Sunday, 29 June 2014

The delivery of Russian Su-25s to Iraq

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans 

A video uploaded by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence and a subsequent announcement shed light on Iraq's first success in acquiring a combat capable platform to stop the advance of the Islamic State. The latter has made great progress in capturing large areas of Iraq and is now slowly advancing to Iraq's capital Baghdad.

''The Ministry of Defence announced the arrival of the first out of five Russian combat aircraft Su-25 into Iraqi territory under a contract with the Russian ministry, which will contribute to increasing the combat capability of the Air Force and the other branches of the armed forces to eliminate terrorism.''

The Iraqi Army and Air Force have proved anything but capable to halt the Islamic State's advance and have been desperately looking for other ways to fill the caps currently posed in Iraqi's Armed Forces. With the United States reluctant to provide close air support or speeding up the delivery of Iraq's F-16s, Iraq has been increasingly looking to countries in Eastern Europe to strengthen the Iraqi Air Force (IQAF). It is now clear a batch of five ex-Russian Su-25s are the first to have arrived.

The first Su-25, still in Russian Air Force (RuAF) camouflage and with a hastily applied Iraqi flag and air force roundel, arrived onboard a Russian An-124-100 cargo plane together with ground support equipment on the 28th of June. The Su-25s are believed to have been stored at the Aircraft Repair Plant 121 (ARZ 121) in Kubinka before being flown to Iraq. The contract also included new engines for the aircraft, which were installed just before the delivery flight.

The Iraqi Air Force received around fifty-five Su-25s in the late eighties and were used with devastating effect against Iranian troops near Bashrah during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq's last Su-25s were destroyed  after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and it is thus unknown if any of the former Su-25 pilots are still capable or willing to fly one of the five Su-25s.

According to various media outlets, the IQAF has four pilots qualified to fly the Su-25s. Maintenance will be performed by Russian contractors, which are to be replaced by Iraqis once they finished their training in Russia.

If not, the Su-25s are likely to be flown by either Belarusian or Russian contractors or even pilots from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, the air branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps which is also operating Su-25s.

With Iraq's Prime Minister al-Maliki already claiming the aircraft could be flying missions in Iraq within days, planes such as the resilient Su-25s are of great importance for the survival of the current Iraqi government, from stopping the Islamic State further advancing towards Baghad and in taking the fight to the Islamic State, being capable of attacking convoys, munition dumps and other targets of opportunity over a wide range.

The purchase will also serve as a moral boost and is a sign of what might has yet to come, with
other possible purchases including Mi-24s from the Czech Republic and MiG-29s, Su-24s, Su-30s and Mi-24s from Belarus and Russia.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

North Korean Kh-35 anti-ship missiles shed light on a modernizing navy

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Even though a lot of categories of equipment of the Korean People's Army are known quite well due to satellite imagery and propaganda videos, the rare aspect of the Korean People's Navy (KPN) is often overlooked. Considering the scarcity of footage and high-quality satellite footage of KPN naval ships, this is hardly surprising. However, as is illustrated by the sheer amount of ships being produced over the years, the Korean People's Navy still does play an important role in the current day North Korean military.

The most recent developments of this secretive branch has been the introduction of so-called Surface Effect Ships (SES), stealth technology and even domestically produced Kh-35 missiles. The latter, a true game changer in the Korean peninsula, signifies the start of a new dawn for the Korean People's Navy.

 A North Korean Kh-35 launched from Surface Effect Ship. Note the 76mm OTO Melara copy in the lower left in the second shot.

The Korean People's Navy, commonly known to be solely operating ageing P-15 Termit (Styx), HY-2 (Sillkworm) and indigenous KN-01 anti-ship missiles, received two types of anti-ship missiles since the dissolution of the Soviet Union: Chinese made C-802s were supplied to North Korea from Iran in 1999 to help Iran producing this missile for its own navy and Kh-35s (also known as 3M-24) were received from Russia in the 90s.

The missile, the Korean designation of which is currently unknown, was also exported to Myanmar. Relations between North Korea and Myanmar reached a peak in the mid 2000s, and also seems to have led to the export of sophisticated weaponry to Myanmar. The Navy of Myanmar, along with other North Korean naval weaponry, installed the missiles on the frigate F11 Aung Zeya.

North Korean Kh-35 canisters aboard the F-11 Aung Zeya.

The import of Kh-35s was first unveiled in early 2012, when imagery of a North Korean SES was released as part of a military documentary, showing racks used to mount four Kh-35 canisters. The recent surfacing of imagery of the Myanmarian F11 Aung Zeya class frigate confirmed that the missiles are produced by North Korea and actively exported to friendly nations, along with other naval assets.

Originally developed by the Tactical Missiles Corporation, the North Korean missile differs in a few areas compared to the original Russian Kh-35. Most notably, the canisters have been extensively modified compared to the original Uran-E launcher. The number of mounts for the stowage of additional missiles has been increased to three and the canister has a much cleaner look compared to the Russian canister. It also appears the engine was modified, as is shown by the cone-shaped exhaust nozzle which appears to be unique to the North Korea design. Lastely North Korea appears to manufacture their own distinctly shaped mounting rack.

Kim Jong-un walking in front of a quadruple mounting rack on one of the Surface Effect Ships.

It is unknown if the indigenous Kh-35 constitutes an up- or downgrade over the original design. The
original Kh-35E is capable of destroying ships up to five-thousand tonnes at a maximum range of one hundred and thirty kilometres while under heavy electronic countermeasures. The missile enjoys a low signature due to its small size, sophisticated radar, sea-skimming capability and capability to resist the strongest of electronic countermeasures.

The indigenous Kh-35 missile, the Russian base variant of which is often regarded as the most cost-effective anti-ship missile in existence, is a huge improvement over other North Korean anti-ship missiles, and poses a massive threat to the navies of both South Korea and the United States due to its large range and countermeasure-defeating properties. While the measure to which it is deployed by the Korean People's Navy is as of yet unknown, the missile is likely used on a variety of newly produced naval platforms. This is certain to present a great challenge to opposing forces, and will definitely have serious implications on naval balance in the area.

Although it has only just been publicly confirmed the Kh-35 is in use by North Korea, their first usage by the DPRK dates back to the 90s, a testimony to the capability of the secretive state to keep prying eyes away from military projects.

The domestically produced Kh-35 is to form the spearhead of the Korean People's Navy striking power for years to come.