S. Korea retrieves more N. Korea rocket debris

Song Sang-ho in Seoul/The Korea Herald
Asia News Network

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - The South Korean military retrieved additional debris from North Korea's long-range rocket in the West Sea earlier this week, raising hopes for securing vital clues to the communist state's missile capabilities.

The remains are presumed to be components of the first-stage engine of the three-stage Unha-3 rocket Pyongyang fired on December 12 in defiance of international warnings, government and military sources said.

"From Wednesday for two days, (the military) has hauled six pieces of the rocket's wreckage and other small-size fragments from waters some 160 km west of Gunsan (in North Jeolla Province)," a military source said.

"But they appear to have been seriously damaged due to the shock they sustained while falling (into the sea)."

The Navy deployed some "Ship Salvage Unit" agents and five naval vessels including the Cheonghaejin salvage ship and a mine sweeper to search the West Sea to find the rest of the first-stage rocket.

Currently, the state-funded Agency for Defence Development, the Korea Defence Intelligence Command, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute and other related agencies are analysing the salvaged wreckage of the rocket.

"Analysing the main engine part is the key to understanding the North's missile technology. The additional remains could help us get a better understanding of the rocket's performance, its design and actual capabilities," a senior Seoul official told media.

Aside from the engine parts recovered this week, the military has retrieved four other pieces of the rocket. It salvaged the rocket's oxidiser container on December 14, and a fuel container, its bottom part and a ring connecting the engine on December 21.

The military's analysis of the oxidiser container found that the Unha-3 rocket used the same oxidation material as that of the North's Scud and Rodong missiles. Based on its analysis of the fuel container, it said that Pyongyang is capable of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying a 500-600 kg payload.

It also presumes that the rocket could travel a distance of more than 10,000 km based on the analysis of the "burn-out" time for the propellant of the first stage rocket.