Iran’s recent failed ballistic missile launch from a submerged “midget” submarine has once again drawn attention to Iran’s military ties with another of America’s most outspoken opponents, North Korea.
The failed missile test is said to have been Iran’s first with the Jask-2 underwater cruise missile, a missile design intelligence experts believe to be a copy of previous missiles tested in North Korea. Such a revelation would hardly be a surprise, as the Ghadir class electric submarine used as a platform to launch the cruise missile is also a direct copy of the North Korean Yono class sub.
“The very first missiles we saw in Iran were simply copies of North Korean missiles,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “Over the years, we’ve seen photographs of North Korean and Iranian officials in each other’s countries, and we’ve seen all kinds of common hardware.”
Another Iranian missile test conducted earlier this year was said to be based on a North Korean design, and last year Iran was seen testing a missile very similar in design to the Kim regime’s Musudan missile: North Korea’s most advanced platform successfully tested to date. Iran’s Shahab missile also bears a striking resemblance to North Korea’s Taepodong design.
“In the past, we would see things in North Korea and they would show up in Iran. In some recent years, we’ve seen some small things appear in Iran first and then show up in North Korea and so that raises the question of whether trade — which started off as North Korea to Iran — has started to reverse,” Lewis added.
North Korea’s ballistic missile program is based on a submarine-launch capable design, and they saw their first successful launch from a submerged vessel in 2015. Despite the failure of Iran’s most recent test, experts believe it’s likely that Tehran isn’t far from accomplishing a similar feat.
Submarine-based ballistic missiles present a distinct problem in the hands of the Iranians, who have demonstrated aggressive behavior toward the American Navy repeatedly as they traverse the narrow and strategically important Strait of Hormuz, which separates the Persian Gulf from the open ocean.
The Yono or Ghadir class submarines operate using electric motors and are rather small when compared to the nuclear submarines employed by the likes of the United States Navy. Because of their size and weak power displacement, they must remain in shallow coastal waters, making them well suited to cause serious problems in the narrow strait.
“When those midget subs are operating underwater, they are running on battery power—making themselves very quiet and hard to detect,” said a U.S. defense official who declined to be identified.
North Korea successfully sank a 290-foot South Korean warship in 2010 when it fired a torpedo from a Yono class submarine. 46 South Korean sailors perished in the ambush and North Korea officially denied any knowledge of the attack.
The level of cooperation between Iranian and North Korean ballistic missile programs remains unclear, but similarities between their accomplishments in recent years makes it clear that it exists. Further complicating the matter are China’s public statements regarding a willingness to aid in Iran’s ballistic missile pursuits, which means any advances shared by the Chinese government would likely trickle its way back to North Korea through Iranian channels, allowing China to assist the Kim regime in its pursuit of long-range nuclear weapons without garnering the negative attention such a collusion would otherwise produce.
China has made it clear recently that they would like to pursue a denuclearized Korean peninsula, but their dedication to those claims remain unclear as they continue to assign blame to the United States for existing tensions in the region. China has long employed a foreign policy that included keeping nukes out of the hands of North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, but only recently did they begin to make strides toward actually enforcing such measures.
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