The first stage of North Korea’s new intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-14 (KN20), and intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the Hwasong-12 (KN17), both use a variant of a Soviet-origin engine.
Specifically, both missiles, based on their observed flight tests, use a single-chambered variant of the Soviet-origin RD-250 family of liquid-propellant engines with 48 tons of thrust, according to current U.S. intelligence assessments. The engines make use of high-energy, storable hypergolic liquid propellants.
North Korea first tested this liquid propulsion engine on March 18 this year; the engine was dubbed the “March 18 revolution” by Kim Jong-un. North Korean state media included an ominous warning that the “whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries.” Weeks later, the first flight test attempts of the Hwasong-12 began out of Sinpo, culminating in the first successful flight-test of that system in May 2017.
To the contrary, The Diplomat has independently confirmed an assessment first reported by Reuters that parts of the U.S. intelligence community assess that North Korea likely has the capability to manufacture a liquid propulsion engine like the “March 18 revolution” indigenously.
While U.S. intelligence assesses that North Korea has the indigenous capability to manufacture engines like these, it has not assessed either way if it is already doing so or doing so independently. One source told The Diplomat that North Korea, if it did develop and manufacture this RD-250-variant engine indigenously, likely “codeveloped” the system with Iran.
Source: The Diplomat
Bottom line: Both Iran and North Korea are working to improve their ballistic missile capabilities, and both are considered “pariah” states by the U.S. and much of the West, though Iran less so, especially after the nuclear deal Tehran signed with the former Obama administration. In January, U.S. intelligence assessed that Iran tested a missile of North Korean origins, and that missile was based on an old Soviet design. It’s also worth noting that Iran has the Middle East’s largest ballistic missile stockpile, most of which have come from North Korea. Iran remains heavily dependent on foreign suppliers for its missiles, mostly due to sanctions, which explains why it would get a lot of missile technology from Pyongyang. If in fact North Korea is manufacturing the RD-250 engine variant, it’s likely we’ll see it in Iranian missiles at some point in the near future.