April 26, 2007

North Korea: Weapons on Display -- and for Sale

Source: Stratfor
April 25, 2007 21 22 GMT


North Korea held a large-scale military parade in Pyongyang on April 25 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Korean People's Army. As foreign observers watched keenly for any sign of North Korea's long-range ballistic missiles, it is perhaps more telling that Pyongyang did display two short-range missile systems designed primarily for the export market.


North Korea held a major military parade in downtown Pyongyang on April 25 to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army (KPA). North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was on hand to review the troops as they passed beneath the reviewing stand, displaying both precision marching and North Korean weapons systems, including at least four types of mobile missiles. Preliminary reviews of the footage of the parade show Pyongyang displaying only its shorter-range missiles this time around.

The most easily identifiable are the Hwasongs, a series of Scud derivatives that are either direct copies or vary little from the classic design. As seen in the parade, the North Koreans even retained the Russian Maz 543 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). The display of the Hwasongs is unsurprising -- they are the basis of the entire North Korean missile program, and Pyongyang has been building and exporting them for years.

The AG-1 anti-ship missile, a derivative of the widely proliferated Chinese HY-1 Silkworm and HY-2 Seersucker, was also clearly evident. The Silkworm traces its heritage back to the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s. The Soviet Union produced the SS-N-2 Styx, as it is known, for some three decades and exported it to countries from Angola to Azerbaijan. Not a major threat to modern surface combatants, the missile is still widely used and could threaten unaware or careless warships and commercial ships.

The third missile visible in the parade footage appears to be the KN-02, a North Korean derivative of the SS-21 Scarab short-range ballistic missile. The nose shape is more stepped, whereas most North Korean ballistic missiles use the perfectly conical nosecone characteristic of their Scud heritage. While the TEL appears to be indigenously built, rather than the 9P129 TEL used by the Russians, the placement of the fin (though partially hidden in the footage) is consistent with the SS-21 design.

What is most notable about these, as opposed to North Korea's more infamous Nodong intermediate-range and Taepodong long-range ballistic missiles, is their functionality. Unlike the longer-range systems, these are battlefield missiles with relatively good guidance systems. And they form the backbone of North Korea's future overseas missile sales.

North Korea has, for quite a while, sold Scud variants, including the Nodong missile, but these systems serve primarily as prestige items for the countries that buy them, rather than as active elements of their defense forces. Pyongyang has also assisted in the technological development of medium- and long-range missile systems in countries like Pakistan and Iran; but the market for intermediate- and long-range missiles is not all that large. Prospective buyers are looking for more tactical battlefield systems, and the KN-02 and AG-1 fit the bill nicely.

The KN-02 is a mobile, relatively accurate missile capable of handling a variety of warheads. While the North Korean carrier vehicle looks less capable of handling a wide variety of terrain than the original Soviet carrier vehicle, it is quite possible Pyongyang has alternative platforms for the missile. North Korean technicians have been working on modifying the SS-21 since the mid-1990s, and carried out a series of tests in 2005. After the tests, the system seemed destined for the export market. It appears Pyongyang has used the latest parade as a marketing display of the missile.

The AG-1 is a capable anti-ship missile that can be launched from land or sea. Pyongyang has carried out several tests of the AG-1 since the mid-1990s, often using the tests both to gain information on flight characteristics during development and as political tools to shape regional perceptions. North Korea might already be exporting the AG-1 to the Middle East (taking the place of Chinese exports of a similar system).

For Pyongyang, sales of the Nodong have become much more difficult, because of both the dwindling buyer pool and the increased U.S. constrictions of North Korean arms exports via the Proliferation Security Initiative and pressure on potential purchasers. The KN-02 and the AG-1, however, are smaller, easier to ship and have a much broader potential pool of buyers. One place Pyongyang might look is Africa, where North Korea already maintains a trade in small arms and rockets, as well as spare parts for old Soviet technology. Places like Ethiopia and Yemen are prime targets for North Korean exports, as is Iran, where arms purchases from Russia or China are becoming somewhat more difficult as Beijing and Moscow deal with Washington.

Regardless of where Pyongyang is looking for customers, it displayed available merchandise in its KPA anniversary parade. North Korea continues to look for new sources of cash, as its finances are constrained by U.N., U.S. and Japanese actions, and arms sales are always a useful option -- particularly selling to places where Western nations will not sell arms and where Russian and even Chinese arms could have too many political strings attached.

No comments: