Saturday, April 20, 2024

Russian heavy-lift cargo aircraft secretly fly to North Korea

A recent reporter by NK News‘ Colin Zwirko shed light on secret flights conducted by two Russian military aircraft to North Korea.

Flight tracking data analyzed by Zwirko suggests that a Russian Antonov An-124 cargo plane, known for its large transport capacity, departed North Korea en route to Vladivostok, Russia, on March 21. This flight, alongside a preceding journey made by a Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft from Vladivostok to Pyongyang, points to ongoing covert exchanges between Russia and North Korea.

Of particular interest is the involvement of the 224th Flight Unit and the cargo plane with tail number RA-82030, which were previously implicated by the U.S. Department of Treasury in sanctions related to the transfer of DPRK ballistic missiles. Despite these allegations, the precise nature and timing of such transactions remain undisclosed.


The recent flight activity coincides with escalating tensions in the region, following North Korea’s ballistic missile test conducted by leader Kim Jong Un. While the specific cargo carried by the Russian aircraft remains unknown, intelligence reports suggest the potential transport of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).

Russian An-124 (RA-82030) heading back to Vladivostok from North Korea in the early morning of March 21, 2024 | Image: Flightradar24 screenshot

The capability of the An-124 cargo plane to transport large and heavy weapon systems further amplifies apprehensions surrounding the purpose of these covert flights.

South Korea’s TV Chosun News reported on the cargo plane on Saturday, citing an anonymous “ROK-U.S. intelligence authority” source but without including details such as the model, tail number or timing.

The source reportedly said intelligence agencies caught the plane picking up cargo 50 feet (15 meters) in length “presumed to be SRBMs.” Reportedly this was missiles from the Hwasong-11 series (KN-23).

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About author:

Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov is the editor-in-chief of Defence Blog. He is a journalist, an accredited defense advisor, and a consultant. His background as a defense advisor and consultant adds a unique perspective to his journalistic endeavors, ensuring that his reporting is well-informed and authoritative. read more