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A report from Jane’s by IHS Markit on Tuesday says that North Korea has tapped technology and hardware from foreign sources in developing a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that was tested in November.
The report, which first appeared in Jane’s Intelligence Review, follows similar findings from other analysts that Pyongyang accessed Soviet-era missile hardware and know-how in developing a working ICBM faster than Western intelligence agencies expected.
“It is highly likely that North Korea made use of foreign knowledge, technology or hardware in the development of the Hwasong-15 ICBM,” missile experts Markus Schiller and Nick Hansen wrote in their report for the defense and intelligence specialist.
Some experts believe the Hwasong-15 is already capable of hitting the continental US. Four of the large ICBMs were displayed at a North Korean military parade on February 8.
“Given the limited time and test resource available to North Korea, it is highly unlikely that North Korea could design, develop, engine test and integrate the components into … intercontinental missile systems without external assistance,” the analysts noted in their report.
Resembles Soviet UR-100 rockets
The report goes on to say that “the design of the Hwasong-15 missile is similar in some respects to the Soviet UR-100 family and there is a clear resemblance between the Hwasong-15 first-stage engine and the Soviet RD-250 engine.”
However, based on the information available in open sources, Jane’s can’t say with certainty when the technology transfer took place. “The UR-100 family of missiles and the RD-250 engine have been in existence for decades,” said Neil Ashdown, deputy editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review.
Some information was online
“North Korea could have acquired information about them from a range of sources, including some available online,” Ashdown said. “Even if North Korea did acquire hardware relating to these systems, we cannot say with any confidence where that would have come from, and more importantly when. That does not mean a transfer did not take place — just that we cannot prove that based on the information we have.”
The report adds that the successful integration of a higher-energy liquid propellant engine into the Hwasong-15 with minimal observed testing suggests that North Korea could do the same with another missile. This is said to raise a possibility that there may be further, as yet undisclosed, liquid propellant systems in development, which might emerge over the course of 2018.