North Korea and Iran: a military technological partnership out of hell?


North Korea and Iran: The True Axis of Military Evil? The international community has focused on Russia since it invaded Ukraine in February. While Putin’s offensive war certainly deserves the condemnation it regularly receives, two other rogue nations have stepped up their malevolent behavior in the meantime.

North Korea and Iran are critical threats to US national security. Tehran has accelerated its missile development program and its production of raw materials, and is fast approaching its nuclear break point. Meanwhile, Pyongyang conducted an unprecedented number of missile launches over the past year, bringing the country one step closer to possessing a functioning nuclear weapons delivery system.

Artillery, Advisors and Missiles

Common opposition to US hegemony has fermented the Iranian-North Korean military partnership for years. The two nations strategic cooperation began after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Ostracized by the West, Pyongyang and Tehran turned to each other to acquire the means necessary for their survival. Iran transferred oil to North Korea and received military expertise and equipment in exchange. During the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, North Korea became a primary arms supplier to Iran, cementing its global position as the leading legal arms exporter to the developing world.

North Korea delivered the M1978 long-range artillery gun to Tehran in the 1980s, and this weapon is still part of Iran’s arsenal today. Pyongyang also supplied Soviet T-54/T-55 tanks, Chinese equipment and ammunition to Iranian military forces. In the second half of the Iran-Iraq War, North Korea was funneling even more Soviet and Chinese military hardware to Iran. Most notably, however, North Korea sent technical advisers to Iran, and those advisers helped bring out the country’s military potential. Conventional wisdom holds that about 300 North Koreans military advisors worked in Tehran in the late 1980s.

And that’s not all. Perhaps North Korea’s most critical contribution to the Iranian military during the Iran-Iraq War was the delivery of Scud-B missiles with a range of 300 kilometers. This purchase sparked the relationship between the two countries on ballistic missiles. According to Center for Strategic and International StudiesPyongyang has also agreed to help Iran develop the industrial infrastructure needed to produce its own Scud-B variant.

CSIS writes: “These variants imported from the DPRK – as well as those now being assembled in Iran – have been designated Shahab-1 (translation: “Meteor-1”). The Shahab-1 is almost identical to the North Korean variant of the Scud B (Hwasong-5), although it probably incorporates materials more accessible to Iran.

Iran is believed to have first launched the Shahab-1 variant in the late 1980s and started manufacturing them locally in the mid-1990s.

North Korea-Iran, a nuclear team

During the 1990s, the partnership was strengthened when Tehran purchased the Pyongyang-made Scud-C (Shahab-2) missile with a range of 500 km. In a 1993 report, the US intelligence community warned that Iran, “one of North Korea’s best customers for ballistic missiles and related technologies, is likely to be an early beneficiary of the 1,000 km Nodong. At the end of this decade [1990s]Iran may be able to assemble short-range (Scud B and Scud C) and medium-range No Dong ballistic missiles.

According to reports, a 1994 meeting between North Korean air force commander General Cho Myong Rok and his Iranian counterpart resulted in the testing of the Nodong-2 missile in Tehran. In a 2008 report, the opposition group called the National Council of Resistance of Iran alleged that North Korean personnel were secretly working at a Defense Ministry site suspected of producing nuclear warhead technology. According to Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “would have called upon North Korean expertise (and used a cutout of the IRGC, the company “Shahid Rajaei”), in order to build a defense infrastructure that would protect and conceal its nuclear program military”. The Iranian nuclear sites of Natanz and Isfahan are the product of this collaboration.

In addition to its ballistic missile arsenal, Iran’s submarine arsenal, which it largely obtained in the early 2000s, can be partly attributed to the DPRK. from iran Ghadir-class The miniature submarines are essentially a carbon copy of North Korea’s MS-29 Yono-class ships. Acquired to patrol shallow coastal waters, Ghadir submarines can fire torpedoes, lay mines, and participate in anti-shipping operations. While none of Tehran’s submarines can launch ballistic or cruise missiles, the Iranian navy no doubt intends to change that.

Since 2006, the international community has implemented sanctions against Pyongyang to no avail. Even as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was being prepared, the Free Washington Beacon reported that Pyongyang supplied missile components to Tehran. The move represented a clear violation of UN sanctions, but the Obama administration gave the rogue state a free pass so as not to disrupt prospects for the deal. This 2015 incident demonstrated just how willing North Korea and Iran are to circumvent international norms.

More recently, in 2020, North Korea and Iran resumed collaborative efforts to develop long-range missile capabilities, according to a UN report. The text of the annual report underlined that cooperation includes the transfer of critical parts.

Both North Korea and Iran have conducted various missile and rocket tests in recent years. Just last week, Iran carried out a second test of its Zuljanah satellite rocket during the reopening of nuclear negotiations in Vienna. A few weeks earlier, North Korea spear eight short-range missiles in a similar escalation. Since the Iran-North Korea partnership has not wavered, the technological success of one state bodes well for the other.

Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst at the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has lines in numerous publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.

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