North Korea tests new solid-fuel missile engine

The North Korean government tested a new missile engine that operates on solid, rather than more unstable liquid, fuel last week, U.S. government sources said.

The source noted that the test took place at North Korea’s solid-fuel engine testing site in Hamhung, on the country’s east coast.

It’s the first test of a solid-fuel motor since March 2016, which was inspected by supreme leader Kim Jong-un. North Korean media described the test as  a “high-powered solid-fuel rocket engine and stage separation.”

To date, large solid-fuel engines have been associated with North Korea’s Pukguksong (Polaris) family of ballistic missiles. The March 2016 engine was first seen on the KN11/Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), reports noted.

Also, in February 2017, North Korea flight-tested another solid-fuel missile: the medium-range KN15/Pukguksong-2, which was effectively a canisterized, ground-launched version of the Pukguksong-1 operating out of an integrated transporter-erector-launcher.

Analyst comment: These tests are designed to develop a submarine-launch capability, which would give North Korea the potential for nuclear response should its land-based nuclear systems be destroyed. Solid fuel is much less volatile and corrosive and can be stored in a missile for much longer periods. 

Why it’s on our radar: Information in this article helps satisfy Priority Intelligence Requirement 3: What are the latest indicators of a U.S.-North Korea war?  Each week in our Strategic Intelligence Summary, we gauge the likelihood and scope of conflict with Russia, China, North Korea, and in the Middle East, and track the latest developments in each region.  Subscribe here to receive our premium intelligence products prepared by Intelligence and special operations veterans.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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