With Solid-fuel Motor Test, North Korea Steps Towards Developing New ICBM

According to KCNA, the test was “strategic significance” because it provided “a sure sci-tech guarantee for the development of another new type strategic weapon system”

North Korea has tested a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor” as a key step toward developing a new strategic weapons system, according to state media on Friday, as the country strives to develop more agile and powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the US mainland.

On Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a successful “static firing test” at the country's northwest rocket launch facility, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

According to KCNA, the test was “strategic significance” because it provided “a sure sci-tech guarantee for the development of another new type strategic weapon system.” 

According to the report, Kim expects the new weapon to be built “in the shortest possible time.”

North Korea is most likely referring to a solid-fuelled inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), one of a slew of high-tech weapons systems that Kim promised to unveil at a major ruling Workers’ Party conference early last year. 

Other weapons systems Kim promised to manufacture include a multi-warhead missile, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and spy satellites.

The latest motor test demonstrated that North Korea is determined to carry out Kim's pledges to develop such sophisticated weapons systems despite domestic hardships caused by the pandemic and international pressures led by the United States to curtail its nuclear programme.

North Korea has conducted a series of nuclear-capable ballistic missile tests in recent months, including the launch of its longest-range Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last month.

The purpose of Thursday's test, according to the KCNA report, was to validate specific technical features of the high-thrust solid-fuel motor based on thrust vector controlling technology. It said the test results showed all the technical indices proved its reliability and stability.

According to Joseph Dempsey, research associate for defence and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, assessing North Korea's claimed thrust output is difficult.

However, he said that “what is potentially significant is the claimed thrust vector controlling technology,” with imagery indicating a gimbaled exhaust nozzle capable of redirecting thrust to effectively steer the missile.

He claimed that this is a far more advanced thrust vectoring method than the previous one used on the North's solid motor missiles.

Dempsey said that testing a gimbaled nozzle could thus represent an important technological step toward North Korea's stated goal of a solid motor ICBM. 

However what other technical challenges remain and how far away a flight test of such a system is remains unknown, he added. 

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