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

Alon Levkowitz, Noam Hartoch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 aren’t occurring in the traditionally technical air and air
defense forces. Plagued with aging airframes, technical problems, parts
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, air defense and early warning capabilities, aircraft
acquisition, and aircraft production. Shortfalls in each of these areas
caused Pyongyang to develop, test, and operate an increasingly
sophisticated drone fleet. While North Korea won’t be able to build a
state-of-the-art aircraft industry, it will nonetheless find creative ways to
strengthen its air force capabilities.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)92-108
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of KOREAN STUDIES
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • North Korea, South Korea, United States, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Russia, China, New Zealand, Poland, Air Koryo, air defense, early warning, acquisition, production, drones


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