Self-Sufficiency the Iranian way

In news that somehow remained under the radar during this period of intense negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme, the Washington Free Beacon revealed in April that Iran had received "several shipments of missile components" from North Korea since September 2014. Unnamed officials claimed that the goods could be used in future long-range missile systems, or the aforementioned “Top Secret Deterrent” run by the IRGC’s superbly named Self Sufficiency Jihad Organisation (SSJO).

So why has this not caused more international outrage? Well, as Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to Supreme Leader Khamenei, said in December "Iran's missile issue is not up for any type of negotiation".

A constant Iranian refrain in the ongoing nuclear talks is that Tehran won't talk about its missile programme. Ali Akbar Velayati's Christmas message, cited above, is just one of several statements making exactly this point from Iranian officials, both military and civilian..

The only negotiation on the missile programme seems to be whether Iran continues to drive for self sufficiency, or just buys what it needs from the darling of Hollywood, the Democratic Republic (?) of North Korea. Does Iran spend millions of dollars on a new system from North Korea, or does it use the money to fund internal research and pay the wages of the guys at SHIG and SBIG, Iran’s primary missile producers? In Iran’s perilous economic state, if claims made about shipments of missile components are true, then it almost certainly means bad times for the workers of Iran’s missile organisations, and downsizing becomes an inevitability (more on that later).

For Tehran, missiles are a both a point of pride and a strategic crutch. Iran has the largest, most diverse arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles in the Middle East, and it seems not a week goes by without an Iranian general proudly announcing another new missile or missile system. Iran's strategic posture relies heavily on missiles too, as does their self-sufficiency drive. Without them, the country's stretched and ageing conventional forces would form a shaky bastion against foreign threats.

Every missile organisation in Iran wants to be given the prestigious task of mastering long range missile technology, and in turn its’ missiles to be chosen to fit that little red sphere into the nose cone of their missile. Shahid Hemmat Industries Group (SHIG to its’ buddies) has traditionally been the holder of that title, after its’ Shahab-3 missile was implicated as the delivery vehicle for that whole AMAD thing by no less an authority than the IAEA.

Redline has talked about Iran’s work on an ICBM capability previously, which is run by the SSJO. But we have also seen them cosying up to North Korea and getting some pointy missiles for their trouble. The question is, can they really have it both ways? Buying your missiles from abroad really defeats the whole self-sufficiency thing, and trying to do it all yourself tends to result in things blowing up.

Fire

North Korea, Home of the Unicorn

We recently learned, thanks to the US Treasury, that there is a North Korean arms-dealing office in Iran run by a company called KOMID. KOMID has responsibility for exporting goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons from North Korea. Which means KOMID are probably the guys selling the 80 ton SLV engine to SHIG.

According to the US Treasury, the KOMID office in Tehran is run by two guys called Kim Yong Chol and Jang Yong Son. KOMID has guys like Kim and Jang all over the world, peddling North Korean goods to the locals. They’re essentially sales reps, like a military David Brent, and as the other big exports for North Korea are women’s coats, men’s suits and molluscs, selling a ballistic missile system is quite a money spinner for Pyongyang. Ballistic missile technology is not cheap, North Korea could expect to receive payment into the tens of millions of dollars from Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organisation (AIO) for their trouble.

But why would Iran even want North Korean missile technology? Is it actually any good? Of the designs Iran has purchased, borrowed or stolen from Kim Jong-Un, only the Nodong-1, which Iran has based the design of the Shahab-3 on, is actually deployed operationally. There is little wonder that SHIG is having problems making the Safir and the Simorgh work properly when they are based on missiles that North Korea has never deployed operationally themselves.

Kim Yong Chol must be very persuasive. Considering North Korea has previously claimed to have discovered a ‘Unicorn lair’ outside Pyongyang, SHIG would be wise to think twice about putting their trust in the word of KOMID.

If Iran truly has bought an 80 ton space launch vehicle engine from KOMID, then good luck to them. Iran is more likely to get a working missile out of a Lego set than they are from Pyongyang. Redline would not be surprised if SHIG were not happy with the quality of what KOMID provide and would not expect to see a new Iranian missile launched any time soon. It seems unlikely that in these times of plummeting oil prices, where the value of the Tehran stock market index has declined by 20 percent in 2014, Iran’s AIO can ill-afford another multi-million dollar mistake.

Here in lies the real heart of the matter. How does AIO pay North Korea for new missiles? Or more specifically, what does AIO stop funding in order to pay the bill?

SHBIG or SBHIG?

President Rouhani is a known pragmatist, after all he’s allegedly cancelled missile tests before, and Redline has said previously that Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan is a serious man. AIO will surely have been asked to make a trade-off for buying new missile systems from North Korea. If Dehghan has shown distaste for inefficiency in SPND, then he will be horrified by the two ballistic missile organisations under the AIO umbrella. The adventures of General Moghaddam should have been an indicator that SBIG and SHIG had fallen out of favour.

If Rouhani and Dehghan have lost patience, and AIO has decided that they would rather buy in their missiles than grow their own, then SHIG and SBIG will have lost a significant part of their purpose. Buying working designs from abroad means that less indigenous research and development would be required, so all of those engineers that design guidance and control systems, new types of jet vane or re-entry vehicles are probably best off looking elsewhere for work.

Rumours circulated throughout 2014 that SHIG and SBIG would be subject to a merger (we’d call them SHBIG but that’s already taken by another AIO company) and a merger usually means heavy job losses. We already know that Seyed Farahi (سید فرحی) has moved on from SHIG, it would not be a surprise if Mehrdad Akhlaghi Ketabchi (مهرداد اخلاقی کتابچی) found himself ousted from his role as head of SBIG.

If Iran has taken a decision to go with buying in from abroad, then any pretence of self-sufficiency goes with it. Iranian missile workers jobs are being taken by North Korean technology, North Korean research is being used to direct the Iranian missile programme, and Iran’s drive towards self-sufficiency is increasingly looking like that elusive North Korean unicorn.

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