24 January 2007

North Korean - Iranian Cooperative Ventures

Some increased levels of chatter these past few days re. cooperation between Iran and NK in nuclear weapons and missile fields. First up, the nuclear issue:

  • NORTH KOREA HELPING IRANIANS TO SET UP NUKE TEST: REPORT: KOREANS SHARING THEIR TEST RESULTS, The VancouverProvince (British Columbia), January 24, 2007. North KoreaIran to prepare an underground nuclear test similar to the one Pyongyang carried out last year, according to a senior European Union defense official. Under the terms of a new understanding between the two countries, the North Koreans have agreed to share all the data and information they received from their successful test last October with Tehran's nuclear scientists. … A senior European defense official told the Daily Telegraph that North Korea had invited a team of Iranian nuclear scientists to study the results of the underground test to assist Tehran's preparations to conduct its own -- possibly by the end of this year. There were unconfirmed reports at the time of the Korean firing that an Iranian team was present. Iranian military advisers regularly visit North Korea to participate in missile tests. Now the long-standing military co-operation between the countries has been extended to nuclear issues. …Same story was carried by Reuters and Haaretz.

In an interview last night on Tehran television, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Iran will resist pressures because its nuclear activities are “transparent”. “Our logic is clear. We have had the greatest cooperation with the IAEA… because we are transparent and we like our nuclear dossier to be investigated transparently and that is the reason why we are insisting on this issue.” As a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is legally entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. “We have acted legally.”

Of course, no mention was made of the 38 IAEA inspectors who were barred from entering the country on Monday... Transparency yes, just not in the way the world expects it.

Over at Arms Control Today is an article about a possible new type missile (call it the No Dong B) that is a purported derivative of an early generation Soviet SLBM, the SS-N-6.

  • Perhaps the most important recent development is Iran’s apparent purchase from North Korea of missiles with a range possibly exceeding that of Tehran’s longest-range deployed ballistic missile, the Shahab-3. The Israeli newspaper Ha`aretz quoted Major General Amos Yadlin, the head of the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Branch, as saying that Tehran had purchased the missiles, some of which had already arrived in Iran. A knowledgeable former Department of State official told Arms Control Today Dec. 19 that the reports are “certainly credible.”

The United States believes that North Korea has been deploying the same missile, which is reportedly based on the Soviet SS-N-6. Washington believes Pyongyang is deploying the missile in a road-mobile mode, although the SS-N-6 was a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

The United States and South Korea estimate that the missile, which North Korea has never tested, could potentially have a range of 2,500-4,000 kilometers, according to press reports. The most advanced version of the SS-N-6 had an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers. Any new missile’s range would vary considerably depending on the size of its payload.

During a Nov. 12 television interview, Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps indicated that Iran tested a Shahab-3 capable of traveling 2,000 kilometers. Tehran has previously claimed to possess a missile with such a range.

The noteworthy item about this development is not that we can expect to see NK SSBN's putting to sea anytime in the near (or far) future with a loadout of SLBMs. Rather, it is that the same characteristics that make an SLBM attractive also make it attractive for road mobile applications. Indeed, the Russians are attempting this same feat in reverse with a SLBM variant of the SS-27, the Bulava (which has had multiple launch failures). Add in the fact that Iran and NK are closely allied in missile development (Iranian observers were reportedly present for Kim's July 4/5 fireworks show, including the failed TD-2 launch) and such a missile would be imminently attractive to the Iranians for its range and mobility as well as throw weight. The early models of the SS-N-6 could deliver a 1500 lb warhead over a distance of 1300 nm (later mods up to 1900 nm).

The SS-N-6 is not a solid fuel rocket, using instead storable liquid fuel, which is a step up from the liquid fuel used now in the various Shahab variants, but not as great a leap to solid fuel. Additionally, while 1500 lb is a substantial payload (and close to the Sahab's estimated 1100-1500 lb payload) an early Iranian nuclear weapon is likely to weigh more than that. It was almost a decade before the US finally developed a warhead that weighed in the 1,000 lb range that could be adapted to a missile (the W7 -- 890 - 1000 lb, 2-40 kt yield).

Still, when all is said and done, it is well worth keeping one's eyes on this synergistic combination (nuclear and missile testing/support) between Iran and NK... The prospect of nuclear capable, road-mobile missiles able to range goodly portions of Europe (and Russia) should give pause to think to our erstwhile allies and is one of the driving forces behind the so-called "third site" BMD system being examined for European basing (and will be subject of a forthcoming post).