North Korea engine test may be prelude to partial ICBM flight

Mon Mar 20, 2017 2:44pm EDT
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By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has likely mastered the technology to power the different stages of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and may show it off soon, analysts say, but it is likely still a long way from being able to hit the mainland United States.

North Korean state media announced its latest rocket-engine test on Sunday, saying it would help North Korea achieve world-class satellite-launch capability, indicating a new type of rocket engine that could be compatible with an ICBM.

The test showed "meaningful" progress, a spokesman for South Korea's Defence Ministry said on Monday, with the firing of a main engine and four auxiliary engines as part of the development of a new rocket booster.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis declined to give a specific assessment of the test but said it was "consistent with the pattern we've seen by North Korea to continue to develop their ballistic missile program."

The North Korean announcement came as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Beijing at the end of his first visit to Asia for talks dominated by concern about North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Lee Jin-woo said the test showed progress in engine function, but added that further analysis was needed to show the exact thrust produced and possible uses for the engine.

North Korea's state media released pictures of the high-thrust engine test overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, and said he had called it "a new birth" of the country's rocket industry.

Experts say space rockets and long-range missiles involve fundamentally identical technologies, but with different configurations for trajectory and velocity for the stages.   Continued...

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watched the ground jet test of a Korean-style high-thrust engine newly developed by the Academy of the National Defence Science in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on March 19, 2017. KCNA/via Reuters