Pyongyang: Michael Elleman, senior follow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said the engine for an Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) – a precursor to a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) – may have been purchased from the former Soviet bloc.
Describing the situation as a “big deal”, Mr Elleman said: “It’s highly unlikely that it was indigenously designed, developed and produced.
“My working hypothesis at this point, given the performance of the engine, its appearance, it likely is derived from an old Russian engine called the RD-250
“What is important here is it comes from a different manufacturer than all the other engines that we’ve seen, and missiles we’ve seen, used in North Korea.
“We could be in for surprises in the future. It’s very difficult to bound their capabilities and what might occur in the future, because we don’t know if they have access to new and improved engines.”
Pyongyang shocked the world earlier this month after it launched a Hwasong 12 missile, indicating the hermit state has taken large strides in its quest to develop an ICBM.
Officials from the North said the missile flew just over 1,300 miles (2,100 km), making it more than capable of striking a target such as the Japanese capital of Tokyo.
Senior US defence figures have expressed concern over the progress of nuke-obsessed tyrant Kim Jong-un’s nuclear programme. These fears were repeated by Mr Elleman, who predicted the North could develop a nuclear missile in just over three years.
He added: “I don’t foresee an operationally viable ICBM before 2020, maybe 2021. “For emergency use, they could shorten that timeframe, but at the risk that one or a large fraction of their missile force would fail.”
Other senior figures have warned Kim could launch an “electromagnetic pulse” attack on the US, causing nation-wide blackouts.
Tensions over North Korea were ramped up yesterday after Donald Trump’s government blacklisted two Russian firms over their alleged support for Pyongyang’s weapons programme.
The Moscow-based companies are accused of acting as a supplier to North Korean companies involved in the country’s missile production campaign.