North Korea Threatens To Shoot Down U.S. Bombers Even If They Are Flying In International Airspace

Pyongyang could target planes even when they are not flying in North Korean airspace, North Korea’s Foreign Minister told reporters.

On Sept. 25, North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho accused President Donald Trump of declaring war, saying that gives the regime the right to take countermeasures, including shooting down U.S. strategic bombers, even if they are not flying in North Korean airspace.

The new comment comes amid growing tensions and rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington: on Saturday Sept. 23, hours after Kim Jong Un said that North Korea would soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam, along with U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan, flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea, in what was the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.

Then, Trump said the North Korean regime “won’t be around much longer” if North Korea’s Foreign Minister “echoes thoughts” of dictator Kim Jong Un, referred to as “Little Rocket Man” by Trump:

According to Ri Yong Ho, Trump’s comment was a declaration of war, that gives Pyongyang the right to shoot down U.S. bombers.

Whether North Korea would be able to shoot down a B-1 flying in international airspace or not is hard to say. The Lancers and their accompanying packages (that have also included stealthy U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs) are theoretically very well defended and rely on the heavy electronic support provided by a large array of assets that continuously operate at safe distance from North Korea (or, in case of satellites, literally above it) to pinpoint Pyongyang forces, to collect signals required to update the enemy’s EOB (Electronic Order of Battle), and to keep an eye on all the regime’s moves.

However, North Korea’s philosophy of self-reliance, the use of road-mobile launchers, underground bunkers as well as hidden shelters could create some hassle even to the world’s most advanced air armada.

Considered the status of its geriatric Air Force, mainly made of Soviet-era aircraft, North Korea would only rely on Surface to Air Missile (SAM) batteries to attack a B-1, provided the bomber is well inside the missile engagement zone.

Indeed, North Korea operates a mix of Soviet SAMs, including the S-75 (NATO reporting name SA-2), S-125 (SA-3), S-200 (SA-5) and Kvadrat (SA-6), some of those not only are in good condition, but were probably upgraded locally. In addition to these systems, North Korea is also fielding an indigenous SAM system, dubbed KN-06 or Pongae-5, said to be equivalent to a Russian S-300P (SA-10) with a range of up to 150 km.

KN-06 SAM fired during a test on April 2, 2016. © North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) / Reuters

Although, individually, these systems can’t pose a significant threat to a modern strategic bomber flying off the North Korean coasts, combined and employed in a coordinated way by trained operators, they can be particularly tough to deal with, especially in case they are faced “head-on” by attackers intruding into the enemy airspace protected by many layers of mobile and fixed SAM batteries. However, should the need arise, U.S. forces would probably neutralize most (if not all) of the fixed batteries with long-range stand-off weapons before any attack plane enters the North Korean airspace.

By the way, this is not the first time Pyongyang threatens the B-1. A recent propaganda video showed, among the other things, the fake destruction of a Lancer bomber…


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. It’s getting even better. Kim is playing right into our hands (or he is planning a peremptory strike against the ROK, Japan and the US. Don’t put it beyond him, and we must be prepared):

    North Korea moves warplanes into US bombers’ flight path after warning Trump they’ll shoot down any American jet they see

    “NORTH Korea has moved jet fighters to the coast to intercept US bombers after accusing Donald Trump of “declaring war”.”

    Let me suggest a tweet to President Trump. His next tweet; “Bring it on Rocket Man. Bring it on!”

  2. I wonder if China would keep supporting NK if NK does open fire on US warplanes flying in international airspace, ans US retaliates……

  3. Otto Warmbier was beaten and tortured to near-death because that’s how much North Koreans hate Americans. From the time they are children they are taught to hate the “American Imperialists” as they call us. That’s what we are dealing with – I had a long talk with a ROK Admiral on board the Flag bridge of the Nimitz about this subject – and anyone who thinks Kim will be “reasonable” about this, about his nukes and violence, has no idea what they are talking about.

    Kim would like to kill as many Americans, Japanese and even South Koreans as he can, and that’s exactly what he’ll do if we don’t stop him. MAD will not work against a mad dictator. Especially not one who envisions himself in charge of the entire Korean Peninsula. Prepare yourselves accordingly.

  4. If we go to war, our troops must be prepared to fight as savagely, as brutally and inhumanely as they can. The enemy will. Treat them as if they were wild dogs coming at you because indeed – they are. Brainwashing has made them that way. ROEs must be set accordingly. Good thing we have a President Trump in the WH.

    • Your troops always fight inhumanely, especially against civilians, and I doubt anyone can be more brainwashed than you, just look at your comments – openly promoting war crimes. Yet you are too cowardly to join them… btw I’d never say your family are “wild dogs”, dogs are beautiful animals. And smart too!

  5. Mad Dog Mattis. A wise choice for U.S. Secretary of Defense. We’ll need a mad dog to fight the North Koreans.

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