North claims progress in solid-fuel rocket engine

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North claims progress in solid-fuel rocket engine

Leader Kim Jong-un claimed North Korea successfully tested a solid-fuel rocket engine that boosts the power of its ballistic missiles, state media reported Thursday, in his latest boast of military technology breakthroughs following United Nations sanctions.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Kim led a test of solid-fuel rocket engines, stressing that the result of the test was in line with previous estimations.

“He noted with great pleasure that the successful test provided a guarantee for attaining the high goals of national defense science and technology without fail this year when the Seventh Congress of the Worker’s Party of Korea [meets],” the KCNA said, “and helped boost the power of ballistic rockets capable of mercilessly striking hostile forces.”

If the North develops solid-fuel rocket engine technology, it will pose a significant threat to South Korea as it would enable much faster missile launches, making it harder for the South to detect signs of a launch and prepare a pre-emptive strike. It would also allow the North to use smaller, more powerful missiles.

The South’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed Thursday that North Korea is trying to develop solid-fuel rockets, but said it needs additional analysis to verify Thursday’s claims.

“The North is trying to show off its progress in nuclear and missile development,” Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said at a regular press briefing.

A military source said liquid-fuel engines take more time to prepare because the fuel has to be injected right before firing. The source declined to confirm whether North Korea finished developing solid-fuel engines and didn’t specify which missiles were using such technology.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday ordered the military to be fully ready to respond to North Korea’s “reckless provocations,” and strengthen its state of alert, according to the chief presidential press secretary.

Analysts say Kim’s claims are partly preparation the Worker’s Party congress in May, which will be the first in more than three decades. He is also showing defiance of international pressure, such as sanctions and UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

On Wednesday, North Korea said its military was ready for a “retaliatory” battle with President Park over joint military drills being conducted by Seoul and Washington, saying its large-caliber multiple-rocket launching system will reduce its target to “flames and ashes.”

In response to the North’s threat, South Korea vowed to punish any provocations and urged North Korea to stop such “vulgar” acts.

BY KIM SO-HEE, JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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