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A closer look at North Korea

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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 parked up.

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 craft.

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 124 51’53E.

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]

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 10:23 AM
Excellent work planeman..nice find on the Mi-26 Halos.

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 11:19 AM
I can't edit the original report because it is so long but I have some additions. This is quite interesting actually.

Addition 1: Fake air base near Koksan AB. A couple of miles east of Koksan (see above) there is decoy air base complete with fake planes. The aircraft themselves are poor imitations and do not reflect any known North Korean types -.i.e. instead of building decoy MiG-21s, they've built decoy made-up plane types. Worse still the decoys are inconsistent among themselves although two resemble F-5 Tiger II fighters which ironically are a South Korean type. This raises the possibility that some of the aircraft counted at other bases are fakes and at least one fake can be seen at Koksan AB proper (extreme east end of runway, note the different wings...). It could be a target airfield but that is unlikely since there are no bomb craters and it is aligned with the real air base.

At this point I really am scratching my head. The North Korean military seems intellectually challenged as well as militarily.

Addition 2: Examples of defensive positions. North Korea is littered with defensive positions, mostly infantry trenches. This example is particularly clear:

And in this one you can just make out what appears to be the barrel of a gun (circled). It may be a tank (probably T-55 or T-62) or maybe a 57mm AAA.

Addition 3:Lesser reported fighter base found. At 38 51 50 N 157 24 58 E there is a fighter base with eight hardened shelters and various trenches and dispersals. No aircraft are seen in the open. The hills to the east are heavily entrenched. I believe this to be Kuupri AB from which some defense analysts suggest North Korea would launch the first wave of the assault using outdayed MiG-17 fighters - a tactic to saturate Southern aor defences and use up their missiles before the main wave of su-25 and MiG-21s sweeps south.

[edit on 15-6-2006 by planeman]

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 11:32 AM
Judging by the North Korean obsession with burying everything underground i wonder how many airfield facilities they have that are hidden into hills and mountain sides to avoid satellite imagery ?

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 11:34 AM
As always, great findings planeman!

cant wait to explore it further myself

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 11:36 AM
Great work, planeman! I always found it tough to find these facilities on Google Earth, but I guess all one has to do is look hard enough...

Another thing you have to consider about the KPAAF is that due to fuel shortages, the pilots rarely get any significant flying time. The fuel shortages also mean that in a war, they won't be able to fly much at all.

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 11:39 AM
Just a suggestion, but someone could have a quick google-earth look at South Korean air defences such as air bases etc and report back with a few choice screen shots. I could do it myself but I don't want to steal all the attention. I would guess that the South Korean defences are a thousand times more credible and would make interesting comparison.

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 11:42 AM

Originally posted by planeman
Just a suggestion, but someone could have a quick google-earth look at South Korean air defences such as air bases etc and report back with a few choice screen shots. I could do it myself but I don't want to steal all the attention. I would guess that the South Korean defences are a thousand times more credible and would make interesting comparison.

I'll get right to it.

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 12:09 PM
Back. I'm not sure why this is, but ROK actually doesn't have much HD imagery of its military facilities like DPRK does. This is all I was able to get, which is no problem, since there are no real surprises.

Kunsan Air Base

No surprise here. F-16s, whether these are U.S. or ROK, is unknown.

There are a lot of these HAS lying around in the ROK, although I have to wonder how much protection they'd be against a surprise artillery and missile attack.

Can't tell what kind of helicopter it is. Resembles a Black Hawk, but not sure.

Osan Air Base

American A-10s, for sure. These will come in handy when trying to stave off a DPRK invasion.

Again, no real surprises when it comes to the ROK. Their defensive measures are very straightforward, although this has more to do with the fact that unlike the militaristic-yet-primitive DPRK, the heavily-industrialized ROK has no real need or space for any elaborate defenses. I have to question their air defense capability on the ground, however.

[edit on 15-6-2006 by sweatmonicaIdo]

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 12:29 PM

I'm very impressed - well done!

I'd certainly like to know your technique for determining the MIG-17 fresco fighters at Kaech'on...or is that a secret

I'm not sure if you've read Richard Branson's autobiography but it had an interesting bit of info about North Korea:

Basically, when he was flying his high-altiture balloons, there were many countries who were not happy or either refused him airspace clearance (China, Russia and Iran for example), however North Lorea said "no problems" when requested by him.

Certainly make's you wonder why they're so transparent when you consider the fact that they have been labelled as one of the "axis of evil" members

Keep up the good work.



posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 12:55 PM

Originally posted by jumpspace
I'd certainly like to know your technique for determining the MIG-17 fresco fighters at Kaech'on...or is that a secret

well spotted - I think they may actually be MiG-19 (F-6) fighters. It's damn difficult to say but on looking around the area more, I've found about 16 more and at least some of these are definatly MiG-19s not MiG-17s. If you have google earth look at 39 44 42 N 125 52 48 E to see what I mean.

I wanted to edit my original post but I can't. Here's the revised illustration:

[edit on 15-6-2006 by planeman]

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 01:18 PM

You have already voted for planeman this month.


Anyway, Good job again!

This is most definitly the type of work that sets ATS apart, if only I could think of a country to tackle my self.

I have a few in mind that I can analyze, thanks for the inspiration! great work on the indentification.

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 03:09 PM
Here is my contribution:

According to Globalsecurity.. there should be a "Minor millitary Airbase" designated "A511"

Location: 36.961 127.034 (app. 20 km sw of Osan)

i checked the location, and i must say i was a bit supprised by the extend of the base and its equitment. My first thought was, that it could be a US airbase. I checked it and my conclusion is that the nearest US airbase is at least 20-25 km. from this location ( Camp Humphreys ) .. Please correct me if im wrong

Lets take a look at the shots.

9 Transport helicopters.. i would say theese looks like CH-47 Chinook

I dont know what kind of helicopters theese are, but 2 more Chinooks to the right

More helicopters of the same kind....

The only visible(as i could see) combat aircraft.. looks like a figther?.. but they sure have more shelters for further firepower

One of several depots arround the airfield with alot military equitment.. any suggestions regarding which kind?

In the northern part of the base there seems to be non military transportations

Enjoy the hunt

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 07:06 PM
99.9% sure that those mystery helicopters at the South Korean base are Blackhawks. The larger helicopters are definately Chinooks.

The South Korean bases are indeed better equiped with HAS etc.

[edit on 15-6-2006 by planeman]

posted on Jun, 15 2006 @ 11:38 PM

Did you look at my stuff? Since you just mentioned HAS, I was wondering if you read my query in my post about the protection HAS would offer against artillery and possibly missile attacks.

posted on Jun, 16 2006 @ 12:56 AM
Very great thread! Also, I think that the big white plane on the last picture is a C-130...

posted on Jun, 16 2006 @ 03:59 AM
Some Apache's (presumably AH-64A's) are also visible.

The white plane is definitly not a C-130, it looks like some sort of jet transporter to me, possibly for personnel.

posted on Jun, 16 2006 @ 04:37 AM
Re the white plane is it me or does it have a T-tail to it ? Possibly a US Army Dash-7 used for recon missions.

posted on Jun, 16 2006 @ 08:19 AM

Originally posted by sweatmonicaIdo

Did you look at my stuff? Since you just mentioned HAS, I was wondering if you read my query in my post about the protection HAS would offer against artillery and possibly missile attacks.

HAS are excellent protection against artillery, cluster munitions and most missiles. They are weak to precision-guided-bombs IF those bombs are accurately targeted at weak spots like air ducts etc, or if the bombs are "bunker busters".

Generally we are seeing four generic forms of defenses at air bases worldwide:

1. Dispersal - when aircraft are stored apart to minimize the risk that an attacker can simultaneously hit more than one:

2. Blast defenses. The best dispersal positions (see above) have banks of earth or small walls around them to reduce the aircrafts’ susceptibility to the effects of bombs landing nearby. In many bases blast defenses are used in a less dispersed manner (with walls and often called “blast pens”):

3. Light shelters, typically drive-through. These serve to hide the aircraft from sight, offer varied levels of blast defense and protect the aircraft from the sun. At better equipped bases these are used to better defend aircraft that are in scramble positions etc but at worse air bases (especially in China!) these appear to act as surrogate HAS.

4. Hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) are basically bunkers where one or two aircraft can be placed for maximum protection. The best HAS are also dispersed with the entrances (a weak spot) facing different directions to minimize the chance of an attacker hitting multiple HAS in one pass:

North Korea is noteworthy because what few HAS it has tend to be in neat rows clustered together which makes them cheaper to build but easier to attack. The only other real forms of defense are decoys and tunnels into hills (essentially the same as HAS but often on a bigger scale).

posted on Jun, 16 2006 @ 02:12 PM
Excellent thread planeman, no wonder you've no time for the quiz

I am pretty certain that the white transport plane is a Dash 7, I also agree that the other helos are Blackhawks.

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