Belarus to Develop Hypersonic Tactical Ballistic Missile Based on Russian Iskander: Will it Mirror the Korean Tech Transfer Precedent?

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated on May 10 that his country would develop a new ballistic missile system with Russian support, elaborating that it could be based on the Russian Iskander system. “In my presence, President [Putin] told Rogozin to provide immediate support, so we wouldn’t build it from scratch but instead could use the experience of Russian missile experts who had built the Iskander,” he stated, adding that Belarus would also purchase Iskanders ‘off the shelf’ that were built in Russia. There remains a significant possibility that technology transfers were part of the deal, which was discussed in April during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin. The Belarusian leader further added that Belarus would “keep” Russian S-400 air defence systems currently stationed in the country, which would likely complement further units already purchased by the country as well as its existing inventory of S-300 systems. 

The Iskander is considered the world’s leading short ranged tactical ballistic missile system, and is thought to have already seen its technology transferred to both North and South Korea which each fielding a range of derivatives forming part of the southern Hyunmoo series and as the northern KN-23 and KN-26. North Korean derivatives notably have significantly longer ranges than the Iskander itself, as those in Russian service were long restricted by the INF Treaty with the United States to ranges of 500km or less. Treaties governing the export of ground and sea launched missiles notably prevent Russia from selling Iskanders unless they are modified with ranges of 300km or less, although by jointly developing missiles with clients as is thought to have been the case with the Koreas and likely will be for Belarus, there are no legal limitations on their ranges. It remains uncertain what features Belarusian missiles could have that differ from the Russian originals, but they are likely to replace the country’s Soviet built OTR-21 Tochka missiles in service and could well equip new units to expand missile forces. 

The Iskander is considered one of the most successful weapons systems demonstrated by Russian forces in Ukraine, and its missiles have a hypersonic speed, high manoeuvrability and advanced countermeasures which make them particularly difficult to intercept. With Belarus’ ground forces fast ageing in the hardware deployed, the missiles will do much to compensate by providing an asymmetric means of tackling more numerous and better equipped adversaries. President Lukashenko has notably raised the possibility since 2019 of his country acquiring a ballistic missile strike capability in response to expectations that the United States could deploy longer ranged ground launched missiles in Europe, fuelling speculation that an Iskander purchase may be under consideration. The possibility was previously also raised in 2018 as the president warned of a response to the expanding U.S. military presence in neighbouring Poland. The Belarusian Military is expected to receive new generations of Russian hardware at lower prices over the coming years as Moscow seeks to strengthen its key strategic partners, with the militaries of the two countries having accelerated their rate of integration since 2020.