Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Foreseeable, Foreseen, Ignored: Is Iran Advancing Its Missile Program at Home While Offshoring its Nuclear Program to North Korea?

Foreseeable, Foreseen, Ignored: Is Iran Advancing Its Missile Program at Home While Offshoring its Nuclear Program to North Korea?

Nuclear Missiles

A 1994 exposé published in the Russian language newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda asked, “Will Kim Il-sung Explode Our Atomic Bomb?”[1] Today one might substitute “Iran” for “Russia” given the Islamic Republic’s continuing aspirations in the realms of nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles. These ambitions and signs of an ongoing collaboration with North Korea’s lineal dictator beg a new question: Will Kim Jong-un explode Iran’s atomic bomb?

Evidence of a long-term strategic relationship to transfer nuclear weapon and ballistic missile technology between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran is unmistakable. Indeed, longstanding ties between the North Korean and the Iranian ballistic missile programs are well established. The relationship between their respective nuclear weapons programs is less easily traced through open sources, but strong indicators exist nevertheless. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in April 2015 that North Korea and Iran “could be” cooperating to develop a nuclear weapon. Earlier, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the intelligence community “remain[s] alert to the possibility that North Korea might again export nuclear technology.”[2] Other evidence is more anecdotal, relying on unconfirmed reports that Iranian officials witnessed North Korean nuclear tests,[3] and uncorroborated ones of North Korean officials present at suspect Iranian nuclear facilities.[4]

Iranian leaders openly declare the Islamic Republic is accelerating its missile development program, stolidly insisting Iran recognizes no international authority over it. They do so in knowing defiance of multiple resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council,[5] including the latest adopted in late July 2015 to complement to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) agreed to earlier that month by Iran and the P5+1 group of nations.[6]

Just days after Iran disclosed its newest the precision-guided, medium-range ballistic missile[7] — called the Emad (the name means “Pillar” in Farsi) — the commander of the Aerospace Force of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Iran’s ballistic missile force), Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, was widely quoted saying there are numerous such bases buried 500 meters underground (a doubtful claim) ready to launch their missiles immediately on the Supreme Leader’s orders. Footage broadcast by Iranian state television in October 2015 was clearly intended to give the impression of a vast underground complex that contains a multitude of transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) ready to fire ballistic missiles, though no more than eight TELs were visible in any given shot.[8] It did so again on 5 January 2016, when Iranian television showed the Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, Ali Larijani, visiting an unspecified subterranean compound in which multiple Emad missiles were clearly visible.

Iran’s defiant pursuit of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile force — one that today can strike short-, medium-, and intermediate-range targets, with ambitions of intercontinental-range reach — is troubling. Iranian bellicosity in the missile realm sounds very much like Iran’s earlier rejection of restrictions on its nuclear activities. And yet Iran acceded to the JCPA in July, for which it shortly will receive a sizeable financial windfall as long-frozen assets are released and international sanctions lifted. The discordance is puzzling.

In February 2014, Michael Auslin, a resident scholar and the director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute warned, “We understand less about what’s going on in Kim Jong-un’s North Korea than we did with Kim Jong-il’s North Korea. And that’s something to be worried about.”[9] This begs a question: have Iranian leaders moved nuclear weapons development to North Korea? The two nations have been engaged in cooperative ballistic missile development since 1985, and some believed they are working now on a nuclear-capable intercontinental missile. Western analysts in early 2012 noted close similarities between a major upgrade of North Korea’s Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (aka Musudan-ri) and Iran’s Semnan Missile and Space Center.[10] In 2013:

“Western diplomatic sources told Kyodo’s Inoue Tomotaro that Iran now stations four missile experts at a facility in North Korea about 85 kilometers from the Chinese border. The source said the mission included experts from Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics as well as the private sector. Subsequent stories linked the Iranian ‘engineering team’ to the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group[, which is] the manufacturer of the Shahab-3, and responsible for working with the North Koreans, Russians and others. […] Inoue reports that the parties also exchanged a secret two-page document that provides for the permanent stationing of an Iranian mission in North Korea.”[11]

Japan’s Kyodo News reported that “Iranian defense ministry officials have been in North Korea since October [2012] as part of bilateral cooperation in missile and nuclear arms development,” and that Iran paid North Korea to allow Iranian scientists to to witness North Korea’s February 2013 nuclear test.[12]

Even before the events of the past several months there was a reasonable basis to suspect possible Iranian-North Korean nuclear cooperation:

“The general logic behind possible nuclear cooperation is the same as it is for missile cooperation. First, there is the principle of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ – or at least my opportunistic trading partner. Bolstering that basic logic is the fact that both countries have faced sanctions on their missile and nuclear programs and thus would seem to have an incentive to collaborate insofar as alternative sources of support are largely unavailable. As regards joint nuclear weapons work, there have been a number of media reports suggesting such cooperation as well as allegations made by the MEK and its affiliated groups.”[13]

There are of course reasons why Iran and North Korea might refrain from continuing to collaborate on nuclear weapon development, including the risk of disclosure or detection, the mercurial nature of the North Korean regime, and so on. Too, there are technical considerations to be weighed. For example, North Korea has heretofore pursued a plutonium route while Iran focused on uranium enrichment.

“The extent to which Iran and North Korea could benefit from nuclear-related cooperation is uncertain. Although some analysts have argued that Pyongyang could provide nuclear test data to Tehran, the extent to which Iran could benefit from such data is unclear. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to date has apparently been based on plutonium; Iran would most likely use weapons-grade HEU, rather than plutonium, as fissile material in nuclear weapons, at least in the short term. Although Tehran could provide Pyongyang with access to Iran’s enrichment technology, such access would be of limited benefit to North Korea because North Korea’s centrifuge appears to differ from the two types of centrifuges that Iran has installed.”[14]

None of these considerations, however, deterred Iran and North Korea from collaborating on the plutonium reactor at Al Kibar, Syria (which showed marked similarities with the North Korean nuclear reactor at Yongbyon).[15] It is also worth noting that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council has been the Islamic Republic’s main interlocutor in the plutonium nuclear development collaboration with North Korean since 1993-1994. This is the period in which North Korea began to transfer Nodong missile technology to Iran, which yielded the Shahab-series ballistic missile. Iran by 2006 was modifying the Shahab platform to carry a nuclear warhead (part of the missile reentry vehicle studies conducted under Project 111[16]). An opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, claimed in a February 2008 report that North Korean personnel were working at a covert Defense Ministry research site in the Khojir[17] region of southeastern Tehran, where Iran was suspected of developing nuclear warhead technology for its intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The IRGC reportedly drew on North Korean expertise (and used an IRGC cutout, the “Shahid Rajaei” company[18]) in order to construct a defense infrastructure that would protect and conceal its military nuclear program. This included extensive tunneling and hardening projects at the Natanz and Isfahan nuclear sites. Initiated in 2005, the project was under the authority of the Nuclear Control Center, an IRGC entity that oversees Iran’s nuclear program. It enjoyed on-site North Korean technical support under the direction of Myong Lyu-do, a leading North Korean expert on underground facilities, who arrived in Iran in June 2005.[19]

There are numerous smaller indicators of a lead IRGC role in the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile collaborations with North Korea. For example, North Korea reportedly agreed to share data from its October 2006 nuclear test with Iran, and IRGC officials reportedly observed North Korea’s second nuclear test on May 2009. The collective weight of this evidence is that Western assessments have proved often a poor yardstick with which to assess the likelihood that the Islamic Republic’s leaders would sanction a covert nuclear collaboration with North Korea.


In January 2007, the United States government first acknowledged openly the fact that several new Iranian and North Korean missiles were under development. It was made by then deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency, BGEN Patrick O’Reilly. A classified March 2013 Defense Intelligence Agency report[20] declared “with moderate confidence” DIA’s assessment that North Korea “currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however the reliability will be low.” One month later, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, stated in a public budget briefing:

“The proximity of the North Koreans to achieving a miniaturization of their nuclear device on a ballistic missile is a classified matter. But they have conducted two nuclear tests, they have conducted several successful ballistic missile launches and with the absence of concrete evidence to the contrary we have to assume the worst case and that’s why we are postured as we are.”[21]

The current situation is directly traceable to the serial transfer of Soviet missile technology to North Korea in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This included the R-17 Elbrus[22] [NATO designation: SS-1C SCUD-B] and the submarine launched R-27 Zyb[23] [NATO designation: SS-N-6 Serb]. The North Korean Hwasŏng-5 is an indigenously reverse-engineered and improved version of the R-17 that began regular factory production between 1985 and 1987. The North Korean Musudan[24] is a road-mobile, single stage intermediate-range ballistic missile that is a reverse-engineered and improved (and slightly elongated) version of the R-27. Its production began in the early 1990s, and sources claim the Musudan was deployed in late 2007 after Iran ran surrogate flight-tests in January 2006 and May 2007.

Despite their age at the time — it was by then 40-year-old technology — the R-17 and R-27 designs afforded North Korea decided advantages. The R-27 engine was designed by the Isayev Design Bureau (OKB-2), which also designed the SCUD engines that North Korea successfully modified for its larger Nodong missiles. It also represented a proven technology that lessened the need to conduct open (and detectable) flight tests. North Korea successfully extended the R-27’s Soviet-era developmental trajectory:

Table.[25] Soviet R-27 SLBM Variants and North Korean Modifications A & B

Soviet R-27 SLBM Variants and North Korean Modifications A & B

The North Korean R-27 Modification-B is a submarine-launched naval variant designated the KN-11 and sometimes called the Nodong-D or the Pukgeukseong-1 (“Polaris-1”). After earlier reports of a shore-based ejector-launch test, North Korea on 21 December 2015 completed a successful pop-up experimental ejection test from an underwater test platform located near its coastal city of Sinpo.

A decade after the two nations established diplomatic ties in 1973, North Korea and Iran began in 1985 to collaborate actively in the area of ballistic missile development. The relationship was pivotal to North Korea’s ability to capitalize on Russian missile technology, which was transferring to North Korea at an accelerated pace in this period. Iran underwrote North Korea’s development of Russian R-27 missile technology, which North Korea subsequently reverse engineered to produce a SCUD-B variant, the short-range (300km) Hwasŏng-5 ballistic missile. North Korea compensated Iran by transferring Hwasŏng-5 technology, and by giving Iran the option to purchase completed North Korean missiles.[26] Iran reportedly purchased some 100 North Korean SCUD-B/Hwasŏng-5 missiles, some of which were launched during the “war of the cities” campaign of the closing years of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). Iran’s deployment and use of North Korean SCUD-B/Hwasŏng-5 missiles yielded important performance data that would otherwise have required extensive indigenous flight-testing.[27]

North Korea began developing its Nodong-class intermediate-range ballistic missile platform during this period. Initial launch pad tests of the Nodong-1[28] were first detected by United States satellite reconnaissance in May 1990, and North Korea conducted its first (and only) indigenous flight-test in May 1993. It later flight-tested the Nodong-1 in Iran, though like the indigenous flight test, the missile could not be flown to its full 1300km range because of geographic boundaries.

North Korean-Iranian cooperation in the realm of ballistic missile development accelerated in the 1990s. The decade marked the joint development of Iran’s Shahab (“Meteor”) series ballistic missiles, the first of which (Shahab-1) was a variant on the North Korean SCUD-B/Hwasŏng-5 missile. Iran first obtained it from North Korea in 1987 and implemented production later that year of a domestic variant. The Shahab-1 specifications are nearly identical to the North Korean missile and many components were imported from North Korea. Subsequent Shahab versions were based on North Korea’s next-generation SCUD-C variant, the Hwasŏng-6.

The parallel evolution of the North Korean and Iranian missile programs is clear. The North Korea’s Nodong, Taepodong-1[29], and Taepodong-2[30] missiles were the basis for Iran’s Shahab-3[31], Shahab-4[32], and Shahab-5/6[33] missiles, respectively. The two countries have collaborated closely on the development of a nuclear-capable ICBM — the Taepodong-2 (North Korea) and the Shahab-6 (Iran) — and many analysts believe this involved Iran for the first time transferring missile technology to North Korea. The suspect transfers include both indigenous Iranian technology — for example, a North Korean Musidan exhibited publicly in October 2010 featured a triconic nose cone that closely resembles Iran’s Ghader-1,[34] a variant of the Shahab-3A medium-range (1950km) ballistic missile — as well as illicitly acquired Western missile technology.

Fast-forward to October 2015. Iran tested its first precision-guided long-range missile a mere three months after negotiating terms of the JCPA. Iranian leaders claim the precision-guided Emad (the name means “Pillar” in Farsi) medium-range missile is a significantly longer range (1700 km) Shahab-3[35] variant. Its lineage traces directly to the North Korean Nodong platform[36] that was developed with Soviet technical support and Iranian financial assistance. Iran claims the Eman is accurate to within 500 meters. However, respected analyst Greg Thielmann[37] argues that even if, as Iran claims, improvements incorporated into the design of the Emad make it significantly more accurate than earlier-generation Iranian MRBMs, they are insufficient to make the Emad lethal against point targets.[38]

Iran has now escalated its defiance of the (so far) not so consequential international opprobrium directed at its missile program while unenthusiastically complying (or at least appearing to) with the far more consequential JCPA, which promises sanctions relief. Some critics (including the author) argued when the JCPA’s language was disclosed publicly last summer that its insistently “stovepiped” view of Iran’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs was dangerously reductionist and flawed.

The Obama Administration has erred similarly in the past. Its September 2009 cancellation of the European Interceptor Site — a planned missile defense complex located in Poland — was predicated on its conclusion that Iranian missiles had inadequate range to menace the continental United States, and would continue so for the foreseeable future.[39] According to some sources, however, Iran at the time already possessed some number of Russian RSD-10 Pioneer [NATO designation: SS-20 Saber], a nuclear-capable intermediate-range (5500km) ballistic missile. Russia earlier sold Iran an undetermined number minus their nuclear warheads (and may have done so before in the 1990s).[40] Russia rationalized the missile sale as support for Iran’s space program although Russia should have dismantled the missiles after the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

Some believe Iran is using RSD-10/SS-20 technology in its suspected development-stage variant on the existing Shahab platform dubbed the Shahab-6 (aka Toqyān 2). Analysts believe the Shahab-6 is designed for a range of around 5000km, would allow it to strike targets as far away as western Europe. The so-called “space path” to an ICBM is well understood, and one North Korea is known to be pursuing through its Unha launch vehicle. Russia is actively collaborating with Iran according to a 2012 report in the state-owned Russia Today under “a secret deal on wide cooperation in space exploration, ranging from training Iranian cosmonauts in Russia to possible production of Earth observation and telecommunication satellites for Iran.”[41]

It is of course impossible to establish fully the scope and extent of Iran’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile collaboration with North Korea working with open sources alone. There nevertheless is an extensive body of evidence in the public domain extending back three decades from which to document the collaboration’s existence and to define its general contours. It strains credulity to argue Iran, for reasons that are never fully articulated, simply stopped cold its pursuit of nuclear weapons some time ago. It also flies in the face of contrary evidence from Iran’s ballistic missile and warhead development programs. The footprint of the Iran-North Korea nuclear weapon and ballistic missile collaboration is too unmistakable, and Western knowledge about North Korea too sketchy, to rule out the possibility Iran offshored its nuclear weapon program to an opaque North Korea.

Others like Ilan Berman speculate North Korea may be Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon in the aftermath of the JCPA.[42] The strongly pro-JCPA Arms Control Association addressed the question:

“It is also theoretically possible that Iran could contract for its nuclear weapons program by buying a nuclear weapon or the material for one. One such theory postulates that Iran and North Korea, which have a long history of collaboration on ballistic missiles, could collaborate to mutually develop nuclear and missile capabilities, with each providing access to resources that the other cannot. For Iran, this could include the covert acquisition of HEU or plutonium from North Korea. This scenario is an interesting possibility but, as with an existing covert program, offers nothing by way of guidance for how to interpret the deal. At a minimum, the deal prohibits such transfers, as would Iran’s commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which it joined in 1970.”[43]

Setting aside its begrudging “theoretically possible” — the scenario is, after all, clearly possible and at some level probable, and has nothing to do with theory — the ACA advances a tendentious, reductionist argument focused on whether Iran and North Korea are moving nuclear material from one to the other. The much simpler case involves Iran prosecuting nuclear weapons research and development inside North Korea, either directly or by underwriting North Korean efforts in exchange for receiving the resultant technology. After all, Iran already demonstrated its ability to manufacture weapon-grade material, and there is no suggestion this knowledge is somehow un-learned under the JCPA. Thus Iran’s current priority is weaponization, not fissile material production. The flawed ACA critique continues:

“This threat does not diminish the value of the deal, except if one assumes that the only way to address the problem is to change the regime. If that is one’s outlook, then it is fair to suggest that the deal is poorly equipped to handle this challenge. In making that argument, however, one would have to explain how any reasonably conceivable deal could prevent that.”[44]

This acrostic argument can be restated as “the value of the JCPA is a function of whether one believes Iran will comply fully and continuously with the document’s letter and spirit, and whether its limited inspection regime is sufficient to detect all incidents of Iranian noncompliance.” There is absolutely no reason to think the JCPA can illuminate Iranian collaboration with North Korea, in North Korea, regarding nuclear weaponization. No inspection of known or suspect Iranian nuclear sites will likely stumble upon evidence of ongoing nuclear weapons collaboration with North Korean, one that in the realm of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles paradoxically exists (more or less) in the full light of day. No Western policymaker can claim to understand fully the Iran-North Korea nexus nor what activities Iran might have shifted preemptively to its North Korean partner during the JCPA’s extended run up.

Iran’s resilient refusal to comply with UNSC resolutions condemning its missile program does not auger well for the presumed full cessation of Iranian nuclear weapons-related research and development activities. A recent Heritage Foundation assessment noted:

“Nuclear diplomacy with both North Korea and Iran was precipitated by their violating previous agreements and UN resolutions — hardly the basis for confidence in that they will abide by yet more accords. Pyongyang and Tehran serially deceived, denied, and defied the international community. Yet, arms control proponents responded to growing evidence of cheating by doubting, dismissing, deflecting, denouncing, deliberating, debating, delaying, and eventually dealing.”[45]

If — and it is impossible with sufficient confidence to dismiss it outright — Iran offshored its nuclear weapons program to North Korea in the run up to the JCPA, then we must rapidly and radically shift our view of the Islamic Republic’s intentions. It would mean among other things that Iran is a pivotal locus within a much broader transnational threat that extends to the Korean peninsula and beyond. The product of the known Iranian-North Korean collaboration — the three-decade-long one around ballistic missile development — is a robust, evolving threat within a continuously outward expanding geographic penumbra. It requires something of a JCPA-like willing suspension of belief to accept there is no continuing collaboration between Iran and North Korea to develop deliverable nuclear warheads for their jointly developed ballistic missiles, given so much evidence to the contrary.

The translation of all source material is by the author unless noted otherwise. Missiles are identified for the sake of clarity and consistency by their indigenous and where applicable, their companion NATO designation.

[1] Sergey Pluzhnikov, Sergey Sokolov & Mikhail Morozov (1994). “Will Kim Il-song Explode Our Atom Bomb?” Komsomolskaya Pravda [published in Russian 22-24 April 1994]. Published by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service in FBIS-SOV-94-079 (25 April 1994), 15.

[2] Quoted in Paul K. Kerr, Steven A. Hildreth & Mary Beth D. Nikitin (2015). “Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation.” Report prepared by the Congressional Research Service dated 11 May 2015, p.7. Last accessed 8 January 2015.

[3]  In February 2013, several western intelligence services reported that Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was present at the Punggye-ri Test Site to witness North Korea’s third atomic test. These reports are bolstered by the corroboration of organizations like the Tokyo-based NGO Human Rights in Asia that Fakhrizadeh traveled through China to reach North Korea. Other reports claim that Iranian nuclear scientists witnessed North Korea’s previous two nuclear detonations at Punggye-ri, in October 2006 and May 2009.

[4] For example, the Iranian opposition movement known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) aka the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) disclosed a detailed account of a visit to North Korea in 2013 by Tehran’s top nuclear weapons experts headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was present during at least one North Korean nuclear test. According to the MEK, a seven-member North Korean delegation, comprised of experts in nuclear warhead design and various parts of ballistic missiles including guidance systems, spent the last week of April 2015 in Iran, allegedly the third such nuclear and missile team to visit Iran in 2015. The North Korean delegation was secreted in a building near an Iranian Defense Ministry site named the “Iman Khomeini Complex” at the Hemmat Industrial Group site in the Khojir area, northeast of Tehran. The MEK is the main component-organization of the umbrella coalition known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). See:…. Last accessed 8 January 2015.

[5] UNSCR 1737 (December 2006) prohibits all member states from providing technical or financial assistance, training, or resources related to certain nuclear and ballistic missile-related goods, and requires all to refrain from importing designated nuclear and ballistic missile-related items from Iran. UNSCR 1929 (June 2010) establishes a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, including “missiles or missile systems.” It also prohibits Iran from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles, and requires member states to take necessary measures to prevent technology relevant to ballistic missiles from reaching Iran.

[6] UNSCR 2231 adopted 20 July 2015 provides for an eight-year restriction on Iranian nuclear-capable ballistic missile activities and a five-year ban on conventional arms transfers to Iran. The resolution’s Annex B requires Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” It also grants the UNSC the authority to review and deny on a case-by-case basis any technology or other transfers to Iran that could contribute to nuclear weapons delivery systems. After the 5-year restrictions on arms sales and the 8-year restrictions on ballistic missile activities are lifted, they may be re-imposed “in the event of significant non-performance by Iran of its JCPOA commitments”. See:…. Last Accessed 8 January 2016.

[7] A ballistic missile consists of a payload fitted atop one or more rocket engines (staging is a configuration in which multiple rockets are stacked on top of one another). There are three phases or stages of a ballistic missile’s flight. The ballistic missile is boosted by its engines during the boost phase, and tipping in the direction of the target and gaining speed as it leaves the lower atmosphere. As the missile floats to the top of its trajectory, the section that carries the payload (the “Post Boost Vehicle” or “Bus”) makes final adjustments to the course. During this post-boost phase, the missile directs the warhead to its target. This can be either a single warhead or multiple warheads, depending on the design, as well as the deployment of decoys designed to defeat anti-missile systems. Warheads, decoys, and the remains of the missile float freely in the midcourse phase as they coast over the top of the ballistic arch, gradually spreading apart along their individual ballistic paths. Atmospheric interference during the terminal phase slows and heats up warheads, decoys, and the remains of the missile. Warheads are armored to withstand the heat and pressure encountered during the terminal phase. They arrive at their target at angles ranging from 20 to 45 degrees depending on their missile’s range (the longer the range, the shallower the angle).

Ballistic missile are classified according to the maximum distance they can travel, which is a function of the power of their rocket(s) and the payload weight. A short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) travels less than 1,000km (620 miles). A medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) travels between 1000–3000km (620-1860 miles). An intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) travels between 3000–5500km (1860-3400 miles). An intercontinental ballistic missile  (ICBM) travels greater than 5500 kilometers. SRBMs and MRBMs are referred to as theater ballistic missiles. Long-range IRBMs and ICBMs are referred to as strategic ballistic missiles.

[8] Jeremy Binnie (2015). “Iran’s underground missile base.” IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly [published online 22 October 2015]. Last accessed 9 January 2015.

[9] “China Can Do More on North Korea, Kerry Says.” Voice of America [published online 13 February 2014].…. Last accessed 8 January 2016.

[10] “New Launch Facilities Under Construction at Musudan-ri, Possible Iranian Connection.” 38 North [published online 22 May 2012]. Last accessed 9 January 2016. The blog 38 North is part of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

[11] Jeffrey Lewis (2014). “The Axis of Orbit: Iran-DPRK Space Cooperation.” 38 North [published online 13 January 2014]. Last accessed 8 January 2015.

[12] “Iran ‘Paid Millions for Ringside Seat at N. Korean Nuke Test’.” The Chosunnilbo [published online in English 18 February 2013]. Last accessed 8 January 2016.

[13] Statement of Dr. Jim Walsh, MIT Security Studies Program, on “The Iran-North Korea Strategic Alliance” before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, 28 July 2015.…. Last accessed 9 January 2015.

[14] Kerr, et al.., op cit., 9.

[15] The Bush Administration in April 2008 disclosed that the facility at Al Kibar in northeast Syria that Israel attacked on 6 September 2007 was a nearly operational plutonium nuclear reactor. Its intended use was to produce nuclear fuel rods that could be converted into weapons-grade plutonium.  There were extensive reports after the Israeli attack that North Korea and Syria had a nuclear collaboration dating to 1997, and that North Korea was actively assisting Syria in the design and construction of the Al Kibar facility.  United States intelligence officials confirmed this in a closed 24 April 2008 Congressional briefing. South Korean intelligence sources claimed that the attack killed ten North Koreans; United States intelligence photographs taken in the interior of the reactor facility prior to the attack reportedly showed the presence of North Korean personnel. See: Larry A. Niksch (2009). “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Development and Diplomacy.” Congressional Research Service report dated 4 May 2009, 14. There were reports of a related plutonium reprocessing facility in Iran that was to receive some of the Al Kibar plutonium rod production.

[16] In 2011 the International Atomic Energy Agency was in possession of information detailing Iranian efforts c.2003 under Project 111. Project 111 was involved in 2003 with the design of the inner cone of the Shahab 3 missile reentry vehicle and the production of an explosives operations control set for a new payload. The information obtained by the IAEA detailed an effort to integrate a payload consisting of an initiation system and a high explosive charge in the form of a hemispherical shell into the chamber of the Shahab-3 missile re-entry vehicle. See: David Albright, Paul Brannan, Mark Gorwitz & Andrea Stricker (2011). ISIS Analysis of IAEA Iran Safeguards Report: Part II – Iran’s Work and Foreign Assistance on a Multipoint Initiation System for a Nuclear Weapon. Institute for Science and International Security report (13 November 2011), 5.…. Last accessed 10 January 2015.

[17] The Iranian Defense Ministry operates this site through an industrial cutout, the Bakeri Missile Industry Group, which builds Shahab and other ballistic missiles there and conducts related research activities.

[18] Robin Hughes (2006). “Tehran Takes Steps to Protect Nuclear Facilities.” Jane’s Defense Weekly (25 January 2006), 4.

[19] Ibid. See also: Niksch (2009), op cit., 17.

[20] This information comes from a classified seven-page DIA report titled “Dynamic Threat Assessment 8099: North Korea Nuclear Weapons Program.” It was disclosed unwittingly in an 11 April 2013 House Armed Services Committee, when Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) read into the open record what he believed was an unclassified sentence in an otherwise classified DIA report.

[22] “Hagel: North Korea near ‘red line’.” UPI [published online 10 April 2013.The R-17 was a Soviet tactical ballistic missile, development of which began in April 1958. It could be fired from wheeled vehicles or tank-based crawlers, and could carry conventional explosives, chemical or nuclear warheads.

[23] The R-27 was a Soviet intermediate-range, submarine-launched, liquid propellant ballistic missile. It incorporated a second-stage engine, superior range (2500km), accuracy, and multiple reentry vehicles (MRVs). Development of the R-27 began in 1962 and it entered service in the Soviet Union in 1968 deployed on all Project 667A [NATA designation: Yankee 1] ballistic missile submarines.

[24] The Musudan is also known under the names Taepodong-X and Nodong-2. Its predecessor was the Nodong-1 (sometimes written as Nodong-A) a medium-range, single-warhead ballistic missile with an estimated range of 1300km, sufficient to strike theatre targets from Tokyo to Taipei. Nodong is the South Korean spelling (of the Korean word for labor) and the one generally used by western analysts, rather than the North Korean spelling, Rodong..

[25] Source: Richard A. Fisher, Jr. (2004). “North Korea’s New Missiles. International Assessment and Strategy Center [published online 20 September 2004). Last accessed 8 January 2015.

[26] The contours of the early missile development relationship between North Korea and Iran are confirmed by several sources. See for example: Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. (1999). “A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK.” Occasional Paper No. 2, Center for Nonproliferation Studies (November 1999). See also: Lee Jeong-hun (1999). “From FROG to Taepodong: North Korea’s Missile Game.” Shindonga [published in Korean]. August 1999, 202.

[27] Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative. Last accessed 9 January 2015.

[28] The Nodong-1 is a medium-range ballistic missile that is road-mobile and designed to strike population centers. It appears to be an enhanced version of North Korea’s SCUD-C variant, the Hwasŏng-6, a short-range (500km) ballistic missile that successfully completed a series of test firings by mid-1990. Iran in that same year reportedly purchased some number of SCUD-C/Hwasŏng-6 missiles and secured North Korean assistance to establish a domestic assembly and manufacturing facility.

The Nodong-1 also incorporates certain features of the R-21 [NATO designation: SS-N-5 Sark], a short-range (1430km) second-generation submarine-launched ballistic missile first developed by the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s. When it was first deployed in the early 1960s (and later modified) the R-21 was the first Soviet missile capable of being launched from a submarine beneath the surface of the water. It was eventually replaced in the Soviet fleet by the R-27, and all were removed from service by 1988. Numerous reports suggest that North Korea received Russian (and some suggest, Chinese) technical assistance during the development of the Nodong-1.

[29] The North Korean Taepodong-1 [TD-1] is an intermediate-range (2000-6000km, depending on the payload’s weight and whether a third stage is added) ballistic missile. It was first launched and then retired in 1998.

[30] The North Korean Taepodong-2 [TD-2] is a three-stage, intercontinental ballistic missile that was developed in parallel with the quickly retired Taepodong-1 beginning in 1990. Its first test in July 2006 failed, followed by a successful test in April 2009 and another failure in April of 2012. Analysts have noted certain similarities between the Taepodong-2’s first stage and China’s DF-3/3A Dongfeng [NATO designation: CSS-2] and DF-4 Dongfeng [NATO designation: CSS-3] ICBM, as well as the use of components from the Nodong-1.

[31] Iran has developed several variants of its Shahab-3 intermediate-range (1500-2500km) missile series, including Shahab 3A, Shahab 3B, Ghadr-1. The modifications including replacing the steel fuselage with an aluminum one to reduce weight; reducing the warhead’s mass; lengthening the airframe to accommodate larger fuel tanks; replacing navigation and guidance systems; and a higher reentry velocity (and possibly, an airburst) warhead. The earliest Shahab-3 variants reached operational status in 2007. The Shahab-3 modifications, which appear to be domestic technologies, evince how far the Iranian missile program has progressed since the missile’s first variant was tested in July 2002. See: Last accessed 9 January 2016.

[32] The Shahab-4 medium-range (2000-4000km) ballistic missile that appears to be based on the North Korean Nodong-2 and another of its variants, the Pakistani Hatf-5A. It also appears to share features with the Soviet-era R-27 [NATO designation: SS-N-6 Serb], some number of which Iran purchased from North Korea in the mid-2000s. [See: Duncan Lennox, ed. (2006). Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, Issue 45. (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group), 583-84.] Iran announced in 2003 that is would close the Shahab-4 program.

[33] The Shahab 5/6 is modeled on a variant of the North Korean Taepodong-2.

[34] Catherine Boye, Melissa Hanham & Seungho Lee (2010). “Missiles, Maneuvers and Mysteries: Review of Recent Developments in North Korea.” Center for Nonproliferation Studies [published online 2 November 2010].

[35] The Iranian Shahab-3 is a single-stage, liquid-fueled, road-mobile MRBM with a range of 1280 km (800 miles). A Shahab-3 variant (sometimes called Shahab-4) has a longer range of 1900km (1200 miles). Its name means Meteor-3 or Shooting Star-3 in Farsi, and it is alternatively designated the Zelzal (“Earthquake”). ] is derivative from the North Korean No-dong missile.

[36] The DPRK began testing prototypes of the No-dong (variously called No-dong-1, Ro-dong 1, and Scud-D) in the early 1990s. It has an estimated range of 1350-1500km

[37] Thielmann is an Arms Control Association Senior Fellow and Director of ACA’s Realistic Threat Assessment and Response Project. He argues further that the proliferation of tactical and regional missile defenses in Israel and the Gulf States further diminishes the military effectiveness of Iranian ballistic missiles.

[38] A point target is one of such small dimension that it requires the accurate placement of ordnance in order to neutralize or destroy it. In the context of a nuclear weapon, it is a target in which the ratio of radius of damage to target radius is equal to or greater than 5. See: United States Department of the Army (1997). FM 101-5-1/MCRP 5-2A. Operational Terms and Graphics. Last accessed 8 January 2016.

[39] This was a key assumption of the EIS project: “The U.S. Intelligence Community assesses that with continued foreign assistance, Iran could be able to develop an ICBM capable of reaching the United States and all regions of Europe before 2015. Iran is also developing space launch vehicles – a key building block for an ICBM.” See: United States Departments of Defense and State (2007). “Proposed U.S. Missile Defense Assets in Europe.” Report 07-MDA-2650 (15 June 2007), 2. Last accessed 10 January 2016.

[40] Hans Rühle (2009). “Iran and Russia Hot Double Games: SS-20 Missiles Sold as well as S-300 and Plutonium Breeder.” World Security Network (10 November 2009).…. Last accessed 10 January 2016. Dr. Rühle was Head of the Planning Staff of the German Defense Ministry from 1982-1988, after which he served as coordinator of the newly created Federal Security Academy. From 1990-1995 he was General Manager of the NATO Multirole Combat Aircraft Development and Production Management Agency (NAMMA).

[41] “Russia to train Iranian cosmonauts, build recon sats — report.” Russia Today. [publish online 7 May 2014]. Last accessed 10 January 2016.

[42] See: Berman (2015). “North Korea: Iran’s Pathway to a Nuclear Weapon.” The National Interest [published online 13 August 2015].…. Last accessed 10 January 2016.

[43] Richard Nephew (2015). “How the Iran Deal Prevents a Covert Nuclear Weapons Program.” Arms Control Today [published online 2 September 2015].…. Last accessed 10 January 2015.


[45] Bruce Klingner (2015). “The Iranian Nuclear Deal and the North Korean Nuclear Issue.” Commentary on Public Diplomacy, Missile Defense, National Security and Defense, Nuclear Forces and Strategy. The Heritage Foundation [published online 5 August 2015].…. Last accessed 10 January 2016.