North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un claimed in a New Year’s Day address that his military is close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.
While the North Koreans have always made hyperbolic claims about their technological and industrial prowess, some analysts believe they really might be getting close to ICBMs, which would put them one step closer to building intercontinental nuclear missiles.
“Research and development of the cutting-edge tech weapons are actively progressing and strengthening our defense capabilities, including last stage preparation of tests for intercontinental ballistic rocket launch have been continuously succeeding,” said Kim.
CNN observes that his speech also had plenty of the customary bombast, including praise for North Korea as a “nuclear and military power in the east that formidable enemy dare encroach on,” and promises to “keep increasing the military capabilities for self-defense and preemptive striking capacity with a main emphasis on nuclear force” if the United States and its “vassal forces” don’t discontinue their threatening “war exercises.”
Reuters quotes analysts who say North Korea has been “testing rocket engines and heat-shields for an ICBM while developing the technology to guide a missile after re-entry into the atmosphere following a lift-off.”
“The bottom line is Pyongyang is much further along in their missile development than most people realize,” Melissa Hanham of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California declared, citing the “astounding” April test of a powerful liquid-fueled engine as a milestone.
On the other hand, Reuters notes North Korea’s test-firings of intermediate-range missiles have not gone well, and they apparently haven’t developed the technology for atmospheric re-entry that a true ICBM would require. Their claims of producing a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside a missile are also regarded as dubious.
In March, the Pentagon confirmed North Korea’s development of a long-range missile that could potentially hit the continental United States. While the exact capabilities of this weapon system are in doubt, concerned analysts said it demonstrated how rapidly the North Koreans were evolving their missile designs, producing variants unique enough to acquire their own distinct system identifications.
South Korea’s Yonhap news service notes that Pyongyang regards 2017 as an “opportune time” for nuclear weapons development, as it believes both the U.S. and South Korea would have an exceptionally difficult time interfering with its plans. Among the other “key anniversaries” and significant dates Kim might choose for a headline-grabbing ICBM test could be South Korea’s unexpectedly early presidential elections, following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.