World War III: All the Crazy Weapons North Korea Wishes It Could Buy
North Korean weapons engineers have done remarkable work with remarkably little. Fortunately, North Korea has been largely cut off from the international arms market for a long time, even from suppliers such as China and Russia. While North Korean industry is not primitive, it cannot support the development of multiple modern military systems. South Korea, on the other hand, has taken great advantage of the international arms market, acquiring technology from foreign powers, defraying costs through joint projects, and exporting weapons in order to earn hard cash and create economies of scale.
If North Korea somehow regained access to these markets, and if it could manage the resources necessary to acquiring new weapons, what would it want?
As much as anything, North Korea requires an integrated air defense network that can identify and defeat incoming threats. At present, North Korea sports an air defense network that combines imported Soviet technology (mostly from the 1960s) with indigenously developed equipment. In combination with dense anti-aircraft artillery and a variety of small, portable systems, this network could give the United States pause, if not seriously pose a threat to U.S. airpower.
Recommended: Why Doesn't America Kill Kim Jong Un?
But North Korea could very much use a modern SAM defense system, such as the Russian S-400 or the Chinese HQ-9. An advanced long-range air defense system could even reach into South Korea, threatening U.S. and ROK staging areas as well as civilian air traffic. A modern defensive system could also effectively be used for offense, giving Pyongyang yet another tool for badgering South Korea and the United States.
Pyongyang has displayed an interest in UAV technology since the early 1970s, and began producing its own drones in the 1990s. Over time, the DPRK has acquired a number of drones from international sources, allowing it to integrate foreign technology into its own production lines. At present, North Korea has a small fleet of drones dedicated to surveillance, scouting, and (relatively unsophisticated) attack, along with a system of command and control for managing those UAVs.
North Korea’s drone program could benefit enormously from a direct infusion of technology from China or Russia. China in particular has enjoyed remarkable success on the international drone export market, and the transfer of larger, more capable drones to the Korean People’s Army (KPA) could jumpstart the organizations transition to becoming a twenty-first century military force. The KPA could also use some assistance integrating drones into its force structure, which Chinese or Russian advisors could undoubtedly provide.
North Korea operates a great many submarines, but none of them have any modern characteristics. The DPRK produces some small boats domestically, but has a legacy fleet imported from China and the Soviet Union. Although dangerous in their own way, this flotilla does not compare favorably with that of similarly positioned foreign navies.
The North Korean submarine force could very much use a new, modern boat. Although the basic design is growing long in the tooth, a Russian Kilo-type would substantially increase the range, effectiveness and lethality of Korean People’s Navy (KPN). Alternatively, the KPN could acquire new, advanced boats from China. New submarine technology would also make it easier for North Korea to develop its own underwater nuclear deterrent.
North Korea’s fighter fleet is ancient and undercapitalized. Moreover, modern fighters are probably more difficult to design and build than ballistic missiles, or nuclear weapons for that matter. North Korea’s air force could desperately use any kind of modern fighter, from the more advanced versions of the Su-27 family to any of the recent fighter aircraft developed by China. Even the JF-17, a modern derivative of the MiG-21, would help substantially. Such aircraft would not necessarily equalize the competition with Seoul, but they would make the DPRK’s air force less of a joke.