A North Korean Mystery: Where Did Its Rockets and Missiles Come From?

In the quarter century since the end of the Cold War, much of North Korea’s conventional-weapons capability has quietly aged into obsolescence. Abandoned by the now-defunct Soviet Union and China, Pyongyang’s arsenal of tanks, ships, planes and artillery appears trapped in the 1980s—or earlier. A few weapons, however, including a new antiship missile fired just last week, are fairly new, prompting questions as to exactly where they came from.

After the Korean War, the Korean People’s Army was rebuilt with Soviet and Chinese weapons. Wartime T-34 tanks were replaced with Soviet-built T-62 and T-55 tanks in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and a large fleet of seventy-seven Romeo-class submarines was purchased from China. Pyongyang bought from both countries, favoring one over the other as the political winds blew. One of the country’s last major purchases was a fleet of seventeen MiG-29 “Fulcrum” multirole fighters and thirty-six Su-25 Frogfoot attack jets.