North Korea Conducts “Red Flag” Style Air Combat Simulation

DPRK Air Crews Focus on Targeting U.S. Aircraft Carriers in Exercise.

Media Outlets in Asia and Russia are reporting a significant air combat simulation exercise and readiness drill taking place in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea during the past 72 hours.

The exercise, reportedly called “Flight Mastery Competition-2017”, is shown in foreign language media videos that have surfaced. Videos depict frontline North Korean combat aircraft taking off and landing from a small airstrip, large formations of military personnel in parade dress and flight gear and a formal review by North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un. No information in the public domain has been revealed about the specific tactical goals or outcomes of the exercise.

A Sputnik News report quoted that “North Korean Colonel-General Kim Kwang Hyok, Commander of the KPA Army Air Force, declared that the drill became an important demonstration of the North Korean armed forces’ ability to destroy any enemy target, including aircraft carriers, in one fell swoop.”

The event characterized as an aerial competition included fighter, assault, bomber and transport aircraft. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who also holds the rank of Marshal of the DPRK, “Praised participants of the competition for their professionalism, met with young pilots and was photographed with them. He also set new tasks for the air force and air defense units of the country” according to reports.

One Russian media outlet compared the North Korean exercises to the U.S. based Red Flag combat simulations held several times throughout the year at Nellis AFB in Nevada. It is unlikely, however, that the North Korean exercises approach the technological sophistication and size of the internationally attended Red Flag exercises as these are generally regarded as the most sophisticated aerial combat training simulations.

The new videos focus on North Korea’s frontline combat aircraft that include MiG-29UB multi-role aircraft of the 57th Air Regiment and Su-25K ground attack aircraft assigned to the 55th Air Regiment. Both units are stationed at Sunchon air base in North Korea. Some sources suggest North Korea owns “up to 40” of the capable MiG-29UB aircraft but it is not known what their rate of availability and combat readiness is.

Aircrews shown in the video are wearing primitive flight gear circa 1970 with G-suits and unsophisticated helmets. There is video of a quick-reaction drill with aircrews running to waiting MiG-29s in flight gear. Curiously, one pilot is playing an accordion, a non-indigenous musical instrument. Formation flights of Sukhoi Su-25s trailing colored smoke accompany more scenes of supreme leader Kim Jong-un viewing flight operations from a reviewing stand equipped with either flat-panel video monitors or large still photos of North Korean aircraft.

The exercise accompanies news releases last week in North Korean media condemning U.S. missile attacks on Syrian airfields and seeking to justify the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as “The right choice a million times over” according to Reuters. “The U.S. missile attack against Syria is a clear and unforgivable act of aggression against a sovereign state and we strongly condemn this,” North Korean news outlet KCNA reported, quoting an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry in a report shared in the Reuters News Agency report by Ju-min Park and Jack Kim.

The readiness drills or combat simulations, whatever they may be, are unlikely to tangibly alter North Korea’s air combat capabilities in the near term since they are effectively held in a vacuum without overt participation or assistance from other nations who may assist with North Korea’s air combat doctrine.

By contrast, the U.S. military has been highly dynamic training in the region by deploying an increasing number of advanced ships and aircraft, including the widely reported deployment of U.S. Marine F-35B’s to the region. This deployment recently included the U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 121 who conducted weapon hot-reloading exercises including Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) on F-35Bs at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan on April 6. The airbase at Iwakuni is within striking distance of targets in North Korea.

U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 load ordnance on an F-35B Lightning II aircraft during hot-reload training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, April 6, 2017. This signified the first time the squadron loaded ordnance onto a running F-35B Lightning II aircraft at the air station in order to prepare for real-world scenarios. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph Abrego)

Top image credit: via Reddit

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on,, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.