North’s fighter jets get a makeover

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North’s fighter jets get a makeover


North Korea’s two-tone MiG-29 fighter jet, left, captured in a photo taken during North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s inspection of an air force unit in January 2012, and the country’s newly repainted jet in a photo released on Jan. 24. Screen capture from the Korean Central News Agency

North Korea recently changed the color scheme on its fighter jets, military sources told the JoongAng Ilbo, in an apparent attempt to improve performance during midair combat.

“We have obtained intelligence that the North has been redesigning its fighter jets since October,” a senior military official said. “We compared old photos of their jets with newly released photos and confirmed that the colors and designs were entirely different.”

In the past, the North colored its advanced fighter jets of MiG-29s with two tones. The top was painted in a dark green, while the bottom was a sky blue. The two-tone jet was featured in a photograph taken when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited the air force’s 1017 unit at the end of January 2012.

MiG-29s are known for their stability and maneuverability in low altitudes, and military sources said North Korea strategically selected both colors. When observed from the sky, the dark green would ideally serve as camouflage against the ground floor, while looking up, the bottom color would blend with the sky.

However, the North was confirmed after October to have changed the colors on the MiG-29s to a general light gray, with the addition of dark gray patterns, which was likely done to mimic cloud patterns. The bottom of the fuselage is painted a light sky blue.

“The change appeared to be intended to better prepare for midair combat, so that enemy pilots will have more difficulty visually detecting the MiGs,” an Air Force official said.

South Korean intelligence authorities said the North is also changing the colors of its low-altitude infiltration aircraft, AN-2s, and its silver-colored MiG-23s.

“The drones discovered last year in Paju were sky blue in color with some lighter patches, so that they could not be visually detected from the ground,” another military official said. “The North probably is changing the colors of its fighter jets for a new purpose.”

The South Korean military said they had also received intelligence that North Korea had developed stealth paint in late 2000.

In its brochures for arms exports, Pyongyang also claimed their weapons have stealth functions and that its guided-missile vessel, which was used Friday in its fire drill in the East Sea, also has a stealth function.

But even if the North’s air and naval fleets are covered with stealth paint, they probably don’t have the capability to avoid radar detection, military officials said.

“Just because you cover it with stealth paint, that doesn’t mean the weapons system will have stealth function,” a senior military official said. “Design and material are key in minimizing the radar cross-section of an aircraft or a vessel to be stealth.

“We no longer fight in combat with visual confirmation, like in World War II,” he said. “Today, it is long-distance combat, using radars to fire at targets from dozens of kilometers away. Just because North Korea changed its color scheme, it won’t bring about a significant improvement.”

The military added that it is equipped with radar systems that cover the entire Korean Peninsula. Additionally, the Airborne Early Warning and Control System, known as Peace-Eye, can detect when North Korean fighter jets take off, even when they are only 10 meters (32 feet) above ground.


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