It is true that the military power of North Korea today, was built on the foundation mainly of weapons and military equipment of the Soviet Union.

North Korea and South Korea were divided after World War II, this was the result of the division of interests between the victorious nations, namely the US and the Soviet Union. North Korea was under Soviet influence and South Korea was under American influence. Immediately after taking over the Japanese surrender, the Soviet Union actively helped North Korea build up its military. From 1949 to 1952 alone, the Soviet Union provided military aid worth 200 million rubles.

The first Soviet military aid to Korea included 37 T-34 tanks, tens of thousands of infantry guns and mortars; Il-10 and Yak-9 fighters, and several different types of artillery. In addition to providing weapons and military equipment, the Soviet Union also sent about 4,000 military personnel, not only to train North Korea’s burgeoning forces, but also to provide combat support and technical expertise during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

North Korean military participate in the celebration of the 70th anniversary
North Korean military participate in the celebration of the 70th anniversary

After the Korean War ended, the Soviet Union also entered the era of Khruschev’s leadership. Soviet military and technological transfers to North Korea continued in the mid-1960s and mid-1980s. North Korea received from the Soviet Union more than a thousand T-55 main battle tanks, as well as a license to manufacture T-62 tanks. The domestically produced North Korean version is called Chonma-ho.

When the Soviet Union was about to collapse, North Korea was able to switch to domestic production. Soviet legacies continue to be present in Pyongyang’s defense industries. North Korea’s current Pokpung-ho main battle tank, evolved from designs such as the Soviet T-62 and T-72 tanks and even the newer Russian T-90 main battle tank.

In the small arms segment, Type 58 and 68 assault rifles are manufactured by North Korea based on the AK-47 and AKM licenses of the Soviet Union. Even the latest model of the Type 88 assault rifle, is based on the Soviet AK-74. Similarly, North Korea’s air force consisted of more than 200 Soviet fighters, notably the MiG-29, Il-28 and Su-25. Their current air defense force consists almost exclusively of Soviet S-200, S-125 and S-75 surface-to-air missile systems.

It can be affirmed that the defense of North Korea was not only built from the foundation by the Soviet Union, but also directly transferred military-technology from the Soviet Union, over a period of half a century. Currently many Soviet weapons, still the mainstay of strength in the Korean Army.

However, the successor of the Soviet Union, Russia, did not make strong moves to help North Korea like it did under the Soviet Union. In the 21st century, that role has fallen to China, and China is increasingly active in asserting its geopolitical interests in East Asia.


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