Pyongyang Propaganda Video May Offer Clues on New Cruise Missile

A video grab taken from North Korean television in March 2013 purportedly shows a surface-to-air missile being fired during a live-fire exercise. A new expert report concludes that North Korea likely has developed a new cruise missile, possibly based on a Russian anti-ship missile.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
June 18, 2014, 10:02 a.m.

A non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­pert ar­gues in a new re­port that North Korea has de­veloped a new cruise mis­sile based on a Rus­si­an mod­el.

In a Monday ana­lys­is for 38 North, Jef­frey Lewis drew at­ten­tion to a North Korean pro­pa­ganda video pos­ted on­line. For a brief second dur­ing the 50-minute re­cord­ing, which fo­cuses on North Korean mil­it­ary cap­ab­il­it­ies, a mis­sile is seen fired from what looks to be a ship.

“The video con­firms a sur­pris­ing fact: the cruise mis­sile is a copy of the Rus­si­an-pro­duced Kh-35,” wrote Lewis, dir­ect­or of the East Asia Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Pro­gram at the James Mar­tin Cen­ter. “These cruise mis­siles fly at a very high speed just above the wa­ter’s sur­face in or­der to tar­get ships” and were de­signed in the 1980s and 1990s, his as­sess­ment states.

North Korea is the sub­ject of mul­tiple U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil res­ol­u­tions that for­bid it from en­ga­ging in any weapons com­merce with oth­er coun­tries.

Pri­or re­ports have sug­ges­ted that North Korea is work­ing on a cruise mis­sile. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Kow­al­ski, then head of the ser­vice’s Glob­al Strike Com­mand, in­cluded in a slide present­a­tion last year the sus­pi­cion that Py­ongy­ang is work­ing on a KN-09 cruise mis­sile that could be fielded with­in five years. The Air Force con­siders this cruise mis­sile to be nuc­le­ar-cap­able, though in­de­pend­ent ex­perts have cri­ti­cized that as­sess­ment.

Lewis said the North Korean video may de­pict the KN-09 cruise mis­sile men­tioned in last year’s Air Force present­a­tion. What is less clear, however, is how the North man­aged to ac­quire the pre­curs­or Kh-35 mis­sile, he said.

The Rus­si­an Kh-35 can­not carry a pay­load heav­ier than 150 kilo­grams or fly fur­ther than 130 kilo­met­ers, Lewis noted. The Mis­sile Tech­no­logy Con­trol Re­gime does not define a mis­sile with those char­ac­ter­ist­ics as nuc­le­ar-cap­able.

Lewis pos­tu­lated the North “most likely” bought the Kh-35 dir­ectly from Rus­sia, but al­tern­at­ively it might have come from a third-party na­tion known to have pur­chased the mis­sile from Mo­scow. Coun­tries that have im­por­ted the Kh-35 in­clude Al­ger­ia, In­dia, Vi­et­nam and My­an­mar. The lat­ter coun­try’s mil­it­ary ties with North Korea have come un­der most sus­pi­cion by the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity.

Not every­one is con­vinced the North Korean video foot­age is evid­ence of a cruise mis­sile cap­ab­il­ity. Chad O’Car­roll, founder of the North Korean news web­site NK News, in an on­line post noted “there is noth­ing con­crete in the sev­er­al frames of foot­age to in­dic­ate the cruise mis­sile was filmed fly­ing any­where near North Korea.”

O’Car­roll ac­know­ledged on Tues­day it was pos­sible the foot­age was real. However, he ar­gued for skep­ti­cism when ana­lyz­ing any­thing pro­duced by North Korean pro­pa­gand­ists, par­tic­u­larly “when the primary source is in fact noth­ing but one second of un­at­trib­uted foot­age broad­cast on [re­gime-con­trolled] KCTV.”

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