North’s outdated equipment leading to accidentsThe antiquated state of North Korea’s military equipment has resulted in a series of accidents, with the most recent being a half-century-old Soviet-era fighter that came crashing into the West Sea.
A North Korea source told the JoongAng Ilbo recently that a MIG-17 fighter jet crashed into western waters late May. After the accident, Pyongyang issued a mandate prohibiting the use of Air Force aircraft, including the MIG-17 model. “It appears the flight ban was only recently lifted,” the source said.
The livelihood of the pilot is not known. But military authorities determined that the accident was likely due to the lack of proper maintenance considering the fighter jet model is so outdated and there is a shortage of supplies and equipment.
The MIG-17 was developed in 1950 by the Soviet Union to match the American F-86 Sabre, the top fighter jet in the 1950-53 Korean War.
Analysts determined that North Korea obtained the MIG-17s in the mid-1950s.
“The MIG-17 has been retired in pretty much all the countries in the world,” a South Korean Air Force official said, and it is not even listed in defense publications because of its age. “Because it is such an outdated model, its bones are weakened if you compare it to a human, and it’s not easy to find replacement parts.”
“North Korea currently has around 100 MIG-17s … But it is aware that they may crash, so it doesn’t hold flight training for the aircraft often, and there is a chance they may be used for emergency suicide bombing purposes,” the official added.
Last month, North Korea held a combat flight contest attended by Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju, after which the country has turned its focus to increasing its number of military aircraft.
However, according to military analysts, this only contributed to the accident.
“In 2010, there were frequent crashes of MIG-21 on the border between North Korea and China,” the military official said. “Taking into consideration that each jet costs 100 billion won ($98.1 million), it was not easy to replace these models, so there is a likelihood there will be an increase in crashes from North Korea’s Air Force.”
Accidents due to the deteriorated state of military equipment not only occur in the air, but also at sea.
Last October, a North Korean Navy vessel sank during a training mission off the coast of Wonsan, resulting in an unspecified number of deaths.
On Monday, Kim Jong-un was photographed attending a naval drill on a visit to the 167th naval unit stationed on the east coast, aboard a green submarine presumed to be a 1,800-ton Romeo-class vessel - the largest submarine North Korea owns, and one Russia has classified as obsolete.
Military officials presume the submarine is more than 30 years old, possibly 50 years old.
“Navy vessels usually are changed every 20 to 30 years,” a South Korean Navy official said, adding that the submarine “appears to be running on an analog system, which are not found in submarines these days.”
That indicates that North Korea is still using weaponry obtained with China’s support when the regime’s first leader Kim Il Sung was still alive.
While it is unusual for Pyongyang to reveal the interior of its submarine, South Korean Ministry of Defense spokesperson Kim Min-seok pointed out, “The submarines that our Navy holds are far superior.”
But North Korea is also in the process of modernizing its technology, switching its 122-millimeter multiple rocket launcher system to 240 millimeter rocket launchers, for instance.
However, because Pyongyang is only revealing to the media its antiquated military equipment, like the dinosaur of a submarine with chipped green paint, that likely indicates that it will not be used for any genuine operations.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]