Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (Ri So’l-chu) watched a flight drill competion conducted by commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] Air and Anti-Air Force. KJU’s last observed appearance was his attendance at a photo-op with KPA officers and service members. Attending the competion were VMar Hwang Pyong So (Director of the KPA General Political Department), Gen. Pyon In Son (Director of the KPA General Staff Operations Bureau), Col. Gen. So Hong Chan (1st Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces), Col. Gen. Jo Kyong Chol (Director of the Military Security Command), Lt. Gen. Yun Tong Hyon (Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces), Gen. Kim Yong Chol (Director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau and Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff), Col. Gen. O Kum Chol (Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff), Lt. Gen. Pak Jong Chon (KPA Supreme Command adjutant) and Lt. Gen. Jang Tong Un. Also watching the competition were Kim Ki Nam (Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Secretary and Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department), Choe Ryong Hae (KWP Secretary and Director of the Workers’ Organization Department) and Kim Yo Jong (KWP Department Senior Deputy [1st Vice Director] and KJU’s sister). The day-long “Combat Flight Contest Among Air Commanding Officers” began shortly after Kim Jong Un’s 9:00 am arrival by his chartered plane. After arriving at the airfield he reviewed a KPA honor guard. The competition began with a speech by Gen. Ri Pyong Chol (Ri Pyo’ng-ch’o’l), commander of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force, in which he said that “that the contest was the first significant training one in the history of the army building organized on the personal initiative of Kim Jong Un before declaring the contest open.”
The morning portion of the competition occurred between units commanders and combined unit (yonhap pudae) commanders engaging in various manuevers and flight drills. According to KCNA, Kim Jong Un watched “with keen attention the courageous and skilled flight drill of commanding officers” and “expressed his greater satisfaction.” During a break in the competition, he attended a luncheon and watched a performance of the KPA Song and Dance Ensemble and the KPA Military Band intended “to rev up the atmosphere of the contest.”
The afternoon portion of the competition included the participation of Col. Gen. O Kum Chol, Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff and former commander of the KPA Air and Anti- Air Force from 1995 to 2007. After the competition, Kim Jong Un “praised the air commanding officers for creditably performing their flight missions” and said that “the competition was organized to let the air commanding officers take the lead in the flight training under the slogan ‘Follow Me!’ and thus make the air force intensify its training just as the anti-Japanese guerrillas did in Mt. Paektu.” He also “underlined the need for the commanding officers to acquire high combat aeronautics so that they may firmly prepare all pilots of the units as death-defying corps in the sky.”
A prize ceremony was held and the competition’s results were announced with KPAAAF Unit #858 Commander Ri Il Chan, KPAAAF Unit #458 Commander Yu Hak Chol and KPAAAF Unit #344 Commander Ri Myong Ho placing first. VMar Hwang Pyong So delivered a speech at the ceremony in which he said that “holding of the competition with commanding officers of all flying units of the Air Force attending was a great bold decision which could be made only by the Supreme Commander who leads any formidable enemy by the nose and it represented the victory of his matchless pluck.” Kim Jong Un presented the successful participants with their awards and posed for commemorative photographs with them.
“Look like something bad gonna happen, better roll your airplane down”
The flight drill competition marked the fifth event Kim Jong Un has been reported to have attended with the KPA Air and Anti-Air Forces during the last eight weeks. Why would the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force find itself so worthy of the leader’s attention?
Reaction to US-ROK Exercises: The idea for the flight drill competition probably derives from the national meeting of airmen convened in mid-April 2014 and attended by Kim Jong Un. The airmen’s meeting occurred during US-ROK joint military exercises. In his remarks at the meeting Kim Jong Un indicated that “the meeting of all airpersons of whole army is being held in Pyongyang, leaving the whole territorial air of the country open under the grave situation in which the air over the south of the peninsula is covered with blowfly-like aircraft of the imperialists signifies the victory of the grit, pluck and mettle of the DPRK and proves that the mental power of the heroic airpersons prevails over the enemies.” The flight drill competition demonstrates that under Kim Jong Un, the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force now include offense operations as part of its primary misssion along with its traditional missions of managing the DPRK’s air defense network and tactical support for ground, naval and SOF operations. DPRK state media edtiorials have declared that “preemptive attack is not the monopoly of the US.”
Action, Reaction As Kim Jong Un watched the flight drill competion in the west of the DPRK, technicians and personnel in northeast of the country were finalizing preparations for the DPRK’s fourth nuclear test at the P’unggye-ri test site. The flight drill competition is partially the result of military planning intended to mitigate ISR or even attacks on DPRK nuclear facilities, particularly as the ROK recently warned of “grave consequences” of DPRK nuclear testing.
Reunification By Force Media reports of a leaked Chinese Government contingency plan hover in the background of the flight drill competition. Although the Chinese government has denied (or distanced itself) the authenticity of the planning document, the perception of the PRC’s apathy during a reunification from the south vexes a certain faction DPRK policymakers with sleepless nights and high blood pressue. Add in DPRK state media editorializing about various US-ROK contingency plans and one might view the flight drills in the context of larger ISR plans by the KPA and a defense of DPRK airspace coming from the south and even from the north (if the shit were to truly hit the fan in the DPRK, the vigilant Pyongyang watcher might enquire about the current posture and deployment of PLAAF’s 1st Fighter Division).
Jammin’ on the One The KPA Air and Anti-Air Force takes charge of the KPA’s electronic warfare and electronic countermeasures. Units based in the air and on land might reside under other DPRK intelligence agencies (Reconnaissance General Bureau, Military Security Command), but their personnel are usually members of the KPAAAF.