This week, Kim Jong Un said that North Korea is ready to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. And President-Elect Donald Trump vowed that would never happen. North Korea conducted two nuclear weapons tests and launched about 20 ballistic missiles last year, but, as we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, it’s never tested an ICBM.
With it’s Rodong missiles, North Korea can strike all of the South and much of Japan. It’s Musudan missile can theoretically reach American bases on Okinawa and Guam, but has been unreliable in tests. But Pyongyang did send two small satellites into orbit over the past couple of years, and those three stage launchers represent a big step forward. South Korean Defense officials said a reconfigured version of that Unha rocket could send a warhead of about 1200 pounds as far as seven thousand five hundred miles…far enough to reach the west coast.
But Kim Jong Un clearly wants a missile able to reach New York or Washington.
A year ago, buried in an announcement of sanctions on Iran’s missile program, the U.S. Treasury listed three individuals it said went to North Korea to work on an 80-ton rocket booster. That rivals the engines used by commercial American companies like Space-X.
“You strap four of them together, “ Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told the New York Times, “and that’s a very healthy ICBM.”
North Korea apparently ground tested one of those engines last September, but has yet to try one on a flight test, much less four strapped together. Any number of other hurdles remain before it can boast of a usable ICBM…many analysts don’t believe it’s able to make a nuclear weapon small enough or robust enough for the job…but it’s clearly making strides.