October 1991

Chapter 5A

Air Force

The North Korean Air Force's primary mission is air defense of the homeland. Secondary missions include tactical air support to the Army and the Navy, transportation and logistic support, and insertion of special operations forces.

Organization and Disposition

Interceptor, ground-attack, transport, attack helicopter, and transport helicopter regiments are formed from 830 jet combat aircraft, about 300 helicopters, and 80,000 personnel. North Korean airbases are throughout the country, but the majority are in the southern provinces. Pyongyang can protect all combat aircraft in hardened shelters.

Weapons and Equipment

North Korea produces no aircraft. Its inventory, though large, consists of many aircraft manufactured using 1950s and 1960s Soviet or Chinese technology. However, in the 1980s the Soviet Union supplied some all-weather air defense and ground-attack aircraft.

Interceptor aircraft are an integral part of North Korea's air defense network, which includes surface-to-air missiles and many mobile and fixed antiaircraft guns. Interceptors fly combat air patrol missions to protect North Korean coastlines, military installations, and key urban areas. The MiG-23/FLOGGERs and MiG-29/FULCRUMs are the most modern interceptors in the inventory. However, the backbone of the Air Force remains the MiG-21. North Korea has 120 MiG-21/FISHBEDS and 60 MiG-19/FARMERS. The MiG-21s have 23-mm cannons and AA-2/ATOLL heat-seeking air-to-air missiles.

North Korea's air defense significantly improved in 1985 when the Soviet Union began supplying the first of the 46 MiG-23/FLOGGER interceptors. This l973-vintage all-weather interceptor carries either the AA-2/ATOLL or possibly the more capable AA-7/APEX missile.

Until the MiG-29/FULCRUMs arrived in 1988, the MiG-23/FLOGGERs were North Korea's most modern aircraft. The FULCRUM, an all-weather, counterair fighter, entered service in the Soviet Union in 1985. Equipped with a look-down shoot-down radar, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles, and close-in dogfight missiles, it represents the Soviets' best effort to close the technology gap with the West.

Most ground-attack regiments have Soviet and Chinese light bombers and fighters with technology from the 1950s and 1960s. The Air Force has three regiments of Il-28/BEAGLEs, one regiment of Su-7/FITTERs, five regiments of MiG-15/FAGOTs and MiG-17/FRESCOs, and two regiments of MiG-19/FARMERs. The 82 Il-28/BEAGLEs are medium-range bombers with a radius of 550 nautical miles and a bomb load of 1,000 kilograms. Other attack aircraft include about 100 MiG-19/FARMERs and Chinese versions of the MiG-19 modified for ground attack. These older aircraft can operate only in daylight and good weather and carry much smaller bomb loads. The Air Force has 20 Su-7/FITTERs, ground-attack fighters that entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1961.

Pyongyang recently modernized its ground-attack capabilities by importing Su-25/FROGFOOT aircraft from the Soviet Union. North Korea probably is forming a new regiment with these aircraft. Su-25/FROGFOOT deliveries began in 1988, with 10 aircraft transferred and 10 more in 1989. The Su-25 is a late-1970s aircraft currently in service with the Soviet Air Force. All-weather capable, it has a combat radius of 300 nautical miles and can carry up to 5,000 kilograms of bombs and rockets. Soviet forces used the Su-25 in Afghanistan for close air support in coordination with helicopter gunships. These aircraft will target airfields, surface-to-surface missile and surface-to-air missile sites, headquarters, and other military targets in the initial stages of a surprise attack.

During the 1980s, the North Korean armed forces substantially increased their helicopter inventory from 40 to 275. Helicopters in service include Mi-2/HOPLITEs, Mi-4/HOUNDs, and Mi-8/HIPs.

In 1985, North Korea circumvented US export controls to buy 87 US-manufactured Hughes helicopters. These helicopters are considerably more advanced than those Pyongyang received from the Soviets. Although the North Koreans have civilian versions, they probably have modified some of them to carry guns and rockets. South Korea produces this helicopter under US license for its armed forces. If made to look like South Korean aircraft, Pyongyang could use them in covert operations or to confuse South Korean air defenses.

The transport fleet has some 1950s- and 1960s-vintage Soviet transports, including more than 250 An-2/COLT light transports and 10 An-24/COKEs.

The Air Force has at least 6 regiments of An-2/COLTs and at least 6 regiments of attack and transport helicopters. The An-2, a 1948-vintage single-engine biplane can carry up to 10 combat troops and cruise at 160 kilometers per hour. It is a threat because it can deliver troops behind enemy lines by flying at low altitudes and slow speeds to avoid radar detection.

Air Defense

North Korean operational thinking reflects both Soviet doctrine and North Korean experiences with heavy bombing during the Korean war: it relies heavily on air defense. North Korea houses military industries, aircraft hangars, repair facilities, ammunition, fuel stores, and even air defense missiles underground or in hardened shelters.

The North deploys over 8,000 antiaircraft guns; combined with SA-2, SA-3, and SA-5 and handheld SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, and hand-held SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, these guns provide one of the world's most dense air defense networks. In the mid-l980s, the Soviet Union supplied SA-3/GOA surface-to-air missiles to North Korea. The SA-3 provides short-range defense against low-flying aircraft or helicopters. In l987, the Soviet Union provided SA-5/GAMMON surface-to-air missiles to Pyongyang. Designed for high-altitude targets, these missiles have the longest range in the Soviet surface-to-air missile inventory.

The SA-2/GUIDELINE system provides medium-range, medium-altitude protection as a point defense for cities and military airfields and as a barrier defense along the Demilitarized Zone. The SA-3/GOA provides short-range, low-altitude defense for major cities. The SA-5/GAMMON allows long-range defense.

At the national level, air defense is the responsibility of the Air Defense Command, which probably is collocated with Air Force Headquarters in Pyongyang. Subordinate to the Air Defense Command are three sector commands organized to control surface-to-air missiles, interceptor aircraft, and air defense artillery units.

The southern sector is responsible for monitoring the border with South Korea and the southernmost areas along both the east and west coasts. In l987, Pyongyang upgraded its warning capability and surface-to-air missiles in the southern sector by deploying new early warning radars and SA-5/GAMMON missiles.

The northwestern sector covers the west coast from the southern sector to the border with China, including Pyongyang. The northeastern sector extends up the east coast from its boundary with the southern sector to the border with the Soviet Union.

Special Forces Operations

North Korea's Special Operations Forces, among the largest in the world, are organized into 22 brigades and 7 independent battalions. These forces have five basic missions: conducting reconnaissance, performing combat operations in concert with conventional operations, establishing a second front in the enemy's rear area, countering the South's special operations in North Korean rear areas, and maintaining internal security.

The Ministry of the People's Armed Forces has two primary commands that control special operations units --- the Reconnaissance Bureau and the Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau. North Korea classifies its special operations units as reconnaissance, light infantry, or sniper. Team-sized elements conduct reconnaissance to collect intelligence or targeting information. Light infantry operations are combat operations conducted with company- or battalion-sized units against military, political, or economic targets. Sniper operations basically are the same as light infantry except they are conducted in team-sized units.

The North Korean Air Force supports special operations missions with airborne infiltration and resupply operations. The primary aircraft are the 250 An-2/COLTs. The North Korean Navy supports amphibious operations, sea infiltration, and resupply. The principal vessel for amphibious operations is the NAMPO personnel landing craft. Minisubmarines and semisubmersible insertion landing craft support most agent missions.

North Korea's Special Operations Forces perform operations at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Basically, strategic operations support national or ministerial objectives, operational operations support corps objectives, and tactical operations support maneuver divisions and brigades.

The Special Operations Forces' strategic mission is to support national and Ministry of the People's Armed Forces objectives with reconnaissance, sniper, and agent operations. Strategic reconnaissance ascertains enemy intentions, develops targeting information, conducts poststrike assessments, and assesses the potential reactions of the South Korean civilian and military populaces. Sniper missions include attacking critical nodes, such as special weapon delivery systems and storage facilities; command, control, and communications facilities of combined field command and higher; and air and air defense facilities. In addition, snipers assassinate, kidnap, and interrogate key personnel to hinder allied operations and lower morale.

The operational mission of the Special Operations Forces is to support corps objectives with reconnaissance, sniper, and light infantry operations. Operational reconnaissance ascertains enemy intentions; develops targeting information for SCUDs, FROGs, and long-range artillery; conducts poststrike assessments; and determines the status of lines of communication, choke points, and reserve locations. Sniper missions include attacking critical nodes, such as special weapon delivery systems and storage facilities; combined field command and corps command, control, and communications facilities, air and air defense facilities; port facilities; and major lines of communication networks. Light infantry units will concentrate on attacking division and higher command posts, capturing key terrain to assist in maneuvering corps, and locating and destroying South Korean reserve forces.

The Special Operations Forces' general tactical mission is to support maneuver division and brigade objectives with light infantry operations. The organic reconnaissance company of the maneuver unit performs tactical reconnaissance. The reconnaissance company and light infantry battalion develop targets for destruction. These targets include enemy command, control, and communication facilities; air and air defense sites; force concentrations; artillery positions; and lines of communication.

Light infantry units concentrate on attacking brigade and division command posts, capturing key terrain to assist in maneuvering the divisions or brigades, and locating and destroying South Korean reserve forces.

Reserve Forces

Successful Chinese guerrilla warfare and lessons learned from the Korean war shape the North's military planning. Pyongyang determined an inadequate reserve force for homeland defense was a critical deficiency during the Korean war. Therefore, Kim Il-song has created a reserve of over 5 million personnel. North Korea can mobilize its nonregular military in a short time. Mobilization is exercised in all aspects, from resource callups to evacuations.

Mobilized personnel will join combat and local defense units and serve as replacements. All reserve personnel receive annual training, and personnel discharged from the Army between ages 25 and 28 must perform military service in the reserves until they are 45.

Officers on active- or reserve-duty status direct most reserve training. Some civilians receive military training in organized factory groups and administrative regions. University students receive up to 3 hours of military training a week and often participate in field exercises. The North Korean government has organized Red Guard Youth units at high school and other units at advanced technical schools and colleges.

The quality of military training and the soldiers' endurance, military discipline, and party dedication support the government's conviction that the country is indeed a military fortress.

Security Forces

The Ministry of Public Security controls the estimated 115,000 public security personnel. These people maintain law and order in addition to enforcing party control and economic discipline. Personnel perform regular police duties, such as civilian control, government facility security, and transportation system security. Though not assigned a strictly military mission, the security forces could perform a limited military role.