Opinion

North Korea may have reverse-engineered a Russian cruise missile

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,North Korea,Russia,National Security,Asia,Blake Seitz

The North Korean military may have a new toy to add to its conventional arsenal: an anti-ship cruise missile identical to a modern Russian model.

A North Korean propaganda film of the country's military capabilities devotes just a few frames to the new missile (at the very end, around 49:14).

This understated unveiling has led some North Korea watchers to doubt its veracity. As Chad O'Carroll of NKnews.org points out, the outlet that produced the propaganda film, Korea Central TV, is no friend of the truth, and the footage could easily have been ripped off from other sources. Other experts take the video at face value.

If the mysterious missile in fact exists, it is a copy of the Russian Kh-35 Uran, an anti-ship missile developed in the 1980s and '90s. The Kh-35 can deliver a 150-kilogram payload up to 130 kilometers. It flies at very low altitudes to strike target ships from the side, as this video demonstrates.

Russia has exported Kh-35 missiles to Algeria, Myanmar and Venezuela in the past, so it would not be surprising to learn that it sold the system to North Korea. It would, however, be illegal under United Nations sanctions. It would also be an alarming further example of Russia's alignment with anti-Western regimes.

Even with a modern cruise missile, the threat of North Korea's conventional forces should not be exaggerated. As unpredictable and dangerous as North Korea has proven, it is still a largely backwards ruin that parades its Supreme Leader around in obsolete diesel-powered submarines.

Still, North Korea's new cruise missile cannot be discounted. Every new addition to North Korea's arsenal gives the regime more leverage and makes it more difficult to dislodge. Perhaps more importantly, North Korea may sell its new missiles to other bad actors, enriching itself at the same time that it contributes to the emerging problem of cruise missile proliferation.

North Korea sells weapons systems, including ballistic missiles, to other countries despite sanctions leveled against them because of its nuclear tests.

North Korea has pressed ahead with preparations for a fourth nuclear test, despite warnings from the United States and its only significant ally, China.

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Blake Seitz

Special to the Examiner
The Washington Examiner

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