posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 10:04 AM
Google Earth: North Korean air power
Having been so enthusiastically received with my post on Iranian air power, I thought I’d share my look at the North Koreans. I wanted to see if
their air force really is as bad as people say it is. The populace are oppressed and poverty stricken to an extent few of us in the West can
comprehend, yet their leaders spend a huge chunk of their meager national budget on the armed forces. Let’s look at them through Google-Earth and
see how it compares with the popular defense estimates like Global Security and FAS.
Highlight: I have found evidence of Mil mi-26 Halo heavlift helicopters. These are not reported in Global Security/FAS/Scramble etc –
yet another ATS exclusive. I guess we should tell Scramble/Global Security etc.
Stock picture of Mil-26 Halo, the largest helicopter in the world:
Kaech'on AB, 39 44’N 125 54’E, is a MiG-17 (more specifically Chinese made F-5/FT-5) base with 31 of them lined up in plain sight. There
are also two MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters in a dispersal and what appear to be two SA-5 long-range SAMs occupying two more dispersals.
Onchon-up AB, 38 54' N 125 14' E, is reported to have two squadrons of MiG-29s based there but on the satellite imagery it is no more than an
aircraft parking lot with some 56 MiG-19 “Farmer” fighters, 28 MiG-15 (MiG-17?) “Fagot” fighters and a lone MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighter
Panghyon, 39 55' N 125 12' E, is apparently another MiG-17 base but I cannot see it clearly.
Pukchang AB, 39 30' N 125 58' E is particularly interesting and worth illustrating in great detail. Next to the runway numerous (32) MiG-21
“Fishbed” fighters and MiG-23 “Flogger” interceptors (25). As well as many very basic dispersals (mostly unoccupied), there are also several
clusters of hardened shelters but these are built in neat rows rather than dispersed. If there are MiG-29 “Fulcrum” fighters at the base as
generally thought, these may be in the shelters. To the south east of the runway there is a helicopter field with Mi-8 “Hip” transport
helicopters, (x13), Mi-26 “Halo” heavy transport helicopters (x4) – These are not reported as in service with North Korea!!???! – and
Hughes MD-500 light helicopters (x13).
Sunchon AB, 39º 24' N 125º 53' E, is an Su-25 “Frogfoot“ attack plane base. As well as 18 Frogfoots, there are 17 MiG-21 “Fishbed”
fighters there, seemingly in storage. The larger hill to the east of the base has some sort of underground complex in it accessed by road (entrance on
north east side). The hill to the north east is fortified. The base is dotted with clearly visible trenchwork.
Uiji AB, 40 08' N 124 29' E, right on the Chinese border, is an H-5 (Chinese copy of Il-28 “Beagle”) light bomber base with a total of 45
in evidence (note, two separate satellite passes so some may be duplications). Although some are in crude dispersals, most are neatly lined up on the
airfield. There are also 19 MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters near the dispersals although all of these look to be in storage.
Orang AB, 41 27' N 129 39' E, cannot be seen clearly. It is apparently another H-5 base. Hwangsuwon AB, 40 41' N 128 08' E, an A-5
“Fantan“ base, cannot be seen clearly. Same story at Toksan AB, 39 59' N 127 38' E and Kwail 38 25' N 125 01' E.
Wonsan, 39 09' N 127 29' E is a large base on the east coast of North Korea. There are 13 MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters lined up near the
main runway and another 3-5 in pieces elsewhere. There are also some 46 MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters in the open (look in built up area to west also)
and a few unidentified aircraft. To the north there appears to be a camp, and to the west along the shoreline a small naval base with a few small
Hyonni AB, 38 37' N 127 27' E is visible but no aircraft are to be seen. There are fewer trenches here than at other bases but there are two
comparatively well concealed hardened shelters at each end of the runway. It’s a similar story at Taetan 38 08' N 125 14' E.
Hwangju AB, 38 39' N 125 47' E. 19 MiG-21 “Fishbed“ fighters are lined up along the west end of the very long runway and a further 21 are
hidden in the hulls to the south east of the base. There are 5 MiG-17s also dotted around including three next the runway. The usual obsession
with digging trenches prevails.
Koksan AB, 38 41' N 126 36' E. A MiG-21 “Fishbed“ base, with 20 examples on the flightline and a further 16 at the east end of the runway
seemingly in storage. There are also a pair of MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters (possibly trainers) and 4 MiG-21, 10 MiG-19 and 3 MiG-17 aircraft hidden
away to the south of the base.
Pyongyang International Airport 39 01' N 125 51' E is the most sorry excuse of a capital air port I have ever seen. It may be a case of
mistaken identity – not a single aircraft can be seen here and there is no apparent maintenance facility or even an obvious terminal building.
Sondok AB, 39 45' N 127 28' E, is a transport base with many light aircraft (possibly An-2 “Colt” biplane transports) and some Y-5s
(Chinese copy of C-47 Dakota WW2 transport).
Taechon AB, 39 54' N 125 30' E, despite ironically displaying the most orderly utilization of dispersals, is an An-2 „Colt“ transports
base with many on site. I found another light aviation field at 39 47’19 N 127 31’51 E.
Interesting air defense position at Hyesan 41 22' N 128 12' E. There is a partially-metalled grass strip to the north east:
The North Koreans also seem to like carving fake dispersals into the hills, possibly as targets although given the proximity to some of their air
bases, these are probably amateurish attempts at decoys. A good example is at 38 27’32 N 124 57’29E. Generally the whole country is pockmarked
with trenches and dug-in positions. Whilst some of these may be the scars of the Korean war; they are too numerous to be wholly accounted for as such.
The answer is that the whole country is a fortress of great size but pathetic efficiency.
Also worth a look: Not strictly air power related but the military observer might be interested to see the naval base at 38 35’35N 124
58’24E which has three Romeo Class submarines and 6 Midget submarines in evidence. There are several other naval bases nearby such as 38 30’14N
North Korea is every bit as militarily backward as popularly thought. Aside from their nuclear aspirations, the air force itself is impotent and would
be hard pushed to offer any serious vie for air superiority. I was disappointed to not see any MiG-29 “Fulcrum” fighters but given the relatively
few (and poorly placed) hardened shelters these probably wouldn’t fare any better on the ground than their older siblings. The most obviously potent
combat aircraft in service is the Su-25 but these lack hardened shelters and without friendly air superiority would be relatively easy targets. The
North Koreans seem obsessive about digging trenches but in reality the defenses at these bases are antiquated.
[edit on 15-6-2006 by planeman]