North Korea says it tested ‘high-thrust solid-fuel motor’

Pyongyang has been working to build more solid-fuel missiles, which are more stable and can be launched with almost no warning.

N Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test of a 'high thrust solid fuel motor'. He's wearing a thick brown winter jacket and appears to be standing on a hill. He looks very pleased and is smiling. There are large clouds of smoke
The latest test was overseen by North Korean leader leader Kim Jong Un [KCNA via Reuters]

North Korea has tested a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor”, state media reported on Friday, as the isolated country continues efforts to develop a new strategic weapon and speeds up its nuclear and missile programmes.

The test, overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, took place on Thursday at North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, the official KCNA news agency said.

The static firing test proved the motor’s reliability and stability, providing a “guarantee for the development of another new-type strategic weapon system”, KCNA added.

Experts say the test appears aimed at developing a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) given the thrust of the engine, which North Korea said was “the first of its kind” in the country.

The country has been working to build more solid-fuel missiles, which are more stable and can be launched with almost no warning or preparation time.

“Pyongyang’s claim of testing a solid-fuel motor for longer range ballistic missiles supports its more aggressive, recently declared doctrine of using nuclear weapons if the Kim leadership or strategic assets come under threat,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera. “Once deployed, the technology would make North Korea’s nuclear forces more versatile, survivable, and dangerous.”

But Easley cautioned that getting from a solid-fuel motor ground test to operational, accurate, and reliable missiles would involve many technical challenges and state media could exaggerate the country’s weapons capabilities and deployment timelines.

A view of a "high-thrust solid-fuel motor" test. Smoke and flames are shooting out of a a device on a hillside. There is a small island in the background and the sea. It looks cold
The test took place at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground. A US think-tank said in a recent report that satellite imagery showed a horizontal engine test stand had been built there [KCNA via Reuters]

Unprecedented tests

Developing a solid-fuel ICBM was part of North Korea’s five military tasks rolled out at its key party meeting last year.

After overseeing the test, Kim said “another important problem in carrying out the five priority tasks” had been solved successfully, and expressed “expectation that another new-type strategic weapon would be made in the shortest span of time”, according to KCNA.

North Korea has conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests this year, including an ICBM capable of reaching the United States mainland, despite international bans and sanctions.

In March, Kim visited the Sohae site and called for expansion of the facility, which has been used to test various missile technologies, including static rocket engines and space launch vehicles.

A new report by the US-based Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS) said commercial satellite imagery showed construction of what appears to be a horizontal engine test stand, describing it as the “first of its kind” at the Sohae station.

The latest test took place as International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi visited Seoul for talks with South Korean officials and promised an all-out effort to stop North Korea’s nuclear programme.

During his meeting with Grossi, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol expressed concerns over North Korea’s “race” to advance its nuclear and missile programmes, calling for the United Nations agency’s cooperation to deter Pyongyang from making further provocations.

South Korean and US officials have said North Korea has completed preparations for a potential nuclear test, which would be the first since 2017.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters