Cuba-N.Korean missile deal has serious trade implications
July 17, 2013 - LM Editorial
U.S. shippers hoping to do business in Cuba in the future were dealt a serious setback yesterday when Panamanian authorities discovered that the renegade nation had been trading undeclared “missile equipment” with North Korea.
IHS Jane’s had identified the equipment shown in the images so far released as an RSN-75 ‘Fan Song’ fire control radar for the SA-2 family of surface-to-air (SAM) missiles.
“It is curious that this cargo was being transported on a North Korean-flagged vessel and not a charter,” said IHS APAC Analyst Neil Ashdown in London. In an interview with LM, he added that this development would mean greater scrutiny of pending trade negotiations with Cuba.
The cargo of a North Korean-flagged vessel, the Chong Chon Gang, appeared to have been travelling from Cuba back to North Korea.
Open source Global Information System (GIS) data suggests the Chong Chon Gang had been at Manzanillo, Panama, for at least two days. The AFP reported that the vessel was inspected last Friday (12 July). GIS data obtained by IHS Maritime reveals that the Chong Chon Gang arrived at the southern end of the Panama Canal on 31 May. It passed through the Canal on 1 June, with a stated destination of Havana, Cuba. After that, however, it disappeared from the GIS system and reappeared in Manzanillo, Panama, on 11 July, supposedly en route to North Korea. At this point, its draft had changed, indicating that in the intervening period there has been a change of cargo.
IHS Country Risk assesses that the manner in which the cargo was concealed and the reported reaction of the crew strongly suggests this was a covert shipment of equipment. Further analysis will be dependent on the release of a fuller inventory of the shipment by the Panamanian authorities. One possibility is that Cuba could be sending the system to North Korea for an upgrade. In this case, it would likely be returned to Cuba and the cargo of sugar could be a payment for the services.
However, under a second scenario, the fire-control radar equipment could have been en route to North Korea to augment Pyongyang’s existing air defence network. North Korea’s air defence network is arguably one of the densest in the world, but it is also based on obsolete weapons, missiles and radars. In particular, its high altitude SA-2/3/5 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) are ineffective in a modern electronic warfare (EW) environment.
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