On their side, during this same period of time the South Koreans sank a pair of North Korean ships (which the North Koreans call "an act of vandalism" to this day, assuring that they were "unarmed trawlers") and more than once North Korean aircraft and helicopters have been caught violating South Korean airspace.
In the 1980s, the hopes by Pyongyang that a large-scale military conflict would break out between NATO and the countries of the Warsaw Pact in western Europe, thus permitting them a diversion so that they could assure its victory over South Korea, did not come to fruition. On the contrary, at the end of the 20th Century there was a mass crackup of the Communist regimes and the countries enjoying the "Friendship of the USSR". Nevertheless, there was no longer a USSR itself, and even "apologists for Communism" in Albania and Rumania, who had once avowed loyalty to their "big brothers". In the Far East, China and Vietnam also slowed down, but in truth have veered away from Marxist ideology. Not counting Cuba and several African countries, among whom are those negotiating with the West, there is no other country now in the early 1990s which remains as purely Communist other than the singular DPRK. Ignoring the loss of nearly all of their allies and increasing pressure on the part of the "free world" which nearly totally surround it, North Korea is still convinced of the ultimate victory of Communism which separates it from other countries.
They have supported their assurance up until now with what has to be one of the strongest armies in the world -- the KPA. True, the complete isolation of North Korea prevents foreign analysts to determine approximate assessments of the general condition of the country, and in paticular -- the technical level of the equipping of its armed forces. In this area, the DPRK and the KPA write a great deal, but very one sided assessments: one could say that the North Koreans are superior to their Soviet and Chinese friends in the areas of demonstrations and secrecy. Consider that the state propaganda is constantly reinforced -- the KPA is unbeatable, and that its invincible warriors and commanders are prepared to fight "one against a hundred". In this departure, one has to agree with American experts that "the North Koreans have obsolete weapons and technology, but exclusive of that they have a high fighting spirit; this is good training which induces iron discipline into their soldiers." Nevertheless, no one would disagree with the "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung at all of the party congresses when he would regularly give his marshals beratings for "loss of their vigilance, lack of combat spirit, and inducing peaceful thoughts into the forces."
The basic combat power of the Korean Peoples' Army remains its tens of thousands of artillery tubs and nearly 7,000 combat vehicles, running from obsolete T-55 and T-62 Soviet tanks and Chinese Type 59s to T-72M tanks, BMP-2s, and BTR-70s received in the 1980s. Part of the western experts are exceedingly optimistic as they feel that the antitank weapons of the South Koreans and the US troops deployed in Korea can "overcome the North Korean tank armada and turn it into the largest scrap heap in the world."
Nevertheless, regarding North Korean military aviation, American writers cheerfully assure all that "the KPAFAC is in even worse technical condition than the Iraqi air forces. All of their aircraft are elderly, and were first flown by their grandfathers. Today's pilots are poorly trained and they only average around seven flying hours per year. If they do succeed in making it into the air from their revetments, then they will soon be heading south where, in the tradition of the kamikaze, they will dive their aircraft into the first ground target that they encounter."
Even if you agree that the above pronouncement is 100% wrong, it is absolutely clear that the Soviet and Chinese produced technology which is in the arsenal of the KPAFAC is in the main formed of obsolete models and is of little value under the conditions of modern war, and the pilots, who have only been taught older methods and are limited by a terrible lack of fuel, do not have a great deal of experience. But note that the North Korean aircraft are secure in underground hangars, and they have a plethora of runways to choose from. With a complete lack of unit level light aviation transport and a small number of cargo aircraft, the DPRK built a great number of roads with reinforced concrete protection and steel reinforced concrete tunnels (for example, the Pyongyang-Wonsan highway) which in the case of war can also be used as military airfields. Drawing from that, one could assume that there would be an "exception" of those aircraft which succeed in avoiding a first strike, and anyone studying the mighty air defense system would have to think that there would be, considering that no less an authority than American intelligence assesses as "the most complete system of anti-missile and anti-aircraft defenses in the world."
The air defenses of the DPRK, in the opinion of western analysts, have deployed over 9,000 weapons into firing positions, ranging from light antiaircraft machine gun mounts to the most powerful guns in the world -- 100mm weapons -- as well as mobile ZSU-57-2 and ZSU-23-4 Shilka mounts. Beside that, there are more than 10.000 launchers for surface-to-air missiles - from the fixed S-25, S-75, and S-125 complexes and mobile Kub and Strela-10 systems to hand-held launchers, the "numbers of which cannot be put into words."
In regard to the KPAFAC, these by no means influence the fact that the once mighty forces have become eroded. True, even in the early 1990s more than 150 MiG-17 and 100 MiG-19 fighters remained in service (including Chinese Shengyang F-4 and F-6 corresponding models) as well as 50 Harbin H-5 bombers (the Chinese version of the Il-28 bomber) and 10 Su-7BMK fighter-bombers. But even as early as the 1980s their military aviation had begun to reequip with 150 MiG-21s from the USSR and received a lot of 60 MiG-23P interceptors and MiG-23ML frontal fighters, and 150 Chinese Q-5 "Fantan" fighter-bombers. Army aviation, which had only consisted of a score of Mi-4 helicopters, now received 10 Mi-2s and 50 Mi-24 helicopters. In May and June 1988, the DPRK received its first six MiG-29 fighters, and by the end of that year the rest of a lot of 30 of these aircraft had been delivered, along with 20 Su-25 assault aircraft. The continuous upgrade to their air forces even saw the addition of a score of American Hughes 500 helicopters, which were purchased via a third party country: they came without armament and were used for liaison and aerial observation.
Obsolete aviation technology (MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19) were given away in those years to "brother countries who are fighting the battle against world imperialism" - in the first order, Albania, and then Guinea, Zaire, Somalia, Uganda, and Ethiopia. In 1983 30 MiG-19s were sent to Iraq, which were used in the course of the Iran-Iraq War. These aircraft were deployed at Iraqi airfields as dummy targets and were used to attract enemy air strikes by the Multinational Forces during Operation "Desert Storm".
It must be stressed that civil aviaiton, as we know the term, still does not exist in the DPRK. Every flight made in that country, even if it delivers foodstuffs and medicine to outlying regions, as well as internal passenger flights or crop dusting, is carried out by aircraft which bear the markings of the military air forces. The basic park of these aircraft at the present time includes 200 An-2 biplanes and their Chinese analogues, the Y-5. Until the early 1980s, flights to "brother countries" were carried out by five Il-14 and four Il-18 transports, and then the aviation park of the DPRK received 12 An-24 (per other data, part of these aircraft were actually An-32 types), three
Tu-154B, and one "presidential" Il-62 transports; the latter was used by Kim Il Sung to make a number of official foreign visits. After the breakup of the USSR, the air fleet of North Korea received a number of civil aircraft, purchased for the SNG "Independent Aviation Company" - the largest of these were several Il-76 transports. In early 1995, the DPRK signed an international agreement for "Open Skies" which opened up its air space for passenger flights of foreign aviation companies. In concert with this, North Korean aircraft which were selected to make cross-border flights received civil aviation markings for the Choson Min Hang Aviation Company, but they were still manned and flown by military crews.
For training flyers, in the early 1990s they had 100 CJ-5 and CJ-6 propeller driven aircraft (Chinese modfications of the Yak-18), 12 L-39 jet trainers made in Czechoslovakia, and several tens of training models of the MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-29, and Su-25. It is completely natural to expect that training pilots on more modern types of aircraft requires a significantly higher average training time than "seven flight hours per year". These hours go, in the first rank, to those pilots from the elite 56th Guards and 57th Fighter Aviation Regiments, who are equipped with the MiG-23 and MiG-29 aircraft: these units are based close to Pyongyang and are tasked with providing air cover to the capital of the DPRK. A wealth of experience has been garnered by their instructors who have provided training to many countries of the "Third World".
One cannot forget the fact that the DPRK also has missiles of the "surface to surface" class of various types, many of which are produced in their own factories. As soon as he got North Korean built SCUD missiles, Saddam Hussein fired them at the Israelis and the Americans during the Persian Gulf Conflict. At that time the Americans shot down some with their new Patriot surface-to-air missile system, but they only succeeded in about 10% of missiles fired by the Iraqis, and that is ignoring the fact that Iraqi launches became fewer and fewer as the war progressed.
One could ponder how great the depth of American air defense means would be if the North Koreans somehow fired a massive missile strike across the 38th Parallel, followed by no less a massive aviation strike! And what would the difference be if they only shot down half of the obsolete North Korean aircraft, which have been placed in hiding for so long, if the second half of that aviation managed to strike their firing positions, command posts, and lines of communication - dropping those obsolete but still fully functional bombs and assaulting them with "cheap" unguided missiles and cannon fire?
A special danger to the US and South Korea arises from the DPRK nuclear program. This gives Pyongyang the capability to conduct negotiations from a position of which contemporary Russia can only dream. On the one hand, it gives the North Korean leadership a chance to take positions on a more incremental level, and gives the the international policies of the DPRK more reality.
Even a few years back American analysts predicted that "in the case of a new war, Pyongyang would be the victor, but only after a bloodbath which would destroy the entire peninsula." For that reason, the positions have stayed the same for over 40 years, which is pathetic. But at the same time, it is entirely clear that the Korean problem which was part of the "Cold War" will be solved by peaceful means. There are no other alternatives.
The author would like to thank Ten In Bom (Pyongyang) and Yu. Popov (Irkutsk) for their assistance in preparing this article.
The editors would like to thank Leonid Krylov and Yuriy Tepsurkayev for their help in working with these materials.
All photos personally provided by V. Morozov.
1. Kim Il Sung; "Writings" Volumes 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11. Foreign Language Publishing, DPRK, Pyongyang 1980
2. "The Indomitable Armed Forces - Heroes of the KPA" (Photo album) Korean Peoples' Army Publishing, DPRK, Pyongyang 1982
3. Mi En Rok, "Honoring the Leaders of the Blessed Victory", Korean Publishing, DPRK, Pyongyang, 1993
4. Ho Chong Ho, Kan Sok Hi, Pak The Ho; "The Imperialism of the USA Broke During the War in Korea", Foreign Language Publishing, DPRK, Pyongyang, 1993
5. "Museum of the Victory in the National Liberation Fatherland War 1950-53" (photo album), Korean Peoples' Army Publishing, Pyongyang 1979
6. Li Ching Gien, Li Ben Rer, "Military Demarcation Line In Korea", Foreign Language Publishing, DPRK, Pyongyang, 1991
7. Larry Davis, "Mig Alley (Air to Air Combat in Korea)", Squadron/Signal Publications 1978
8. Olaf Groener, "Der Korean Krieg (1950 bis 1953)", Militaerverlag der DDR, Berlin, 1980
9. David Hackworth, "The Second Korean War", Soldier of Fortune magazine (Russian edition), 5-1995 pp. 19-23
10. "War in Korea 1950-53", edited by A,P. Pokrovskiy, Moscow 1959
11. RGVA, F. 64th IAK, work 565836s, d. 1, "Historical notes on the 64th IAK", F. 64th IAK, work 174045ss, d. 186, "A Brief Analysis of Combat Operations of the 64th IAK in the Korean TMO"
12. RGVA, F. 16, work 3139, d. 15, "Writeup of the Combat Opeations of the 64th IAK and UAF"
Paint Schemes for Aircraft and Helicopters of the KPAFAC
As is correct, the North Korean air forces put their aircraft in their own color schemes, which were used for all aircraft and helicopters prepared for use in that country, and which were delineated by their own national insignia and side numbers.
Thus, the first aircraft used by the KPAFAC were delivered from the USSR in the standard colors of the Soviet VVS, with the fighters being an overall light grey and the ground attack aircraft, bombers, and transport aircraft in camouflage green over their upper parts and light blue on their undersides.
The MiG-15 jet aircraft delivered during the period of the Korean war were painted overall with a clear lacquer over its aluminum surfaces. The standard lacquer gave a gloss finish to the surfaces, but aircraft in some series were delivered with a matte lacquer (which reduced visibility in the air).The MiG-15bis aircraft were delivered with a semimatte "silver" lacquer paint coating.
These all receive new identification markings: a red five-pointed star on a white disk, surrounded by a red-white-blue ring; frequently, the background color was used instead of white (thus using only the red and blue parts of the insignia), particularly if the color was light grey, light blue, or silver; the white was used against a dark background (camouflage green). The markings were applied to the fuselage sides and undersides of the wings.
As part of the elements used for rapid identification, many MiGs had their noses and upper of the fin and rudder painted red. From 1952 on the majority of MiG-15 aircraft (both UAF and 64th IAK) were camouflaged. The very large number of variations in the application of these schemes were due in part to the particular terrain where the aircraft were based. The majority of these schemes consisted of irregular earth brown stripes applied over a green camouflage base color. Several La-11 and MiG-15 aircraft were painted with dark green bands which wrapped all the way around the aircraft's surfaces, and had bands of either unpainted silver or light grey in between them. Some MiGs were seen painted a sandy orange color. The fuselage in all these schemes was completely camouflaged, but the lower surfaces of the wings and tail were left either unpainted silver or light grey, based on the aircraft's original paint scheme. Fighters of the 64th IAK flew with North Korean markings, but the Chinese ones flew with Chinese markings.
From the moment that the war ended, and until the 1970s, practically all combat and transport aircraft of the DPRK have been painted a silver color, but the An-2s, trainers and helicopters were painted in camouflage green upper surfaces and light blue lower surfaces. The Chinese- produced aircraft came in a dark green camouflage color - a bit darker and a bit greener than the Soviet color (think about World War II Japanese camouflage colors). The exception to the rule were those An-2 aircraft designated for special secret missions over South Korea - they were completely painted a flat black color to include the white field on the national markings.
If at the beginning of the Korean War the side numbers of the aircraft were very carefully applied by hand, then since the mid 1950s they have been applied by stencil. These have fixed proportions: the colored ring around began with an even width, but now the proportion of red/white/blue is 2:1:3. The radius of the white background on the stencil is equal to the height of the star, and the width of the star is equal to the width of the white background.
Ultimately, the KPAFAC painted their aircraft in the same colors as the USSR, China, and the CSSR. Thus the MiG-21s of the last series and the MiG-23 aircraft were light grey, and the MiG-29, Su-25, Chinese Q-5, and the Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters used variated camouflage bands.
The An-24, Tu-154, Il-62 and Il-76 transports had silver-grey wings, which were separated from the fuselage, and the upper fuselage was white; the dividing strip between the two was a contrasting color - red or gloss blue split the top from the bottom, and the tail was marked with the national flag of the DPRK. Aircraft which were transferred to the state aviation company wore the silhouette of a crane inside a ring on their tails in dark red paint; on their fuselages they carried the name of the company (AIR KORYO) in Latin letters and Korean letters in blue paint, and the flag was moved to just behind the cockpit. - S. Uskov
1. Ten infantry divisions (1-6, 10, 12, 13,.15) of which four were just forming (4, 10, 13, 15); the 105th Tank Brigade:, the 603rd Motorized Regiment; an independent artillery regiment (12 x 122mm howitzers, 24 x 122mm guns); an independent antiaircraft regiment (24 x 37mm guns, 12 x 85mm guns, 30 x 12.7mm machine guns); an independent engineer-sapper regiment; and signal troops, all amounting to a total strength of 175,000 men 
2. By May 1950, 22 assault aircraft and 10 fighter pilots were ready for combat; another 151 were undergoing training, along with 17 aviation technicians. 120 pilots were trained, along with 60 aviation technicians and 67 armament specialists .
3. DPRK propaganda asserts, for example, that Tua Sen Hi followed a group of F-84s back to their airfield and severely damaged it. Since the F-84s were based at Taegu and Kunsan during that period of time, it would have been possible to get to their bases from Machuria - but not to return [Editors' comments]
4. In our observations, it is understandable to for the Americans to mistake a Yak-7 for a Yak-9, and in one case they may have correctly identified a Yak-15 (2/3 November 1952, at night), but as for the La-7, MBR-2, and F-86(!) claims, the Yankees should have known the material units better (Editors)
5. By the last ten days of August 1950, the KPAFAC consisted of 21 serviceable aircraft: 20 ground attack aircraft and only one fighter. They numbered 6 fighter pilots and 17 ground attack pilots available for duty. 
6. The 64th IAK had these statistics: total combat missions flown - 63,229; group day missions - 1,683, individual night missions - 107. The OVA: total combat missions flown - 22,300; group day missions - 366. During this, the maximum number of missions flown by the Koreans was 376. But the average was: 64th IAK - around 2500; OVA - 1520, and Koreans, 12. What happened to their material units? [Editors]
7. These "riflemen" and "cable layers" should not be made light of. They were reasonably effective. We have heard stories of how the cables were able to bring down ground attack aircraft when they were well laid above trafficability routes. As a point of fact, by admission of the Americans themselves, most of their aircraft losses in the immediate frontal area were from small arms fired from the ground. And our statistics support this as well. [Editors]
8. Amended by the editors 
9. Amended by the editors 
10. Per American data, the UN shot down 844 MiG-15 aircraft and 69 other machines for a total of 924 enemy aircraft. [Editors]
11. By our observation, at the end of the war the OVA had 892 aircraft: the PRC had 480, and the KPA 412, of which total 635 were MiG-15 fighters. These were divided up into seven aviation divisions. [Editors]