The Star of the East

History, Korea, Military, North Korea, Technology

A Brief summary of a history of technological partnership between North Korea and Syria.

North Korea started a relationship with Syria in the 1960s when it provided military assistance to Syria and also participated in Arab-Israeli war of 1973 against Israel.

Hafez Al Assad and Kim Il Sung

North Korea provided military aid to Syria and North Korea between the 1970s to 1980s upgraded Syrian T-55 main battle tanks with North Korean derivatives of laser range finders and infrared night vision found on M variants of T-62.

Upgraded Syrian T-55
Syrian T-62M

Allegedly in early 1990s, Syria has provided to North Korea examples of OTR-21 Tochka solid fuel ballistic missiles that lead to North Korean derivative Hwasong-11, also known as KN-02 and later upgraded variant known as KN-10.

Syrian OTR-21 Tochka
North Korean Hwasong-11

More extensive upgrades done on Syrian T-55s were done in the late 1990s, Syria and North Korea jointly developed a digital fire control system for these tanks.

Inside upgraded Syrian T-55

Later research and development that came out of that project was applied to Chonma-216 and Songun-915 series of North Korean main battle tanks.

North Korean main battle tank Chonma-216 also known as Pokpung-Ho
North Korean main battle tank Songun-915

In the 2000s, North Korea transferred production equipment to Syria for SCUD type liquid fuel ballistic missiles along with technological and technical cooperation involving research and development of a new warhead that would be a maneuverable reentry vehicle for Hwasong-9 that is also known as SCUD-ER along construction of transporter erector launchers.

Syrian SCUD
North Korean Hwasong-9

It is alleged that Syria provided North Korea examples of 9M133 Kornet laser beam riding anti-tank guided missiles that are being produced in Russia. First report involving that was in 2009 that alleged examples of the missile in question along funding for reverse engineering were provided to North Korea by Syria which a 2014 document is accusing of Syria providing these North Korean reverse engineered copies of 9M133 Kornet to Hezbollah that were used in Israeli-Lebanese War of 2006 that lead to destruction of Israeli Merkava main battle tanks.

Merkava mission killed in 2006 Lebanon War
Merkava when ammunition in hull hit
Hezbollah with ATGMs, 9M133 Kornet is left ATGM

Syria providing 9M133 Kornet lead to development of upgraded 9M111 Fagot that replaced wire guided SACLOS with laser beam riding type of SACLOS. There are two known models, first was AT-4MLB that may have been demonstrated in 2008 to visiting military attachees from Myanmar’s military junta.

AT-4MLB brochure

Second known model is known as Bulsae-2 that is used in the North Korean military and was used by Palestinian resistance group Hamas that conducted an anti-tank operations in 2014 that led to destruction of Merkava tank just outside Gaza strip.

Bulsae-2 manned by Hamas
Bulsae-2: Left Hamas and Right North Korean Army
Bulsae-2 manned by Hamas insurgent
Bulsae-2 used by one man Hamas ATGM unit
Bulsae-2 during North Korean ATGM exercise
North Korean Chonma-216 also known as Pokpung-ho destroyed by Bulsae-2

This is the brief history of technological partnership between Syria and North Korea that lead to significant advancement in military technology for North Koreans.

Because of acquiring example of OTR-21 Tochka ballistic missile that is comparable to American MGM-140 ATACMS along being large leap forward in terms of range, accuracy and solid fuel technology compared to Luna-M series of artillery rockets.

American MGM-140 ATACMS
North Korean Luna-M

Another is 9M133 Kornet which is one of most advanced anti-tank guided missiles that infantry can have and North Korea acquiring such from Syria and producing on their own leaped over South Korea that had 9K115-2 Metis-M wire-guided SACLOS ATGM in terms of technology and firepower until AT-1K Raybolt in 2017.

North Korean 9M133 Kornet ATGM carrier
South Korean APC equipped with 9K115-2 Metis-M
South Korean AT-1K Raybolt

9M133 Kornet demonstrated ability to penetrate advanced armor of western 3rd generation main battle tanks during invasion of Iraq in 2003 such as M1A1 / M1A2.

Destroyed M1A1 during Iraq War of 2003

Vast majority of main battle tanks South Korea had were M48A3/M48A5 and K1-88 in period of early to middle of 2000s. K1-88 had at most protection against high explosive anti-tank up to 600mm compared to 9M133 doing over 1300mm.

South Korean main battle tank M48A5K
South Korean main battle tank K1-88

From this we learn that North Korea through technological cooperation with Syria in terms of military technology has allowed it to reduce the gap and even being ahead in military technology in comparison to its adversaries, United States and South Korea.

South Korean Naro-1 exploding in midair in 2010

Another lesson is not to underestimate a country simply on basis of them not being as rich as their adversary nor as prosperous as them simply because of material wealth instead of having attention on what matters, capacity in technology and science.

Launch of Kwangmyongsong-3 Unit 2 on Unha-3 space launch vehicle in 2012 on December 12th

After all, North Korea inserted a satellite into low earth orbit on their own domestic space launch vehicle before South Korea that relied on Russians for first stage of it.