N. Korea claims solid-fuel missile test, greatly increasing range

© Bobby Yip
Pyongyang says it tested a solid-fuel missile engine. If true, it would extend North Korean missiles’ range and give less warning of an impending launch, which leader Kim Jong-un promises will “strike great horror and terror into the hearts of enemies.”

The leader claimed a “historic” advance for the DPRK’s nuclear program with the test, state-owned KCNA reported Thursday. The country has been using liquid fuel up to now for its launches; although this afforded greater control on take-off, they took longer to launch and are known to give enemies an advance warning when fired up.

The North already uses solid fuel for its short-range missiles. The switch to long-range would be a big step up in terms of the country’s ICBM capabilities.

The news was not greeted warmly by Pyongyang’s southern neighbor, which it’s been threatening time and again with total annihilation in the steadily-escalating regional standoff.

“North Korea appears to be in the (early) stages of developing solid-fuel rockets,” South Korean Ministry of National Defense  spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said at a press briefing, as cited by Yonhap. “North Korea's switch to solid fuel means it could do launches frequently.”

Seoul has responded with countermeasures, with President Park Geun-hye ordering her armed forces “to be fully ready to aggressively cope with North Korea’s reckless provocations.” This was in possible response to a comment made by Kim Jong Un the day before, calling the South “warmongers” and promising, as before, to “mercilessly wipe [them] out.”

Kim also has a bone to pick with the South over its military cooperation with the United States, especially in the form of war drills being carried out in the surrounding waters. Recent weeks have seen North Korea escalate its rhetoric against both countries.

It also accused the South of carrying out a drill Monday that used 16 bombers to simulate an attack on Kim Jong-un’s office. News of the drill was confirmed by Yonhap, which didn’t confirm the target, but added that the exercise also simulated attacks on the North’s nuclear facilities.

Pyongyang has conducted four nuclear tests so far, as well as a long-range missile test in February. Now it says it’s produced the necessary components for a warhead that could reach the US. It also says it possesses a re-entry vehicle that would ease the missile’s brush with the atmosphere, and promised a long-range missile test with a nuclear warhead on board to come soon.

Foreign experts don’t know what to make of Pyongyang’s latest test, but say it is clear the North has not slowed funding of both its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. This is despite the new round of UN sanctions putting additional pressure on North Korea’s already-weak economy.

Therefore, while cautious of its destructive potential, they believe Pyongyang’s move is aimed mainly at promoting Kim Jong-un’s image among the populace.