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Ukraine’s rocket engine producer: “irresponsible journalism” of NYT can lead to fatal consequences

Hwasong-14 launch preparation showing detachable platform. July 4, 2017. Photo: KCNA
Ukraine’s main rocket engine builder, the Yuzhnoye construction bureau, has responded with a refutation to the New York Times article accusing Ukraine of leaking ballistic rocket technology to North Korea. In it, they stress that no journalists had contacted them prior to the publication and that the materials are false, uninformed, and appear to be crafted to support a geopolitical agenda. What follows is the statement of Yuzhnoye. It confirms many of the conclusions of our article: “Unprofessional slander.” Ukrainian rocket experts slam NYT accusations of North Korean leak

The IISS and New York Times opinions published on North Korea’s ICBM successes are fictional, false, and inaccurate with regard to Ukrainian involvement. For organizations such as IISS and the NYT to publish such highly speculative material with unsupported claims and assumptions is unprofessional and inflammatory, with a seemingly political agenda. An uninterested observer would be highly likely to conclude who would benefit from this. This material is riddled with technical inaccuracies, amateur level assessments of technology, and a clear lack of understanding of rocket and missile technology.

Statements like “there is no evidence to suggest that North Korea successfully designed and developed the LPE indigenously” should be paired with a statement that “there is no evidence that Ukraine supplied technology or hardware to North Korea.”

Why would the authors state a lack of evidence in one case as important to consider and at the same time omit a reference to an absence of evidence to support their claims about Ukraine?

Why would anyone publish this sort of material without contacting Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash in Ukraine for a statement or input? We at Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash have been contacted by numerous journalistic organizations worldwide asking us this same question and asking to verify that we were not contacted by IISS or the NYT prior to their publishing. We were not.

The engines shown in North Korean photos are so dramatically different from anything designed in Ukraine that to the trained eye it’s ludicrous to propose that Ukrainian designs are present in North Korean systems.
Photos from the March 2017 rocket launch in North Korea, from investigation of Norbert Brugge,

The combustion cycle of the North Korean engine is clearly an open cycle, vs. the closed cycle designs which have dominated Ukrainian engines. Claiming that this engine development [at Yuzhnoye – ed] has taken place within the last 2 years is also ludicrous. Even the most advanced rocket engine designers in the world could not develop a new or heavily modified engine in anywhere near a 2-year timeframe.

Statements such as “such expertise is available at Russia’s Energomash concern and Ukraine’s KB Yuzhnoye. One has to conclude that the modified engines were made in those factories” is an absurd conjecture.

How can anyone assert that simply because expertise exists in one place that it must have been employed on behalf of another. What evidence is there of this?

Sections of the IISS material contains significant contradictions and inaccuracies that can be dismissed out of hand “why single-chamber engines were transferred rather than the more powerful double-chamber original versions is unclear.” Single chamber versions of the RD 250 were never developed in Ukraine. Stating that there are “exporters” without any substantiating evidence is contrary to journalistic standards.

“The single-chambered RD-250” is again a contradiction in terms, any single chamber engine would not be an RD-250.

The two-chambered RD-250. Photo: snapshot from Elleman’s report,

Publishing photos of North Korean engines with nozzles of similar proportions or using steering engines and attempting to conclude anything from this is like having a photo of an automobile tire of a certain diameter and attempting to conclude that it’s, therefore, a car of a certain model, year, and brand. This is absurd.

“The total number of RD-250 engines fabricated in Russia and Ukraine is not known. However, there are almost certainly hundreds, if not more, of spares stored at KB Yuzhnoye’s facilities.” This is where this writing really goes off the rails. What is the basis for this “certainty” that there are hundreds of engines stored at Yuzhnoye? This is a completely false claim. Yuzhnoye does not even have production or storage facilities for engines. It is possible that the North Korean engine benefited from prior Soviet designs, however, Ukraine has never engaged in the design of the RD 250 or any derivative of the RD 250.

Statements such as “If North Korea began its quest to identify and procure a new LPE in 2016, the start of the search would have occurred in the same year Yuzhnoye was experiencing the full impact of its financial shortfalls.” Claims such as these are irresponsible, uninformed, and again clearly demonstrate a complete lack of factual awareness and reporting. In recent years, Yuzhnoye has experienced a surge in business and an expansion of workforce. Yuzhnoye has hired over 600 new employees in the last 3-4 years with a total workforce of over 5500 as of this writing.

None of this workforce has been engaged in any way with North Korea or in the support of North Korea. All work performed by Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash is in compliance with the MTCR.

This IISS and NYT publication raise more questions than they answer, and the questions are of a geopolitical nature.

  • Why is this IISS and NYT material being released at this time? Clearly, this information has been in the public for some time.
  • Why does the NYT material carefully suppress the emphasis on Russia that is present in the IISS material?
  • What government investigators and experts are focusing on the city of Dnipro? None have contacted us at Yuzhnoye or Yuzhmash, if they had we would gladly invite them in. In fact, Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash have a long demonstrated and documented history of directly supporting US government efforts in non-proliferation since the 90’s, if anything the actual facts and evidence completely contradict the claims in this article. In addition, Yuzhnoye has proposed continued support to the US government numerous times in recent years, in support of its non-proliferation activities.
The IISS and NYT materials are false, uninformed, and appear to be crafted to support a geopolitical agenda vs reporting any evidence related to the North Korean ICBM programs or Ukrainian involvement. The international community should be very wary of this type of publication and the true nature of its intent and support.

Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash have already clearly stated that we believe that external help was supplied to North Korea in a formal release on our web sites, we also emphatically state that it was not us that supplied this assistance.

In addition, Yuzhnoye has already formally offered in person to the US embassy in Kyiv on 15 August 2017 to assist the US in an effort to determine exactly who has provided this assistance to North Korea.

Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash have always and will always be vigilant in non-proliferation efforts to keep technologies away from regimes that threaten world peace. Irresponsible, inaccurate, and false journalistic reporting won’t alter this fact.

Additionally, the statement on Yuzhnoye’s site states the following:

Unfortunately, the rhetoric of the article authors and the “experts” about post-revolutionary chaos in Ukraine is very similar to the numerous lies and fakes widely spread today by the majority of Russian mass media about Ukraine. Such publications can distract the attention of the community and political leaders away from real problems and result in fatal consequences.

Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash express serious concerns over the fact that The New York Times, being one of the most reputable information sources not only in the US but worldwide, publishes its analytical materials based on the conclusions of dubious experts and representatives of the so-called “American Intelligence Agencies.”

Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash recognize the importance of the problem related to the development of North Korean rocket technologies and believe that analysis of the situation should be made by professionals.

  • On 14 August 2017, the New York Times published an article by Pulitzer winning journalists William Broad and David E. Sanger stating that North Korea’s recent ballistic missile success is explained by black market purchases of rocket engines “probably from a Ukrainian factory,” namely – the Yuzhnoye construction bureau in its Russian transcription, with its factory Yuzhmash, now known as Pivdenne, located in Dnipro.
  • The New York Times article was based on a report written by Michael Elleman, a Senior Fellow for Missile Defence at the British-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, and who led a Threat Reduction program in Russia from 1995-2001, and immediately made headlines around the world.
  • Yuzhmash and National Security Council Chief Oleksandr Turchynov denied Ukraine was involved.
  • Ukrainian President Poroshenko has ordered a probe into the allegations of the report.
  • The Ukrainian Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies thinks the report has a “clear sign of an information attack against Ukraine.”

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