Jeffrey LewisMore Iranians in North Korea

Greetings from Paris.  Bruno Tertrais says hello.

UPI and Chosun Ilbo, both conservative news outlets, add some potential details to the possibility of Iranian technicians in North Korea.  I don’t have much to add, other than noting the location of the complex near Tehran where the alleged Iranians allegedly work.

UPI, citing “Western diplomatic sources” identifies what is an “engineering team from the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, the Iranian organization that developed the Shehab-3 ballistic missile…”

According to Chosun Ilbo, the identifying factor are cars reportedly transporting the Iranian experts. “Identifiable cars have been spotted traveling back and forth from the quarters to the missile launch site,” a government source [in South Korea] said. “We believe they’re carrying Iranian experts.”

Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group is a sanctioned entity, which is convenient — as there is an address. In fact, the location appears in Google Maps.  There is a “Hemmat Industrial Complex” on Damavand Road, south of which are located many structures that appear to be associated with missile testing.

In fact, there is a previously identified structure at 35.6560540, 51.6522540 outside of Tehran that does appear to resemble the rocket test stand at Tongchang-ni in North Korea.  Here is the structure, followed by an overhead from Tongchang-ni, and two images of such a stand in the US.  I suppose all rocket test stands look alike.



  1. Cthippo (History)

    Observers? Outside consultants?

    Certainly North Korea has had trouble getting it up (their rockets I mean) and perhaps they brought in some outside troubleshooters to help.

  2. Sandman (History)

    I thought the Korans were helping the Iranians develop their ballistic missile program( according to western media)???? when did the Iranians surpass the Korans in this field??? Can some on educate me on this please.

    • Gregory Matteson (History)

      Since the Iranians had 3 successful satellite launches in a row. The Iranians have a fairly transparent, and very authentic looking space program, regardless of whether or not it’s a cover for missile development. Youtube has numerous Iranian sourced videos, for example that show a wide variety of technologies, including many that we have been told the North Koreans don’t have. Statements from outside powers are obviously simplistic. Iran has, by ‘rogue state’ standards, fairly substantial material and human resources, and is applying them.

    • dan (History)


      Think about it like this: Iran is a large and very wealthy industrialised trading nation, with a functioning state apparatus, a solid educational system that is churning out gobs of reasonably well-trained scientific and technical graduates, and enjoys a diversified economy that, in spite of sanctions and political disagreements with the western powers, is still of sufficient size and breadth to make it a shoe-in candidate for inclusion in the G-20 club. Broadly speaking, it’s a middle-income country with a per-capita profile that wouldn’t look out of place in parts of Europe ( Hungary springs to mind ).

      It’s also not a client state, and requries absolutely zero external largesse or donor/agency aid to function, prevent starvation or take the edge off hideous rates of infant/child malnutrition.

      North Korea is, by comparison, an economic basket-case, that was brutally exposed in the 1990’s as running on the illusion of third-party ( ie Soviet ) props and has a GDP that compares poorly with Niger. Without UN food programme aid and donations of diesel, much of the country would shrivel up and either freeze or starve to death. That alone should explain everything.

      In the early post-axis of evil rhetorical dispensation it was a fairly standard talking point to link Iranian technical developments to those dastardly North Koreans; it’s now rhetorically convenient to run the line the other way – particularly as the Iranians are running what looks like a legitimate and robust space programme that has perfectly reasonable civilian and military dimensions, and, for obvious reasons, we can’t have that going on now, can we!

    • Jeffrey (History)

      It’s more than rhetorical – the Iranians purchased from the North Koreans before reaching their current state, which now includes status as a supplier to Syria and perhaps North Korea.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      It was clear fr Iran’s redesign of the Nodong that it would probably eclipse North Korea, a subject that has come up in response to Iran’s apparent move into the Syrian missile market.

  3. David Watson (History)

    Typical! The one North Korean rocket launch that Arms Control Wonk doesn’t cover the build up of in great detail, and the one that finally succeeds!

    Well done North Korea anyway, and I look forward to reading all the Wonky analysis of this launch.


  4. Cthippo (History)

    Congratulations to North Korea for accomplishing something few nations ever attempt.

    As for the the much heralded military dimensions, basically they’ve developed a Jupiter, or perhaps even a Titan type rocket. It’s a large missile with non-storable fuels that requires massive fixed facilities and weeks of preparation to launch. Could it eventually lead to a credible threat? Sure, everyone else’s major space program has, except maybe the ESA.

    I find it interesting that not other nation, not even Iran, is chastised for launching satellites into orbit. The same physics and engineering applies to everyone, but somehow it’s OK for everyone but North Korea to develop it? Double standard much?

    • Gregory Matteson (History)

      I can easily think of 3 reasons Iran has gotten off lighter on the missiles than the DPRK: 1) The Iranians, to date, have limited themselves to micro-satellites launched with a relatively small booster. Never mind that the technology is applicable to larger missiles. 2) The “legal” rationals behind the UN prohibition on Iranian missiles are flimsier than those for the DPRK 3) The Iranians have not recently played games about the missile prohibition. They go right ahead with military tests and launches whenever they damned well feel like it, so their civilian space program really doesn’t seem to matter to the argument.

    • anon2 (History)

      “basically they’ve developed a Jupiter, or perhaps even a Titan type rocket. It’s a large missile with non-storable fuels that requires massive fixed facilities and weeks of preparation to launch. Could it eventually lead to a credible threat?”

      Jupiter was a development of the Thor nuclear IRBM, and the Titan was a nuclear ICBM. The Thor to my recollection sat on the ready alert in Turkey against the Russians. The Titan sat on the ready alert in silos in the United States. A silo is not a massive fixed facility. If North Korea can build an above ground launcher, they can build an underground silo. So my conclusion is that these liquid fueled launch systems are very much a credible threat if built into a silo, even with a relatively primitive and heavy North Korean warhead.

      The only good thing is that North Korea can only afford to build a few of these launchers and only has enough plutonium for a few warheads. This means that the U.S. is likely to know where they are if they need to preemptively take out the silos; and if they launch, there is a high probability that multilayered defense will not be overwhelmed, resulting in maybe a 95% reliability. Can the U.S. play Russian roulette with the 5%? Maybe the U.S. needs further develop its multilayered defense.

      In the mean time, I keep hoping that Kim Jong Un is just a puppet for the generals controlling the country, and that young Prep School Kim may be able to lead his country out of the dark ages to peace with its neighbors and prosperity for all. Just send Michael Jordan, Kobe, and Shaq for a pick up game with instructions to engage the young man. Young Kim has enough support in the population to beat the generals if we can engage him without their interference. It’s a tall order, but why not publicly put the word out that we are inviting Kim to a parley in Japan with the above; and that we are inviting his wife to meet with all the Disney stars she apparently would like to meet, all on the condition that they speak without Kim’s military minders. Send Obama along for good measure — he likes basketball too.

    • anon2 (History)

      Correct myself:

      Jupiter was a derivative of the Redstone family, not the Thor/Delta family. Jupiter was deployed as a nuclear IRBM to Italy and Turkey.

  5. krepon (History)

    The ever-vigilant Josh Pollack has found this announcement of the DPRK launch:

  6. John (History)

    I have two questions for the satellite experts.

    How many countries have succeeded in
    launching a satellite at present,
    using own launch site and carrier?

    Also, are all satellite carriers using ballistic missile technology?


    • John Schilling (History)

      Successful satellite launches have been carried out by Russia, the United States, France, Britain, China, Japan, India, Israel, Ukraine, Italy, Iran, and North Korea, in roughly that order. Ukraine used rocket designs they inherited from the former USSR, Italy’s program is closely tied to the European Space Agency, the rest of the list has at least one largely indigenous launch vehicle to their credit. In Britain’s case, exactly one launch of one rocket and satellite before they decided to let USA and ESA handle that end of the business.

      Russia, the US, China, Japan, Ukraine, and Israel all use at least some launchers that are explicitly derived from ballistic missiles and in some cases actually made from surplus ballistic-missile hardware. As for the rest, it depends on how you define “ballistic missile technology”. Does, e.g, the Boeing 737 use “strategic bomber technology”? That’s about the degree of commonality as between e.g. an Ariane 5 and an ICBM.

  7. John (History)

    Hi JS,

    Thanks for your response!

    It seems your info is slightly different from Wikipedia,
    which states as follows:

    “Some countries such as South Africa, Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Egypt and private companies such as OTRAG, have developed their own launchers, but have not had a successful launch.

    Only eight countries from the list above (Russia and Ukraine instead of USSR, also USA, Japan, China, India, Israel and Iran) and one regional organization (the European Space Agency, ESA) have independently launched satellites on their own indigenously developed launch vehicles. (The launch capabilities of the United Kingdom and France now fall under the ESA.”

    So, who is right on Italy?

    As for using ballistic missile technology,
    can you clarify whether France and India also
    used the same BMT for their launch carrier?
    In other words, is it possible to launch a satellite
    without using BMT?


    • Jeffrey (History)

      I am so glad to see the reference to OTRAG. I believe the Italian launches used US rockets.

    • Moe_DeLaun (History)

      The ever-helpful Encyclopaedia Astronautica:

      “In December 1975 OTRAG signed an agreement with the Congolese government to establish a rocket range at Shaba (Katanga). Here a pad and gantry were erected and flight tests began in 1977. Logistic support was via antique British Argosy transports landing at a dirt strip on a plateau overlooking the jungle.

      Kayser’s activities made the great powers nervous. The USSR and France were not interested in Germany achieving an indigenous long-range rocket activity. American rocket makers were not interested in having a low-cost competitor. A propaganda campaign began, alleging OTRAG was a cover for German and South African nuclear cruise missile development. Crude Soviet-source disinformation was eagerly picked up and given credibility by the American mainstream media. The government of the Congo was pressured by the Russians to withdraw permission to use the site. OTRAG left the country in April 1979.”

    • Jeffrey (History)

      That’s all accurate, but the story is about 10 times as interesting. Guess where they went next? Libya.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Italy used to launch US-built Scout launch vehicles from a platform off East Africa, but what I was referring to specifically was the Vega. This is officially an ESA launch vehicle, but it is built by Fiat Avio in Italy and as I understand it exists in large part because Italy wanted an “Italian” launch vehicle when everyone in the ESA understood Ariane to be a “French” launch vehicle.
      So it is a debatable case.

      As for OTRAG, etc, I was only counting the ones that made orbit, and attributing them to the nation of origin. A successful orbital launch vehicle built by a multinational corporation would be an interesting case, but the closest we have come to that is the intermittently bankrupt Sea Launch consortium, and they used ex-Soviet rocket designs manufactured in ex-Soviet factories in Ukraine.

      And whether launch vehicles use “BMT” is always debatable, except for the actual converted ICBMs. Trivially speaking, ballistic missiles use metal and fire, it is probably impossible to build a working space launch vehicle that does not use metal and fire, so at that level launch vehicles must use “Ballistic Missile Technology”. I’m pretty sure that’s not what you meant, but it isn’t obvious what you did mean. Best I can do, without knowing exactly where you draw the line, is to repeat my previous analogy: the technological similarity between a launch vehicle and an ICBM is comparable to the technological similarity between an airliner and a strategic bomber.

  8. John (History)

    Here is a good analysis on the difference between
    satellite and ballistic missile launch:

    Check it out.