Information Warfare: An Amazing Tale of North Korean Missiles and Iran

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December 20, 2005: Some strange news from Germany last week. A mainstream paper reported that, "intelligence sources" revealed that Iran had received, from North Korea, 18 BM-25 missiles. But wait, isn't the BM (Battle Machine)-25 an obsolete Soviet Cold War MLRS (multiple launch rocket system)? The Germans reported that the BM-25 was also known as the SS-N-6, another obsolete Soviet system, this time a submarine launched ballistic missile. Now that's really interesting. Why are the North Koreans spending so much time and effort developing their own ballistic missiles, when they already have a proven design from the Russians.

Over the last three decades, t The North Koreans have basically scaled up Russian SCUD missiles to produce the 1,300 kilometer range Nodong missile. They are thought to have about a hundred of them, and have tested them. Less ready are ten or so Taepo Dong 1 missiles, with a range of about 3,000 kilometers. They are also working on an ICBM, the Taepo Dong 2, with a range of 6,000 kilometers, but this one is believed stuck in development, and has not been tested. North Korea sold Nodong technology to Pakistan and Iran, which then built their own versions (the Hatf V and Shihab 3, respectively).

The real BM-25 is a 250mm rocket, with a range of 20-30 kilometers, and mounted six to a truck. It was developed in the 1950s, and is still in service with a few countries that cannot afford anything of more recent vintage. The SS-N-6 is a 1960s vintage ballistic missile, and is known in Russia as the R-27, while the BM-25 is what the Russians call the BM-25. "SS-N-6" is a NATO code name for the R-27. This was Russia's first true submarine launched ballistic missile, and sixteen of them were carried in Yankee class SSBNs (missile carrying nuclear submarines.) The R-27 had a range of 2,800 kilometers, while the Germans reported the range as 2,500 kilometers. Close enough. But what are these missiles doing in North Korea?

After the R-27 was replaced by more modern missiles in the 1970s, the missile continued to be used for scientific research until 1990. By that time, 492 R-27s had been launched, 87 percent of them successfully. It would be very embarrassing for the Russians if someone had illegally exported SS-N-6/R-27 missiles to North Korea. It is more likely, and has been reported a few years ago, that the Russian organization that designed the R-27, had illegally sold the plans for the R-27 to North Korea. This was supposed to have happened sometime in the 1990s, and the main reason for the deal was to obtain the missile guidance technology. The Russians kept improving the guidance system of the R-27 through the 1980s, while the North Koreans were desperate for missile guidance technology.

The German story had the 18 "BM-25s" arriving in kits, with much assembly required. If the North Koreans had built R-27s, from the plans they obtained, they never tested them. It was believed that the North Koreans were not interested in building R-27s, just getting their hands on some of the technology. The real story here appears to be several stories, and technologies being jumbled together, then served hot, if a bit incomprehensible.

 


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