Pointing Fingers at Russia

Back in a previous blogging existence, I observed that “nobody is attributing new developments in Iranian missile technology to Russia”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2013/irans-ashura-missile-mystery — at least, not yet.

Now the inevitable seems to have begun, deep in one of the recent “comment marathons”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2181/why-would-a-2-stage-safir-be-surprising#comment at ACW:

I can’t help but wonder if this all isn’t about “more modern materials, tools and computing power”, but rather “expert russian rocket scientists working in their iranian-financed north-korean exile-design-bureau on improving ancient soviet technology secretly provided by modern-day russia”…

Those in the know will recognize this as an idea associated with “Robert Schmucker”:http://www.schmucker.de/, a Munich-based technology consultant and entrepreneur. Schmucker maintains that the Nodong/Shihab-3/Ghauri missile is actually a heretofore unknown device of Soviet vintage, with the designs and engineering provided to North Korea by corrupt and enterprising Russians. The AQ Khanski network, as it were.

(See the 17th slide of this “Schmucker briefing”:http://www.prif.org/fileadmin/content-ABM/schmucker.pdf for an instance of this claim.)

Although wrong, this idea is certainly intriguing and not as ridiculous as it might seem. Here is why. “Daniel Sneider”:http://fsi.stanford.edu/people/danielcsneider/ wrote in the San Jose Mercury News of July 25, 2006:

I encountered one crucial tentacle of Kim’s program some 14 years ago, in late October of 1992.

A group of 64 Russian rocket scientists, accompanied by their wives and children, were stopped just as they were about to board a flight to North Korea. The scientists were employees of a super-secret facility in the Urals, the V.P. Makeyev Design Bureau, responsible for the development of the Soviet Union’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

As the bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor, I pieced the story together later from Russian press accounts and interviews with the scientists and others. A middleman with apparent official backing had offered the bureau, starving for orders and left adrift by the sudden end of the Cold War, work in North Korea.

Scientists who were making the equivalent of $15 a month jumped at offers of up to $4,000 a month to help a former Soviet ally. In the spring, a group of 10 scientists had gone for an initial foray. The Koreans, one of the scientists told me, initially never directly asked about nuclear warheads or missile designs. They claimed only to be interested in rocket science.

The Russians came home that fall and signed up dozens of their comrades as recruits. But the project was not officially sanctioned, and the KGB held them outside of Moscow for two months while the broker tried to re-negotiate their departure. Russian officials later described the North Koreans’ aim, without mentioning them by name, as an attempt to build “combat missile complexes that could carry nuclear weapons.”

North Korea began with copies of Soviet short-range Scud missiles and moved on to medium-range “Nodong” missiles, but they lacked the range and accuracy to meet Kim’s target. A decade after the airport incident, in 2003, credible reports emerged that the North Koreans were deploying a new, far more accurate missile based on the Soviet SS-N-6, a submarine-launched rocket developed by Makeyev in the 1960s. The Nodong-2, as some labeled it, could reach all U.S. bases in Japan and possibly even to Guam.

Now, there are just a couple of problems with extending the SS-N-6 paradigm to the Nodong.

First, the “work on the Nodong goes back to the late 1980s”:http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/NK/Missile/65_681.html, before the collapse of the Soviet Union set in motion the dynamics described by Sneider.

Second, the Soviet precursor to the Nodong doesn’t exist. It’s a figment.

Applying the same kind of reasoning to Iran’s new generation of post-Scud, post-Nodong space launchers/ballistic missiles is still more problematic, since these devices “don’t seem to exist in North Korea”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2013/irans-ashura-missile-mystery, where the nefarious Khanski Gang is supposedly at work.

Here’s a different idea: if there are indications of Russian technology in the Iranian missile program, it’s because “the Iranians had considerable access to Russian expertise and training in the 1990s”:http://www.armscontrol.org/act/1998_03/rusiran — not because devices were transferred to them lock, stock, and barrel.

I hesitate to say it, but there does still seem to be some resistance out there to the idea that anyone not severely melatonin melanin-challenged can work with sophisticated technologies…

Just saying.

1 thought on “Pointing Fingers at Russia

  1. MaxTheMissileer

    Interesting post. Putting Schmucker’s arguments aside, it is also worth considering stuff the U.S. IC has said on the subject, like this March 2007 ODNI letter to STATE on Russian entities assisting Iran’s ballistic missile program. It’s another data point.

    Reply

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