March 30, 2016

North Korea is building a credible solid-fuel rocket motor

North Korea recently showed images of a large solid-fuel rocket motor test that appears to have been both real and successful. The motor, much bigger than any solid-fuel motor previously seen in the North, is not appropriately sized to be used on any existing missile in Pyongyang’s stockpile. Rather, a more likely role for the motor is as the upper stage of a solid-fuel replacement for the liquid-fuel Nodong medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). Such a missile would be more operationally robust, capable of being transported off-road without damage and launched on very short notice. With no indication that such a missile yet exists, and with substantial testing yet to be done, deployment is likely to be five years or more in the future if the program proves to be successful. This new development could serve as a stepping stone to the development of a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), but even if Pyongyang pursues the development of such a system, it would not become operational until after 2030.

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