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Force posturing: North Korea threatens action against US reconnaissance flights

North Korea's most capable military combat aircraft is the MiG-29. However, numbers of these aircraft were not visible in above-ground locations in July 2023, suggesting some have gone into storage or have been deployed in tunnel areas. This MiG-29S Fulcrum-C was photographed at the Wonsan International Friendship Air Festival in September 2016. (Janes/Sam Wise)

For over a decade, North Korean air power has suffered from a decline in capability and availability. However, the isolated country is now touting the importance of its air force amid claims that the US is increasing reconnaissance flights over its maritime territory.

On 10 July Kim Yo-jong, a top North Korean official and influential sister of leader Kim Jong-un, accused US spy aircraft of conducting regular flights over the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). “Recently, the US has conducted hostile espionage activities in the Korean peninsula and its vicinity at an unprecedented level by intensively mobilising various air reconnaissance means deployed in the Asia-Pacific operational theatre,” Kim Yo-jong said.

A spokesperson for North Korea's Ministry of National Defence (MND) cited by the state-owned Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said US Boeing RC-135, Lockheed Martin U-2S, and Northrop Grumman RQ-4B ‘Global Hawk' strategic reconnaissance platforms conducted flights over the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and Yellow Sea (West Sea) of Korea for eight days from 2 to 9 July.

The MND spokesperson added that one US reconnaissance aircraft “illegally intruded into the inviolable airspace of [North Korea] over its [Sea of Japan] East Sea tens of kilometres several times”. Kim Yo-jong said US reconnaissance aircraft “habitually intrude” into a 20–40 km section of North Korea's maritime EEZ, beyond the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).

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