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North Korean Air Force Conducts Drills as the United States Deploys its Third Aircraft Carrier to the Peninsula

North Korea’s air force, officially the Korean People’s Army Air Force (KPAAF), has conducted medium sized exercises to demonstrate its cσmbat capabilities amid simmering tensions with the United States and neighbouring South Korea. The fleet consists primarily of third, fourth and heavily upgraded second generation fighters, including large numbers of MiG-23, MiG-21, J-7 and MiG-29 multirole fighters and Su-25 attack fighters. The country’s fleet is among the largest in the world, surpassed only by the United States, Russiα, China and India.

While their fighters may be somewhat lacking compared in their capabilities compared to the most capable air superiority platforms such as the U.S. F-15 Eagle or F-22 Raptor, KPAAF pilots typically have over 2000 flight hours and have proven lethal in previous conflicts – engaging the U.S., South Korean and Israeli Air Forces in the Korean, Vietnam and Yom Kippur wαrs.

With over 700 cσmbat aircraft in service, many of them operating from hardened emplacements including airfields reportedly dug into mountains, engaging the North Korean Air Force over the country’s territory would prove an extremely difficult task for even the most capable of adversaries.

Combined with the country’s extensive surface to air missile deployments, the KPAA’s fighter fleet could well prove highly effective both in denying enemy aircraft access to the country’s airspace and in conducting retaliatory strikes. The Air Force’s inability to acquire more modern fighters, namely the Russiαn Su-35 air superiority fighters which North Korea reportedly sought to purchase in the early 2010s, has meant that significant funds have been left available for modernisation of existing fighters.

Equipping the country’s older fighters with modern air to air missiles and radar systems is one effective means of enhancing the service’s overall aerial warfare capabilities. Modern air launched missiles operating in coordination with the country’s airborne early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft or even with ground based radars is another means for the KPAAF to gain effective beyond visual range cσmbat capabilities despite the age of the majority of its fighters.