North Korea's Hwasong-14 ICBM. Photo: KCNA via Reuters

Contrary to assessments that North Korea has imported Soviet rocket engines, German expert on weapons of mass destruction Hans Ruehle argues that the North is likely producing engines at home – with the help of Iran.

In an article published in Die Welt this week, the former head of policy planning for the German defense ministry pushed back on the speculation that North Korea had a limited number of complete Soviet RD-250 rocket engines imported through criminal networks.

He said these assessments underestimated the capabilities and sustainability of North Korea’s missile program, and pointed to possible Iranian involvement, citing US intelligence reports.

Reports of North Korea’s capability to build indigenous rockets surfaced last August in response to an International Institute for Strategic Studies report alleging that the equipment was likely produced in Russia or the Ukraine.

“We have intelligence to suggest that North Korea is not reliant on imports of engines,” one US intelligence official told Reuters. “Instead, we judge they have the ability to produce the engines themselves.”

The US Treasury department alleged in a statement last January that Iranians had provided support in the development of North Korea’s rocket technology.

“Within the past several years, Iranian missile technicians from SHIG [Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group ] traveled to North Korea to work on an 80-ton rocket booster being developed by the North Korean government,” the statement said.

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