The Korean People's Army Air Force is relatively sizeable but lacks any truly modern airspace deterrent solutions.
POWER INDEX SCORE
(Ranked 37 of 53)
It is with good reason that the nation of North Korea relies heavily on its massive land army and not-so-secret nuclear weapons program - for its air service is one of obsolete and aged aircraft that only appear impressive in number. While some 951 total units are accounted for, the stock is made up largely of Soviet-era types acquired either through the old Soviet avenues or from China itself through locally-produced knock-offs resulting in a fighting force that remains in dire need of modernization to keep pace with regional rivals such as South Korea and Japan.
The North Korean fighter fleet accounts for some 48% of the total active inventory and this is led by the Chinese-built F-5, F-6, and F-7 platforms each with roots in old Soviet types. The most modern element of the KPAAF service is the multirole Mikoyan MiG-29 'Fulcrum' but these are fighters originating in the 1970s when there was still a Cold War being fought between East and West (and only 35 stock the active inventory). The MiG-27 (56 examples) provides an adequate combination fighter-strike capability and the MiG-21 can supply a competent interception quality. The ages-old Su-7 'Fitter' fighter-bomber is still kept on hand - despite the prototype first-flying in September of 1955, some two years after the end of the Korean Conflict.
The North Korean Air Force is one of the few in the world to maintain an active bomber force but, again, this is a stock of old Soviet-designed hardware by way of the Chinese-produced H-5 (Ilyushin IL-28 'Beagle'). Some 80 of the type are thought to be available. The air force also has on-call firepower through 34 Sukhoi Su-25 ground-attack aircraft which can support local ground forces when needed through a broad mix of air-launched and air-droppable ordnance. Its armored quality gives this vehicle a considerable survivable quality over contested battlefields.
The rotorcraft force suffers similarly in that decades-old designs are attempting to fill vital modern frontline roles. The MD500 light scout helicopter leads the way and this platform can be modestly armed to support ground forces. Beyond this is the usual Soviet Cold War-era collection of helicopters that includes the proven Mil Mi-24 'Hind' gunship/transport, the mammoth Mi-26 transport and the versatile Mi-2, Mi-8, and Mi-14 series types.
The transport arm totals just four aircraft of two types with only one defined as tactically-oriented. The training arm suffers from fielding outdated/outmoded types that includes the Korean War-era Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet fighter and the Yakovlev Yak-18 twin-seat basic trainer. There are no known systems on order meaning that the air service will maintain its current heading for the foreseeable future. Beyond questionable equipment quality, other issues to be taken into account when attempting to estimate the true fighting capability of the modern KPAAF are wartime doctrine, airman training, access to spare parts, and availability of qualified maintenance/repair personnel.NOTES: The WDMMA.org Power Index (PwrIndx) score looks at various qualities of an individual air power (or service branch). While total aircraft certainly influences the rating, aircraft variety (force balance) also plays a key role in determining an air service's placement on the list. Other focused qualities include local industry (aerospace-related) capability, future outlook, and current/recent combat experience. All this is worked into a formula which provides an analytical approach to resolving a force's fighting state in the modern world. This approach to fighting strength is highly theoretical and does not take into account a nation's available manpower or resolve in the face of conflict nor does it involve land and naval fighting strength. The top achievable PwrIndx score belongs to the United States Air Force with its rating of 242.9. As of now, UAV systems are not taken into account due to reporting differences between publicly-available sources (these will be integrated as some point). Navy aviation branches do not take into account the fighting capacity of naval ships.
476 Total available aircraft assuming a Below Average Readiness Rate of 50%.
666 Total available aircraft assuming an Average Readiness Rate of 70%.
713 Total available aircraft assuming an Above Average Readiness Rate of 75%.
761 Total available aircraft assuming an Excellent Readiness Rate of 80%.