Kim Jong Un supervised an annual combat flight contest aimed at enhancing the North Korean air force’s ability to “destroy any targets, including enemy aircraft carriers,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Monday.
The tournament’s participants were divided into flights by groups of commanders of “pursuit fighter, bomber and raider” regiments, according to KCNA, as well as groups of commanders of light transport planes, helicopters, and education aircraft regiments.
A group of division and brigade commanders and newly-qualified young pilots also participated in the contest.
“The contest set takeoff, assault, zero-feet flight, wingover, intercept flight, free air-combat, landing, etc. as requisites for judgment,” KCNA said in an English dispatch.
The “combat flight contest among commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army Air and Anti-Air Force 2017” comes as the U.S. Navy, along with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces (JMSDF), begin a dual-carrier operation in the Sea of Japan.
The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) also remain near the Korean Peninsula, with KCNA saying the contest was aimed at enhancing military capabilities to attack “aircraft carriers”.
“The contest was of significance in training all the flight commanding officers to be a-match-for-a-hundred phoenix capable of destroying any targets including enemy’s aircraft carriers in one blow,” Kim Kwang Hyok, Commander of the Korean Peoples’ Army (KPA) Air and Anti-Air Force, said in his opening speech.
North Korea has in recent weeks stepped up its moving target strike capabilities, with the country test-firing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) known to the Pentagon as the KN-17 on May 29.
KCNA said on May 30 in a Korean dispatch that the ballistic rocket equipped with “precision guidance system” was capable of carrying out an “ultra-precision strike” on objects on the sea and ground, including against “enemy vessels.”
After the contest, Kim Jong Un told soldiers that “flying at ultra-low altitude at around 30m along the canyon, soaring up and striking a target are aeronautics which are urgently needed.”
“Regiment commanders and young pilots successfully carried out pair-takeoff, air attack, 30m-altitude flight, pair-wingover, free air combat flight, landing, etc,” KCNA said.
Photos released by Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), showed a variety of fighter jets and helicopters such as Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot, MiG-29, MiG-23, MiG-21, and MiG-15 jet fighters, as well as Mil Mi-2 helicopter and AN-2 aircraft, according to a South Korean expert.
Kim Min-seok, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum (KODEF), told NK News that the Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot and MiG-29 fighter jets had flown and dropped unguided bombs horizontally.
“It increases accuracy, but this is disadvantageous as it makes it harder to attack an enemy plane and to avoid missiles,” Kim, who helped identify much of the hardware, said.
Kim said the smoke and red dots seen in the photo showed flares, which serve as a decoy system to counter heating seeking missiles.
“The fact that MD 530F helicopters are equipped with [infrared countermeasures] also shows that the helicopters may be modified to infiltrate into the South Korean special forces, not only for transport,” Kim said, adding the equipment hadn’t yet been seen on North Korean helicopters.
Kim Jong Un has attended combat flight contests among commanding officers of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force every year since 2014, with previous contests having been reported taking place in May 2014, July 2015 and December 2016.
High-profile officials were also in attendance, including the director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA Hwang Pyong So, Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Pak Yong Sik, as well as Kim Won Hong, who was reportedly dismissed from his position of Minister of State Security in mid-January.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun
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