North Korea’s main state-controlled media, Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), reported on Friday that the country conducted its first test of a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor.”
“An important institute under the Academy of Defense Science succeeded in the static firing test of high-thrust solid-fuel motor with a thrust of 140tf, the first of its kind in the country, at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground on the morning of December 15,” KCNA reported.
Kim Jong Un, the North’s supreme leader, guided the test, which was set to achieve “the key goals for strengthened national defense capability set by the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK)” that was held in January 2021, according to KCNA.
As Kim vowed to build up more powerful nuclear weapons, including the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), it is believed that Friday’s test aimed to develop a new type of solid-fueled ICBM targeting the mainland of the United States. Considering the series of Hwasong-17 ICBM tests this year, North Korea is now working to strengthen the capabilities of its ICBMs to create a favorable environment for itself to confront the United States in the region. Even though it is questionable whether the North can develop a solid-fueled ICBM that can evade U.S. missile defense systems, Pyongyang is being explicit that this is what it is trying to achieve.
KCNA said the aim of the test was verifying “all technical specific features of the high-thrust solid-fuel motor based on the thrust vector controlling technology.” The state media outlet said the test was successful and met the assigned goals.
“This important test has provided a sure sci-tech guarantee for the development of another new-type strategic weapon system,” KCNA said.
Among the powerful missiles Pyongyang aims to develop as part of its military modernization plan, North Korea seems to have set developing a new type of ICBM as a priority on the basis of the test it conducted on Friday. As North Korea heralded its next steps coming up in 2023, the U.S. and South Korea may consider extending their combined military drills or deploying necessary U.S. strategic assets on the South’s soil in response.
Since the beginning of the year, North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles, breaking the record for the number of missiles it has launched in a year. Along with test-firing long-range ballistic missiles, it codified a new law in September to support the activities of its nuclear forces. By including specific preconditions for using nuclear weapons preemptively, Pyongyang demonstrated that its nuclear weapons are no longer limited to defensive use. In this context, Washington warned that the Kim regime will not survive if it uses nuclear weapons.
Apparently, developing strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is North Korea’s chosen path to increase its asymmetrical warfare capabilities and leverage against the United States and the South in the region, until momentum is created for renewing the stalled nuclear talks with Washington. Friday’s test implies that the North will keep developing advanced nuclear weapons that would make the U.S. and South pay a higher price in future negotiations. In North Korea’s analysis, time is on its side.