North Korea has developed the ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads and launch them at the US, the admiral in charge of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said at a Pentagon press conference on April 7.
Adm. Bill Gortney told reporters that, according to the Pentagon’s assessment, North Korea now has the capability to place miniaturized nuclear warheads on its latest KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Pyongyang has “the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland,” Gortney said.
This union of highly advanced military capabilities places an additional strain on US missile defense. The KN-08 is a road-mobile ICBM, meaning that Pyongyang can move the launch system throughout the country.
“It’s the relocatable target set that really impedes our ability to find, fix, and finish the threat,” Gortney said. “And as the targets move around and we if don’t have the persistent stare and persistent [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] that we do not have over North Korea at this time, that relocatable nature makes it very difficult for us to counter it.”
North Korea experts John Schilling and Henry Kan estimate that the KN-08 would have a maximum range of 5,600 miles, making the missile capable of hitting the West Coast of the Continental US. However, the weapon is unlikely to have the accuracy required for precision targeting on large US cities.
The missile also has yet to be flight tested, raising questions, most prominently from South Korea’s Ministry of Defense, as to whether the missile can even be outfitted with a nuclear warhead.
However, Gortney said the Pentagon continues to believe that Pyongyang has a miniaturized nuclear weapon, and a delivery system capable of reaching the US.
Gortney did qualify his statement by saying noting that it is better to be prepared for a North Korean nuclear capability even if there’s uncertainty as to the actual state of their technology. And he believes that the US could easily deflect a North Korean nuclear strike.
“Should one get airborne and come at us I’m confident we would be able to knock it down,” Gortney reassured reporters.
You can view Gortney’s testimony below:
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