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

Large solid-fuel rocket engines for North Korea’s ballistic missile program are most likely being made at a factory complex near Hamhung, according to an analysis posted on Tuesday by 38 North.

Hamhung is North Korea’s second largest city and is situated in the northeast of the country.

The specialist website on North Korean affairs says the determination is “based on the location of several critical supporting facilities in the general area” of the factory site, which is known as the No. 17 Explosives Factory.

The factory’s existence is said to underscore the importance of solid-fuel engines in the modernization of Pyongyang’s ballistic missile forces.

“North Korea has been working on developing solid-propellant missiles because they can be transported, stored and prepared for launch more quickly than liquid-fueled systems. This, in turn, offers significant operational and tactical advantages over liquid-fueled missiles with similar size and range capabilities,” 38 North analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. noted in his analysis.

Bermudez says the North’s current solid-propellant missile force consists of 300 mm short-range missiles, Pukguksong-1 submarine launched ballistic missiles and Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missiles. But given its continuing work on solid-fuel rockets, Bermudez says it’s reasonable to conclude that the North will develop newer and more capable missiles of this type going forward.

The Hwasong-15, North Korea’s most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), relies on liquid fuel. Most countries with nuclear arsenals have moved to develop solid-fuel ICBMs.