North Korea may be preparing to launch new intercontinental ballistic missile
North Korea appears to have built two new intercontinental ballistic missiles and mounted them on mobile launchers for test-firing in the near future.
The North apparently leaked information about the new missiles to send a “strategic message” to the incoming government of US President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office Friday, according to a Yonhap report citing multiple South Korean military officials.
The two missiles are estimated to be no longer than 15 metres in length, making them shorter than the North’s existing ICBMs - the 19-20 metre-long KN-08 and the 17-18 metre-long KN-14, they said.
“I don’t recognise the missiles from this description,” said Joshua Pollack, editor of the US-based Nonproliferation Review.
“But as we saw in 2016, there’s certainly a variety of active missile programmes underway in North Korea.
“It’s also possible that they are simply conducting field exercises with no plans to launch, or the option to launch if decided.”
In a regular media briefing, an official from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff declined to provide details, merely saying: “So far, nothing has been verified regarding North Korea’s activities on its missile launch.”
The official said South Korea, in cooperation with the United States, is closely tracking all activities related to the North’s missile launches.
“Our assessment is North Korea could launch a missile any time and from any location,” he said, adding the South Korean military is ready to cope with any situation.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said earlier this month that Pyongyang could carry out an ICBM test at any time and location determined by its leadership.
In response, the United States said it would shoot down any missiles that threaten its territory or that of its allies.
In his closely-watched New Year speech, Kim Jong-un said North Korea was in the “final stages” of developing an ICBM.
He said the country had significantly bolstered its nuclear deterrent in 2016, pointing to a string of nuclear and missile tests last year.
Analysts are divided over how close Pyongyang is to realising its full nuclear ambitions, especially as it has never successfully test-fired an ICBM.
But all agree it has made enormous strides in that direction since Kim took over as leader from his father Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011.
A senior US defence official said last month that the North has developed the capability to pair a nuclear warhead with a missile and launch it.
But it has not mastered the ability to bring the weapon back from space and onto a target, he said.
Separately, the Washington-based think tank 38 North said on Thursday that operations at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility may have restarted. North Korea is believed to be able to reprocess plutonium at Yongbyon used in its nuclear warheads
Kyodo, Agence France-Presse, Reuters