North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-18, has sparked speculation about possible Russian cooperation in the country’s missile development. The missile, which uses solid rocket fuel, has been tested twice and has the ability to be quickly deployed during wartime. In a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Theodore Postol, a professor emeritus at MIT, suggested that Russia may have provided technical assistance to North Korea for the Hwasong-18. He pointed out visual similarities between the Hwasong-18 and the Russian Topol-M ICBM and suggested that Russia may have transferred this technology to North Korea.
However, other analysts have raised doubts about this claim. Researchers from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies noted factual inaccuracies in Postol’s report and dismissed the possibility of a complete ICBM system transfer from Russia to North Korea. They argued that certain aspects of the Hwasong-18, including guidance systems and the missile’s third stage, resembled Chinese weapons more closely. They also stated that North Korea has been publicly developing solid-fuel missiles since 2017.
While there are signs that point to possible Russian involvement, such as similar motor diameters and missile configurations, the researchers emphasized the differences in guidance systems and missile stages. They argued that North Korea’s success in testing suggests that the country has had external support, but caution against overstating Russia’s involvement.
North Korea’s missile program has its roots in assistance received from the Soviet Union and later Russia. However, there is debate over the extent of ongoing assistance since the 1990s. North Korea is also known for gathering information about other countries’ technology through various means. Last year, a group of North Korean hackers breached a major Russian missile developer’s computer networks, indicating their access to outside knowledge.
The question of Russian involvement comes amidst calls for closer military ties between Russia and North Korea. Russia denied any knowledge of transactions that would breach sanctions on North Korea. South Korea’s spy agency is monitoring for any transfer of nuclear missile technology from Russia to North Korea, but both countries deny allegations of military aid.
In conclusion, while there are similarities between the Hwasong-18 and Russian missiles, there are also notable differences. The role of Russian cooperation in North Korea’s missile development continues to be a subject of debate and speculation.