Recent satellite image analysis by Decker Eveleth from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies indicates that North Korea might be converting an Il-76 aircraft into an airborne early warning and control system (AWACS)
The observations point towards the modification of a North Korean Il-76 transport aircraft at Pyongyang International Airport, suggesting a possible conversion into an airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) or airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft.
Eveleth highlighted that the Il-76 aircraft is already utilized by Russia as a primary platform for AWACS and AEW functions. The Russians also employ this platform for telemetry during missile tests, underscoring its multi-faceted utility.
Despite these observations, there’s currently no direct evidence indicating that Russia has transferred this sophisticated technology to North Korea. Such a development, if confirmed, could signal a significant leap in North Korea’s radar capabilities. Eveleth noted that for North Korea, venturing into AWACS technology would be a substantial endeavor, given the current state of their radar technology.
What makes this situation particularly noteworthy is that North Korea appears to be dedicating one of its few Il-76 aircraft to this potential transformation. The Il-76 holds a critical role in North Korea’s limited transport fleet, indicating the significance and priority assigned to this modification.
However, the assessment remains preliminary, and without further evidence, conclusions about the actual nature of the modifications and North Korea’s intent remain speculative.