How a homemade apparatus helped North Korea’s barb program


SEOUL, (Reuters) – In 2009, a cocktail video from North Korea distinguished a new inhabitant favourite – one that outward experts would after comprehend was during a heart of a sly state’s criminialized chief and barb programs.

That hero, widely accessible in factories opposite a world, was a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine.

Big, grey and boxy, CNC machines use pre-programmed guides to furnish perplexing collection for all from automobiles and mobile phones to seat and clothes. They offer correctness that tellurian appurtenance apparatus operators are incompetent to achieve.

In North Korea, interjection to a multiple of homemade record and retreat engineering, a machines now play a vicious purpose in a weapons programs. They concede Kim Jong Un to build chief bombs and missiles but relying as heavily on outward technical assist or imports.

Nuclear weapons experts contend this has helped him accelerate barb and chief contrast notwithstanding general sanctions on a send of supportive equipment.

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“North Korea’s centrifuges and new missiles all count on components done with CNC appurtenance tools,” pronounced Jeffrey Lewis, conduct of a East Asia Nonproliferation Program during a Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies during Monterey, California.

“(They) are a essential underlying record for producing missiles and chief weapons,” pronounced Lewis.

Since 1996, CNC machines have been enclosed in a Wassenaar Arrangement – an general arms control regime directed during interlude a proliferation of apparatus with both municipal and troops uses. North Korea is not a signatory.

The country’s celebrations of a CNC record have been fulsome. Hundreds of dancers in radiant orange and immature achieved a CNC cocktail song, patrician “Break by a slicing edge,” during a Korean Workers’ Party jubilee in 2010. In 2012, a year a South Korean strike “Gangnam Style” was released, a North’s CNC pretension was on karaoke machines nationwide, according to Choson Exchange, a Singapore-based association that trains North Koreans in business skills. The central video for a strain opens with a long-range North Korean rocket mountainous into a blue sky.


North Korea expected started to rise a possess CNC machines in a early 1990s as partial of a expostulate to build worldly missiles and chief weapons, chief experts say. It substantially schooled how to make them by holding detached machines it had alien from a Soviet Union.

Its initial homemade CNC appurtenance was introduced in 1995. Former personality Kim Jong Il gave a appurtenance a “Ryonha” brand, according to a 2009 essay in a country’s central newspaper, Rodong Sinmun. That was a initial time state media mentioned a technology.

By 2009, a machines had turn a buttress of North Korean propaganda, as Pyongyang launched a national debate to boost domestic industry. Sanctions were ascent after a second chief exam and a long-range barb launch that year.

At a time, arms control experts lifted concerns about a revisit by former personality Kim Jong Il to a North Korean bureau where homemade CNC machines seemed to be producing aluminum tubes. These could be used for chief centrifuges.

“By around 2010, it seemed they were able of production several forms of CNC machines,” pronounced Kim Heung-gwang, a North Korean fugitive who taught during Pyongyang’s Hamhung Computer Technology University before defecting to South Korea.

But it wasn’t until 2013 that a Korea Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation, that constructed a machines, was blacklisted by a U.N. Security Council for ancillary a weapons programs.

And it was usually in Aug this year that U.S. comprehension officials told Reuters North Korea expected has a ability to furnish a possess barb engines themselves. (Full Story)

Now, Kim Heung-gwang estimates, North Korea has about 15,000 CNC machines. He bases this on North Korean state media reports and photos as good as interviews with some-more than a dozen defectors who were scientists, professors or bureau workers.


Pyongyang hailed a homemade machines as a delight for a ruling beliefs of “Juche”, that champions self-sufficiency. But that wasn’t particularly true.

In Aug 2016, state media expelled photos of Kim Jong Un visiting a bureau regulating CNC machines with a trademark of Swiss engineering organisation ABB ABB.UL, one of a heading players in a tellurian CNC appurtenance market. It’s not transparent when or how a appurtenance reached North Korea.

ABB pronounced a organisation respects all germane trade sanctions opposite North Korea, and undertakes not to broach ABB apparatus to a country. “That said, we can't order out that some of a apparatus might have been resold to DPR of Korea but a believe or permission,” a association pronounced in response to a Reuters inquiry, regulating North Korea’s central title.

A United Nations row monitoring sanctions on North Korea pronounced in a news this year that Tengzhou Keyongda CNC Machine Tools Co of China had been a retailer of Pyongyang’s new CNC machines. A sales deputy for Tengzhou Keyongda told Reuters a association stopped offered CNC machines to North Korea 4 years ago, and no longer maintains trade family with a country.

Despite sanctions, CNC machines are hackneyed opposite North Korean production and can be brought in by China and Russia, pronounced Lee Choon-geun, a comparison associate during a Science and Technology Policy Institute in South Korea.

The biggest loophole has been that while some CNC machines are criminialized since they can have both troops and municipal functions, many offer municipal industry. “Given their dual-use capability, we could even import a machines for other purposes, take them to pieces and use them however we want,” pronounced Lee.

The CNC strain highlights this in a opening line: “Whatever it is, once we put a mind to it, there’s a module to make it,” it says.

By James Pearson and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Additional stating by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Lusha Zhang in BEIJING; Editing by Soyoung Kim, Lincoln Feast and Sara Ledwith


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