Forget the Missiles: North Korea Flies Fighter Jets That Belong in a Museum

North Korean Air Force

Forget the Missiles: North Korea Flies Fighter Jets That Belong in a Museum

The Su-7 was an impressive and rugged plane used throughout the Warsaw Pact and its allies up until the 1970s.

Certainly not as iconic as the MiG-15 jet fighter, the Sukhoi Su-7 was one of the Soviet’s early efforts to develop a jet fighter. Originally designed to fill a role as a tactical, low-level dogfighter and interceptor, the Su-7B series proved ideal as a fighter-bomber and ground-attack aircraft in the 1960s.

Development began in the early 1950s, and the first prototype, dubbed the S-1 “Strelka,” made its first flight in 1955. Two years later, the modified Su-7—NATO codename “Fitter”—was unveiled at the Soviet Aviation Day display at Tushino Airport outside of Moscow. Built from 1958 to 1976, the Su-7B variant became the flagship fighter-bomber as it could withstand large amounts of combat damage. The aircraft proved popular with pilots who appreciated its docile flight characteristics and simple controls but also its considerable speed at low altitudes. It earned a reputation for its ruggedness as well as for its easy maintenance.

The swept wing, supersonic fighter aircraft was exported to Warsaw Pact partners including Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania; as well as trusted “Third World allies,” including China, North Korea, Vietnam, Syria, Egypt and India.

The Su-7 was armed with two 30mm NR-30 guns in wing roots, each with 70 rounds; while under-wing pylons allowed for the carrying of two 742 kg or two 495 kg of bombs or rocket pods. It was powered by a Lyulka AL-7F-1 afterburning turbojet, 66.6 kN (15,000 lbf) thrust dry, 94.1 kN (21,200 lbf) with afterburner, which gave the Su-7 a maximum speed of 710 mph and a ceiling of 57,700 feet.

While a successful ground-attack aircraft, it required a long runway and it had a short combat radius with a range of just over 1,000 miles, each of which greatly limited it operational usefulness.

The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies never used the Su-7 in combat, but the aircraft was flown in combat sorties with Egypt during the 1967 Six Day War and the subsequent War of Attrition (1969-70). The Su-7 also saw limited use in the Yom Kippur War, where the Egyptian Air Force employed the aircraft to attack Israeli ground forces.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) also utilized the Su-7 during its 1971 war with Pakistan. A total of six squadrons, totaling some 140 aircraft, took part in nearly 1,500 offensive sorties including the bulk of daytime attack efforts. During the brief conflict, fourteen Su-7s were lost, most from anti-aircraft fire. However, the aircraft proved rugged and able to remain airworthy even after receiving heavy damage.

The Su-7 jet fighter more than proved itself in combat, but by the 1970s it was largely antiquated and was replaced by newer aircraft. Between 1977 and 1986, the Soviet Air Force replaced it with the newer and more agile Su-17 and MiG-27. While the last of the aircraft were retired by most operators in the late 1980s or early 1990s, North Korea has continued to operate the Su-7—a testament to the ruggedness of the design and the ease/simplicity to maintain.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Wikimedia.