On Monday, multiple news agencies reported U.S. officials said that North Korea test-fired another rocket-engine test last Friday. According to CNN, U.S. officials believe that the test could be a part of the nation’s growing intercontinental ballistic missile program as the engine could possibly be used in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Two U.S. defense missiles told CNN on Monday that the engine test is the third test of its kind in recent weeks. While one official said that the engine could be used in the ICBM, it is unclear whether it would need alterations for that to be the case.
Despite claims from North Korea that they are capable of launching nuclear weapons, CNN reported that the United States is not sure whether the North Koreans are capable of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead that could be mounted on a rocket at all.
Earlier this month, a U.N. report was released that showed North Korea attempted to sell a form of lithium metal to unidentified international buyers last year. The specific material is a key component used for developing miniaturized nuclear weapons, and the attempts to sell the material were discovered by investigators tracking Kim Jong Un’s weapons of mass destruction programs.
The enriched lithium, known as lithium-6, has been produced by North Korea and is seen by nuclear experts as evidence that the country is accelerating its efforts to miniaturize a nuclear warhead. Lithium-6 can be used to create tritium which floods neutrons in a nuclear device and allows countries to build bigger bombs with smaller amounts of plutonium or uranium.
A fully developed ICBM from North Korea could potentially reach the continental United States which is about 5,500 miles away.
The rocket test-firing is just another aggressive action taken by the North while the United States is performing joint military exercises near the Korean Peninsula with South Korea.
Just over the weekend, North Korea threatened that the U.S. and South Korea should be aware that the North’s army would strike “without prior warning.”
“They should be mindful that the [North Korean Army] will deal deadly blows without prior warning any time as long as the… troops of the US and South Korean puppet forces involved in the ‘special operation’ and ‘preemptive attack’ targeting the DPRK remain deployed in and around South Korea,” the KCNA reported.