“Choe Ryong-hae, who visited Moscow as a special envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in November last year, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets,” the military source said.
Little has been disclosed about the discussions between Choe and Putin. Choe, a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, met with Putin on Nov. 18 and delivered a letter from Kim, the Russian presidential office has said, without providing further details. The Kremlin said the meeting was not open to the press, and no press conference was arranged afterward.
“The North produces many weapons systems domestically, but it appears to have sought Russia’s help because building fighter jets requires more complex technologies,” said the official. “But because of international sanctions imposed on the North, Russia won’t likely sell it readily.”
It is unknown how many jets the North attempted to acquire.
During Choe’s visit to Russia, his delegation visited Khabarovsk in the Far East, where a major factory producing Sukhoi jets is located.
It is not the first time the North asked for Russia’s support to upgrade its fighting capabilities in the skies. Kim Jong-il, the late father and predecessor of the current ruler, reportedly sought to acquire advanced fighter jets from Russia when he visited the country in 2011.
The international media also reported that Kim Jong-il attempted to purchase new fighter jets from China during a visit to the country in 2010, but Beijing rejected the request.
North Korea operates a fleet of aging and obsolete Soviet and Chinese aircraft. The North Korean air force is comprised of Soviet MiG fighters and some early versions of Sukhoi, hardly a match for the warplanes of the South and the U.S. 7th Air Force based in South Korea.
Military intelligence authorities in the South believe that Choe’s request for the twin-engine multirole fighters with advanced arms is related to the North’s recently created war plan. Kim approved a new operations plan in August 2012, the JoongAng Ilbo reported this week, quoting senior military officials, designed to complete a Southern invasion within a week using asymmetric capabilities including nuclear weapons. Seoul obtained the new war plan from a former senior North Korean military official who recently defected to the South.
Seoul and Washington have already shared information on the war plan and are creating a new joint deterrence strategy, another senior South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday.
“At the last Security Consultative Meeting in October last year, defense ministers of the two countries agreed to create a plan for comprehensive counter-missile operations because the North is at a final stage of completing its nuclear and missile programs and it is willing to use them,” the official said. “As of now, militaries of South Korea and the United States are materializing a joint operations plan to counter the North’s new war plan.”
At the latest annual meeting, Minster of National Defense Han Min-koo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel “reaffirmed their commitment to reinforce the alliance’s deterrence and response capabilities against North Korean missile threats through the establishment of ‘Concepts and Principles of ROK-U.S. Alliance Comprehensive Counter-missile Operations’ to detect, defend, disrupt and destroy missile threats including nuclear and biochemical warheads.”
The two countries are also mulling a plan to use not only the capabilities of U.S. Forces Korea but also fighter jets, missiles and aircraft carriers of the U.S. military in Japan.
Separately, the South Korean military is also reinforcing its deterrence against the North’s threats. The South seeks to develop its own “Kill Chain” designed for a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean target if there is a clear sign of a nuclear weapon or missile launch.
The South also seeks to establish its own Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) systems, enabling mid-air interceptions of North Korean missiles.
U.S. Forces Korea is concentrating on a plan to deter the North’s use of nuclear arms and missiles in the event of a war.
Russia’s SU-35 Super-Flanker Multirole Air superiority fighter.