How does North Korean, Russian-origin MiG-23 jet compete against US-origin F-16 fighter jets operated by South Korea in the event of a war or an aerial skirmish?
North and South Korea had signed the Pyongyang Joint Declaration more than two years ago in order to defuse military tensions, but the diplomatic deadlock is far from over.
While Seoul continues to enhance its military with modern fighters like the US-made Lockheed F-35, Pyongyang has focussed on the modernization of its older combat aircraft.
Currently, North Korea’s aircraft inventory is mainly comprised of fighters acquired from Russia and China, including 56 MiG-23s, 150 MiG-21s, 20 Su-7s, and 35 MiG-29s.
While the MiG-29 fighters include the initial-production A variant, the twin-seater training UB variant, and the slightly upgraded SE variant, the MiG-21 fighters in service with the North Korean military include both the ones manufactured in China as well as Russia.
Interestingly, the North Korean air force is the only military on the planet that still operates the MiG-17 and MiG-19 variants (Chinese license-built J-5s and the “disposable” J-6s) — both Soviet-era aircraft originally built in the 1950s.
On the other hand, the South Korean Air Force currently benefits from its relationship with the United States and has acquired modern combat jets like F-35. At the same time, it is focusing on indigenization in order to reduce reliance on foreign nations.
According to data released by the Military Factory, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) Air Force consists of around 344 combat aircraft including General Dynamics’ F-16C/D Fighting Falcons, Boeing F-15 Strike Eagles, F-4 Phantom IIs, F-5E Tiger IIs, and the advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
While both the South Korean F-16 and the North Korean MiG-23 fighters are remarkable for the abilities they bring to the respective air forces, the fact is that the Russian-made fighter is a generation lower than its American single-engine counterpart.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single-engine supersonic multirole fighter developed by General Dynamics for the US Air Force (USAF) and was mainly designed as an air superiority day fighter.
However, with time, it evolved into a successful all-weather multirole aircraft and has been used by many nations across the world.
On the other hand, the MiG-23 Flogger is a Soviet-era variable-geometry fighter designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau. It was the first fighter in the Soviet Union to field a look-down or shoot-down radar, and one of the first to be equipped with beyond-visual-range missiles.
When it comes to speed, the North Korean Flogger trumps the South Korean F-16 with a maximum speed of Mach 2.35 or 2500km/h as compared to the F-16’s maximum speed of Mach 2.05 or 2,175km/h.
However, the F-16 boasts a higher initial climb rate than the MiG-23 — 62,000 feet per minute compared to 47,250ft/minute.
In terms of armament, the MiG-23 Flogger has one twin barrel 23mm GSh-23 cannon and five external hard-points (one centreline, two under the fuselage, and two underwings) which can carry a max external load of 2000kg (4,410lb).
The fighters have a typical air-to-air configuration of two R-60 (AA-8 ‘Aphid’) and two R-23 (AA-7 ‘Apex’) air-to-air missiles (AAMs).
On the other hand, the fourth-generation F-16s can be armed with a range of AAMs, which include AIM-9 Sidewinder, Magic II, and ASRAAM short-range AAMs, AIM-7, Sky Flash, and AIM-120 medium-range AAMs.
The F-16 can also be equipped with high off-bore-sight, infrared AAMs, such as AIM-9X, Python IV, AIM-132 ASRAAM, and IRIS-T. There is also a possibility to integrate AGM-119/AGM-84/AGM-65G anti-ship missiles and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground tactical missile to the fighter jet.
In addition, the F-16 Viper variant can integrate advanced capabilities as part of an upgrade package to increase its interoperation with fifth-generation fighters like the stealthy pair of F-35s and the F-22 Raptors.