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(3rd LD) N. Korean leader observes new high-performance engine test

2017/03/19 16:23

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in para 2; ADDS photo, new info in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, March 19 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un observed the ground jet test of a new high-thrust rocket engine, the country's state-run media said Sunday, an indication that Pyongyang may engage in future provocations despite warnings by the international community.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim who holds the title of supreme commander of the Korean People's Army, visited the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground to personally inspect the performance of the engine developed by the Academy of the National Defense Science. The report indicated that the test took place Saturday.

Kim was on hand for another rocket engine test in September last year after the reclusive country conducted its fifth nuclear test earlier in the month.

This image aired on the North's Chosun Central TV shows a ground rocket engine test under way at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground on March 18, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) This image aired on the North's Chosun Central TV shows a ground rocket engine test under way at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground on March 18, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The KCNA said he checked the technical specifications of the engine and preparations for the test, and gave appropriate instructions before going up to the observation post to give the order for the test to begin.

The media outlet said the test was conducted to confirm the overall technical indices of the engine, such as features of its thrust power in the combustion chamber, accurate movement of the turbine pump, control system and various valves, and their structural safety and reliability. It said the engine met technical expectations.

"The leader noted that the success made in the current test marked a great event of historic significance as it declared a new birth of the Juche-based rocket industry," the KCNA said, adding that the latest test reduced the country's dependence on the technology of other countries.

The Juche ideology is North Korea's guiding philosophy of self-reliance.

"He emphasized that the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries," the media outlet said, without going into further details.

Kim, meanwhile, said at the latest test that the country's field munitions industry made a series of unprecedented successes and instilled dynamism in the people.

He then engaged in a photo session with the officials, scientists and technicians who took part in the test.

The KCNA said he was accompanied by Ri Pyong-chol, Kim Jong-sik and other leading officials of the North's ruling Workers' Party of Korea, and scientists and technicians in the field of rocket research.

The rocket engine test comes as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Asia, with observers saying the trip aims to put further pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and long-range missile programs.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, speculated that Kim taking part in the engine test is an indirect way that the North is saying it will not give ground to outside pressure.

Others like Yang Moo-jin, who teaches at the University of North Korean Studies, said the North may be gearing up for major events like the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army and Chinese leader Xi Jinping's visit next month.

"There is a possibility that the North will provoke other countries by firing off an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or launch a satellite soon," the scholar said.

Related to the latest ground test, local experts upon close examination of TV footage and pictures claimed that the rocket engine and method used to check the thrust were similar to the experiment carried out on Sept. 20.

At the time, Pyongyang checked an 80 ton force rocket that burned for 200 seconds. The thrust generated by the burn is estimated to be three times more powerful than past rocket engine tests that used a motor from the country's Rodong missile.

Local sources, however, said that while the rocket seemed similar, the flames coming out of it were darker and they detected three smaller side thrusts surrounding the main column of flame leaving the engine.

They said judging by the flame and duration of the burn, the latest engine could carry a rocket or missile over 5,500 kilometers. This can make it into a viable engine for an ICBM that Pyongyang has said it will develop to target the U.S. mainland.

This photo, aired on Chosun Central TV, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) flanked by officials at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground on March 18, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) This photo, aired on Chosun Central TV, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) flanked by officials at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground on March 18, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

yonngong@yna.co.kr

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