Air Defense: No Honor Among Thieves


June 16, 2011: South Korea believes that the recent test of the North Korean KN-06 ballistic missile was, in fact, a test of a homemade surface-to-air missile. Based on what South Korean intelligence reports, the KN-06 appears to be a clone of the Russian S-300. Developing such a system would be a stretch for North Korea, but there is a way they could do it. North Korea and Iran have long been trading technology, and Iran has been buying weapons from North Korea since the 1980s, and Iran has been developing an anti-aircraft missile system with a missile about the same size as the KN-06.  

Iran, desperate for some modern anti-aircraft weapons, has been trying to buy the Russian S-300 system for years. Blocked from doing that by international sanctions, Iran has been seeking to purchase the Chinese made HQ-9 system. This could get interesting. The S-300 has not been delivered because Western nations have told Russia and China that if they arm Iran with modern weapons, there will be consequences. China has an incentive to back off here, because a stronger Iran threatens China's oil supplies. Russia, however, would benefit by Iranian attempts to shut down oil shipments from the Gulf (if only temporarily, to make a political point), as the price of oil would shoot up, to the benefit of Russian oil sales.

But China has begun offering its HQ-9 anti-aircraft missile system to foreign customers, as the FD-2000. The Russians are not happy with this, given the stolen S-300 technology in the HQ-9. Russia has been pointed in warning China not to export weapons containing stolen Russian tech. But the Chinese have done it, apparently believing there's really nothing the Russians can do about it.

A decade ago, China began introducing the HQ-9 for use by its army and navy (on ships). Over a decade of development was believed to have benefitted from data stolen from similar American and Russian systems. The HQ-9 missile is similar to the U.S. "Patriot," while the radar apparently derived much technology from that used in the Russian S-300 system. The HQ-9 missile has a max range of about 100 kilometers, weighs 1.3 tons and has a passive (no broadcasting) seeker in the missile. The North Koreans appear to have been testing, as the KN-06, the unguided HQ-9 missile. Next you need the search radar and the complex guidance system for the KN-06.

Most of the HQ-9 systems used by the Chinese army are mobile. Army HQ-9 brigades have a brigade headquarters (with a command vehicle, and four trucks for communications and maintenance), six battalions (each with a missile control vehicle, a targeting radar vehicle, a search radar vehicle and eight missile-launch-vehicles, each carrying four missiles in containers). Just the sort of tech that you could import to North Korea via air cargo, or DVDs full of data.

Neither the S-300 or HQ-9 have been tested in combat. Most earlier Russian designed air defense systems performed poorly in combat. Even the Russian SA-6 missile systems, that Egypt used in 1973, which were initially a surprise to the Israelis, were soon countered, and did not stop the Israelis from getting through. While the best sales technique is to push the product's track record, you have to do just the opposite with Russian anti-aircraft missiles. Thus the Russians, and now the Chinese with their FD-2000, emphasize low price, impressive specifications, good test results and potential.

China cannot be too happy with Iran, if HQ-9/FD-2000 tech is being sold or traded to North Korea. But there's no honor among thieves, and the Russians must take some satisfaction in seeing their stolen S-300 tech being stolen by the Iranians, from the Chinese, for the North Koreans.






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