Ukraine has been accused of allowing one of its state-owned factories to supply rocket engines to North Korea. According to published reports, the engines have been identified as a type produced by a factory in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. The identification was based on analyzing video of the missile launches.
The engines used by North Korea appeared to be a modified version of a Russian-designed RD-250 originally mass produced for use in the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea has been using the rocket engines in its attempts to create a missile capable of hitting the continental United States. The country has seen rapid progress in the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The launches have prompted fiery rhetoric from President Donald Trump.
An American missile expert believes they were acquired illegally from Yuzhmash, a Ukrainian factory. Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a statement that Ukraine’s government needed to investigate whether the engine could have come from its territory. Elleman said, “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now.”
North Korea has carried out several successful test launches in recent months, ending a long string of failures. On May 14, North Korea test launched a new intermediate missile capable of striking Guam. Two months later, it launched a more powerful missile that reached an estimated altitude of more than 1,700 miles. Such progress normally takes years.
North Korea has sought Ukrainian rocket technology before. Two North Koreans were jailed on espionage charges in Ukraine in 2012 for attempting to acquire classified rocket engine technology. The Ukrainian factory has historical ties to Russia’s missile program. Its engines were produced by in conjunction with a Russian company, Energomash, until 2006.
Ukraine’s government has denied the reports. Oleg Turchynov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said, “Ukraine has always adhered to all its international commitments, therefore, Ukrainian defense and aerospace complex did not supply weapons and military technology to North Korea.”
A spokesperson for the Yuzhmash factory also denied the report The company said that it had not produced any military-use missile technology since Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Yuzhmash largely produces trolleybuses and tractors now.