North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited an advanced fighter aircraft factory on Friday as part of his tour of Russia. Kim inspected the manufacturing facilities of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association, or KnAAPO, based in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East, leading to more than a little speculation that South Korea North could be preparing to exchange artillery shells and other materials for new, or at least more modern, aircraft to renew its aging air force.
Official photos released from Kim’s visit to KnAAPO show the North Korean leader accompanied by Russia’s Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov. Kim was seen in the cockpit of a new-generation Su-57 Felon fighter, as well as in the final assembly hall of the Su-35 Flanker multirole fighter, and witnessing a demonstration flight over the Su-35 factory airfield. pre-delivery.
Kim’s visit to KnAAPO came on the third day of his trip, which marks a very rare visit by the North Korean leader to a foreign country. Kim arrived in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in his favorite style: aboard his specially equipped armored train, which had previously taken him across the border and then to the port city of Vladivostok.
Kim’s trip has also included a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a space facility on the eastern edge of the Amur region. The talks reportedly included satellite technology, which North Korea wants to obtain, as well as a possible deal to supply North Korean weapons to Russia. An inspection of the assets of the Pacific Fleet of the Russian Navy is also planned in Vladivostok.
Although the details of that agreement to supply Russia with North Korean weapons have not been revealed, both countries have repeatedly framed Kim’s visit in the context of Pyongyang’s strong support for Russia against its Western enemies and Russia’s need for North Korean ammunition. There has also been an exchange of rifles between Kim and Putin, the symbolism of which can hardly be overlooked.
Russia’s Putin presented North Korea’s Kim with a Russian rifle of the ‘highest quality’ and received a gun in return. https://t.co/p2JQnUNUvy
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) September 15, 2023
Mikhail Degtyarev, regional of Khabarovsk Krai, where KnAAPO’s facilities are located, took to the messaging app Telegram to confirm Kim’s visit to the factory and also made the following statement:
“Our fathers and grandfathers fought together against Japanese militarism, our country supported North Korea in its fight against the imperialist ambitions of the United States in the 1950s, and today we resist together the pressure of the collective West.”
Clearly, the Su-35 and Su-57 produced by the KNAAPO would represent a huge improvement over the very outdated equipment currently flown by the North Korean Air Force. Moscow may be offering these aircraft or other advanced technologies to North Korea to secure the type of weapons it needs in large quantities, especially large volumes of artillery ammunition, rocket artillery and anti-tank missiles.
It should also be noted that the Su-57 has so far not secured any export orders and has only been rewarded with strictly limited orders from the Russian Ministry of Defense. India, a former partner in the program, radically withdrew, while an apparent overture to Turkey failed to attract any serious interest beyond photo opportunities.
Planned deals to sell Su-35s to Egypt and Indonesia collapsed due to pressure from the United States, and a proposal to transfer some of the reactors already built for Egypt to Iran has failed to materialize.
It is clear that the current political climate, production limitations and strict sanctions are already making the export of Russian defense material very difficult. If the deal goes well, an unscrupulous client like North Korea could be an attractive alternative. If the Iran deal fails, Pyongyang could also emerge as a potential candidate to purchase surplus Su-35s.
In addition to fighters, North Korea would almost certainly also be interested in other Russian products, whether related to modernizing other parts of its military or to help boost its own missile and space programs.
However, the question remains of what kind of technologies Russia will actually be willing to share with North Korea. After all, Russia is likely to seek unsophisticated munitions in return. In this case, North Korea could easily fill the gaps in Russian production capacity, potentially drawing on thousands of artillery pieces and literally millions of rounds of artillery ammunition and supplying them quickly to meet wartime demand in Ukraine.
Even if the high-end Su-35 and Su-57 are not on the table, other less capable aircraft would still be a massive upgrade for Pyongyang compared to its current fleet of aging Russian-made aircraft, including aging MiG-29 fighters. Fulcrum and Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft. Almost anything available in Russia, be it MiG-29SMTs, Su-27s or Su-30s, would be sought. Even a supply of spare parts and revisions of their current types would greatly value Pyongyang.
On the other hand, Western officials, particularly the U.S. government, are increasingly concerned that deepening relations between Moscow and Pyongyang are paving the way for more direct North Korean assistance to Russia in its war. Ukraine. Washington has already warned that North Korea would “pay a price” if it helped arm Russia at this time.