Pyongyang is capable of launching an ICBM with a nuclear warhead from a hard-to-track mobile launcher at the US West Coast, the US aerospace defense commander has said. The capability is disputed by a study from leading North Korea-watchers, however.
“Our assessment is
that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08
[ballistic missile] and shoot it at the homeland. We assess that
it’s operational today, and so we practice to go against
it,” Admiral William Gortney, the head of NORAD and the US
Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday, citing intelligence
According to Gortney, despite no clear evidence the missile has
been tested, such assessment was a “prudent decision”
due to the re-locatable nature of the truck-like system it is
based on, which “makes it very difficult for us to be able to
“We’re very concerned about the mobile nature of the KN-08.
We lose our ability to get the indication that something might
occur and of course the unpredictable nature of the regime that’s
there,” Gortney said, adding that NORAD is nevertheless
“confident we’ll be able to knock it down,” should it
ever be launched at the US.
Meanwhile, a new report compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s
US-Korea Institute has stressed that North Korea’s neighbors are
the ones facing the biggest threat from its arsenal, while
Pyongyang’s capability to strike the US remains questionable.
“North Korea’s current delivery systems consist of about
1,000 ballistic missiles and a small number of light bombers able
to reach most targets in South Korea and Japan,” said a
paper titled “The Future of North Korean Nuclear Delivery
Systems” published on
Some of the missiles include Taepodong, Nodong and Scud missiles.
“The current force is more than able to accommodate any
future growth in the North’s nuclear weapons arsenal, including a
worst-case projection of 100 nuclear weapons by 2020,” the
However, the study noted that to pose a direct threat to
the US, North Korea would need foreign technology and upgrades.
It outlined three possible scenarios for Pyongyang’s nuclear arms
capabilities by 2020, with the average saying the KN-08 may only
achieve “emergency operational status” by that time. The
assessment of North Korea’s potential nuclear arsenal ranged from
20 to 100 warheads.
According to the authors, the DPRK’s test program and access to
foreign technologies are currently extremely limited, and there
has been a striking difference between the country’s military
tech progress in comparison to such states as Iran and Pakistan,
which at one time used North Korean assistance to develop their