Another potential provider of the long range air defence platforms Syria needs is North Korea, arguably the country’s closest military partner which has served as major arms supplier to Damascus second only to Russia. North Korean forces have participated in all of Syria’s major wars since 1973, and Korean advisors and ground troops continue to operate in the country today to aid their longstanding ally against Western backed insurgents. North Korea has played an instrumental role in upgrading a number of Syrian weapons systems, from its armoured vehicles to its ballistic missiles and even its air defence platforms - with the recent successes of Syria’s Soviet era defence batteries largely due to North Korean upgrades. Damascus may well thus look to North Korea in future to provide it with a more modern surface to air missile platforms capable of augmenting its air defence network and working alongside existing air defence platforms.
North Korea developed the KN-06 air defence platform to modernise its surface to air missile network, and the weapon system completed testing in 2017. It subsequently entered mass production, and is expected to be deployed in large numbers across the country’s territory from fortified underground installations - as per the norm for North Korean surface to air missile platforms. The KN-06 appears almost identical to the S-300, and is estimated to have similar capabilities to advanced variants of the Russian weapons system. The Korean air defence was developed shortly after the signing of an agreement on intelligence and air defence cooperation with Russia in 2015, and is widely speculated to have been developed with Russian assistance and include state of the art technologies derived from the S-300 and S-400 systems - a way for Moscow to strengthen the defences and increase the deterrent capabilities of its neighbour against potential Western attacks without openly defying UN Security Council resolutions against selling Pyongyang arms.
Whether Pyongyang would agree to provide Damascus with the KN-06 remains uncertain considering its importance to Korea’s defence. While North Korea is not bound by the same stipulations as Russia regarding Israel’s security, and maintains no diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, the KN-06’s deployment in Syrian hands could well grant Israel or the Western bloc the opportunity to evaluate its capabilities - and the United States could proceed to use this information to better prepare its forces for an attack on North Korea. The system’s potential failure in Syrian hands, a possibility if operating against the most capable Israeli combat aircraft such as the F-15I armed with some of the world’s most capable electronic warfare suites, could also do much to undermine a key pillar of Pyongyang’s deterrent capabilities. This is a consideration which applies to North Korea’s export of the KN-06 in a way it does not for Russia’s S-300, Iran’s Bavar-373 or China’s HQ-9, as all these states have more advanced air defence platforms in service domestically to deter attacks - whereas for Korea the weapons system represents to epitome of its long range air defence capabilities at present. The KN-06 is a highly suitable weapons system for Syria's air defence needs, though whether Damascus will seek to acquire the platform alongside North Korean assistance in upgrading existing air defence systems remains to be seen.
Continued in Part Three