Wednesday, 27 August 2014
North Korean MANPADS showing up in the hands of fighters of the Islamic State?
A photo published by the Islamic State after the capture of Tabqa airbase apparently revealed the capture of an Igla-1E man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) at this base. However, it has now been uncovered the missile isn't an Igla-1E and the photo was not taken at Tabqa but at Kshesh, an airbase captured from Jaish al-Islam that is now being used as a training base by the Islamic State. The row of decommissioned MiG-17s in the background and the presence of two L-39s gave the identity of the base away.
While the missile was initially identified as an Igla-1E, the MANPADS seen operated by the fighter didn't quite match the system's visual appearance. The presence of an aerodynamic spike (as seen on the 9M39 Igla) indicated it isn't just a regular Soviet-produced Igla-1E, which all have pyramidal nosecones. Other external features ruled out other Russian systems and foreign copies thereof. Few other countries produce Igla-1Es, however, North Korea acquired a license to produce them along with 9K111 anti-tank missile systems and subsequently modified and produced different variants of Igla-1Es for its own needs. While the modified 9K111s received the designation of Bulsae-2, it is currently not known what name the Igla-1E received. However, MANPADS in North Korean service often receive the nickname "Hwaseong Chong" (Arquebus).
While Syria is known to have acquired North Korean arms, MANPADS were never noted to have been delivered to the Syrian regime. While both the DPRK and Syria were never too keen on publishing information about arms transfers, the possible North Korean design wasn't yet recognized in Syria during the now three-and-a-half-year-long conflict either, which saw numerous other MANPADS fall in the hands of opposition fighters.
The missile also wasn't sighted in various photo and video reports coming out of the captured bases of Division 17, Regiment 121 and Brigade 93, which showed scores of other equipment being captured, including Iranian made I-RAAD anti-tank missiles.
North Korea is well known to have been delivering arms to what have been branded terrorist organizations by the U.S. A recent example of such transfers was confirmed by the sighting of Bulsae-2s used by Hamas.
While it is unknown wether the North Korean version differs qualitywise from its parent design, a couple of external differences can be noted. Firstly, the missile itself appears to use the aerodynamic spike seen on later generation Russian MANPADS instead of the characteristic pyramidal extension. Furthermore, on some models the battery and handles have been modified, and the protective cap is more reminiscent of more modern MANPADS.
It is unlikely that the Islamic State owns a substantial stock of Igla-1Es, as it is not even ruled out the missile pictured is the only one in their possession. It is therefore improbable the Igla-1E sighted will have any impact on the day-to-day operations of the air forces of the United States, Syria and Iraq over the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields.
The Islamic State Resets Balance with Spoils of Tabqa Airbase
Tabqa airbase captured by the Islamic State at last
Tabqa airbase still holding out against the Islamic State
The spoils of Regiment 121, captured by the Islamic State
The spoils of Brigade 93, captured by the Islamic State