North Korea built most of the key parts of a recently-fired space rocket on its own, analysis of debris by the South Korean military has concluded. The debris was recovered from the West Sea late last year.
The military believes that the North now has the technology to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of more than 10,000 km and the capability to manufacture the parts without any help from foreign countries, a spokesman said Monday.
Some pundits had speculated that the North imported key rocket parts from China, Russia and Iran.
The North started developing its own missiles in the 1970s by reverse-engineering a Soviet Scud-B missile from Egypt.
Over the last 30 years when North Korea made rapid progress toward building an ICBM, South Korea has been restricted by an agreement with the U.S. to a missile range of 300 km, although it was ahead of the North in missile technology in the late 1970s. Only last year did the South manage to get the limit raised to 800 km.
◆ Key Parts
A Defense Ministry official said analysis shows that the North imported about a dozen non-military parts needed for auxiliary devices, including temperature sensors and electric cables, from China and Europe but built the key components on its own.
The military analyzed the engine, fuel tank and other parts.
"Fifty-two experts from Korea, the U.S. and other countries analyzed and disassembled the parts so thoroughly that they were able to reverse-engineer them," the official added.
A rocket expert with a government-funded think tank said the rocket was designed so that an auxiliary engine can control the direction. The rocket is less technologically advanced than South Korea's homegrown rocket Naro, whose main engine maneuvers the direction of the rocket by controlling the nozzle direction, but unlike the South Korean rocket it has completed a successful test flight.
The fuel and the oxidant which helps it burn were pumped through capillary-like tubes inside the nozzle into the combustion chamber. The official added the engine is almost identical to one used in Iran.
◆ Beyond UN Sanctions
None of the imported parts violated the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international system that prevents the proliferation of missile and unmanned aerial vehicle technology capable of carrying a 500 kg payload at least 300 km.
The South Korean Defense Ministry is looking at ways of including these non-military parts in the MTCR list of controlled items, but experts say it will be hard to restrict exports of items that anyone can buy from any country.
Meanwhile, the satellite launched by the rocket was put into orbit but has not communicated with Earth, according to the official.