The F-16 and Mig-23, both of which are single engine multirole designs with similar weights and engine power.
Theoretically, the Korean peninsula is still in a state of war. Shows of force on both sides are raising fears of a new potential conflict. If that happens, the air force will play an important role. During the Cold War, the air forces of both countries were equipped with some of the most capable fighters available from the Soviet Union and the Untied States. Currently, the majority of the South Korean Air Force is the F-16C multirole fighter; meanwhile, the North Korean Air Force also possesses a relatively large number of MiG-23s; These are all single-engine fighters, designed in the 1970s.
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. Meanwhile the Republic of 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.
The F-16 and Mig-23, both of which are single engine multirole designs with similar weights and engine power. Both airframe types have been modernised considerably to allow them to remain viable on 21st century battlefields.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single-engine supersonic multirole fighter developed by General Dynamics for the US Air Force and was mainly designed as an air superiority day fighter. 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 2,500km/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 which can carry a max external load of 2,000kg. The fighters have a typical air-to-air configuration of two R-60 and two R-23 air-to-air missiles.
On the other hand, the fourth-generation F-16s can be armed with a range of air-to-air missiles, which include AIM-9 Sidewinder, Magic II, and ASRAAM short-range air-to-air missiles, AIM-7, Sky Flash, and AIM-120 medium-range air-to-air missiles. 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.
Later variants of both fighters are considerably superior to the original platforms, incorporating enhanced beyond visual range capabilities, modernised electronic warfare systems, new radars and radar warning receivers and the ability to operate advanced air to air missiles – the American AIM-120C and Russian R-27 respectively.
While some MiG-23s have been modified to deploy the Russian R-77, another long range missile which benefits from more modern active radar homing technologies than the R-27, there is currently no evidence that North Korean MiG-23s have integrated these missiles. The AIM-120C’s better guidance capabilities means the F-16 will retain a slight edge. Should Korean MiGs use the older R-24 missiles from the 1970s the F-16’s advantage at longer ranges will be overwhelming.
Although the MiG-23 gained a poor reputation for its performance in Syrian and Iraqi hands in various Middle Eastern wars, the fighter proved highly formidable when superior variants were flown by the Cuban Air Force against South African forces over Angola, and in Korean hands are expected to perform at least as well if not moreso.
The MiG-23 and F-16 have a combat radius of 600km and 550km respectively, enough to cover most of the Korean Peninsula. The MiG’s Flogger’s maximum G load of 8.5 compared to the Falcon’s 9 also allows the F-16’s airframe to pull slightly more extreme manoeuvres. The MiG-23’s variable swept wings, although troublesome for their intensive maintenance, allow the fighter to pull more extreme turns which is particularly useful in close quarter fighting.
While upgraded variants of the MiG-23 retain a number of advantages over the Fighting Falcon, the F-16’s simpler design and lack of complex variable swept wings make the jet easier to operate and train pilots on and allows the fighter to operate with less maintenance. In a potential war on the Korean Peninsula, where airfields are all potential targets for ballistic missile strikes, low maintenance requirements remain an invaluable asset. This disadvantage on the part of the Flogger is somewhat compensated for however by the jet’s ability to operate from short and highly makeshift runways which the F-16 was never designed for.
Although the F-16’s advantage is not overwhelming over the MiG-23, the South Korean F-16 is likely to prevail over the North Korean MiG-23, as South Korea’s F-16s are regularly upgraded; At the same time in combat, the Korean F-16, better supported by early warning aircraft and high-powered radars.
Besides, South Korean fighter pilots are better trained than North Koreans; that is also an added advantage of the F-16. However, the disadvantage of technology is the reason for North Korea to invest heavily in the field of “asymmetrical”, in order to combat the dominance of South Korea from the air. North Korea developed a variety of ballistic missiles, to neutralize air bases across South Korea, during the opening stages of the war. Without well-hidden bunkers, South Korea’s F-16s, despite their superior performance, are unlikely to have “a chance”, to confront North Korean fighters.