Resumed North Korean ICBM Testing: Possible Technical Objectives

December 10, 2019

38 North:

On December 7, North Korea claimed to have conducted a “very important test” at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station that “will have an important impact on changing the strategic position of the DPRK.”[1] The North Koreans did not describe what was tested, but prior open-source imagery suggests it was a static (ground) test of a large liquid-propellant rocket engine.[2] It remains to be seen what rocket system the engine was associated with: a previously launched intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), intermediate-range ballistic missile, space launch vehicle, or a new system. In any case, the static test could be the precursor to a full-up flight test of an ICBM or one of these other systems. If North Korea decides or has decided to resume full-up ICBM launches, its decision almost certainly will be governed primarily by political objectives rather than programmatic factors, and tests will be conducted within parameters Kim Jong Un sets. North Korea’s rocket force developers and operators presumably would do the best they could to maximize value to the ICBM research, development and deployment effort within these parameters.

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