North Korea has developed a nuclear warhead for its new intercontinental ballistic missile, a confidential defense intelligence assessment revealed.
North Korea has successfully miniaturized nuclear bombs for warhead production, a Defense Intelligence Agency report introduced, according to the Washington Post. As for the missiles on which such a warhead might be mounted, the North has a collection of short-, medium-, intermediate-, and long-range missiles that allow it to threaten its neighbors and even the continental United States.
“The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the assessment explains. A similar assessment out of Japan also concludes that North Korea has achieved warhead miniaturization.
Last year, North Korean state media released images of Kim Jong-un standing next to a spherical object which some experts suspect may be the warhead North Korea plans to load onto its missiles. Whether or not that is the nuclear payload remains unclear. North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, at which point it claimed that it could mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, a challenging technical feat that most analysts assumed was beyond North Korea.
Kim Jong-un claimed in January that his country was on track to test an ICBM, another obstacle that some believed North Korea would struggle to overcome. Six months later, however, the North successfully tested the Hwasong-14, which experts assess can strike targets across the continental U.S.
Many have suggested that the North has yet to develop a reliable re-entry vehicle, claiming that the re-entry vehicle failed during the last test of North Korea’s ICBM, but there is little evidence of failure.
For too long, the U.S. and others have been in collective denial about North Korea’s capabilities.
The bomb that North Korea tested late last year had a substantial explosive yield around 30 kilotons, roughly twice that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during the Second World War. The U.S., according to the latest assessment, estimates that North Korea may have as many as 60 nuclear bombs in its arsenal, much higher than initially expected.
North Korea has made marked achievements in the advancement of its missile program over the past year.
The Pentagon assessed last month that the North will be able to field a reliable, nuclear-armed ICBM as early as next year, two years earlier than initially expected, but North Korea may be much closer than previously thought. North Korea has an ICBM, a powerful engine, an understanding of stage separation, a nuclear warhead, and a re-entry vehicle that can likely survive its trip back through the atmosphere. North Korea may still lack the necessary guidance controls for an intercontinental strike, but the country is moving in that direction.
With a little more tweaking and testing, the North should be able to field a nuclear-armed ICBM. “Do not be surprised when North Korea tests a staged thermonuclear weapon,” renowned arms expert Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, tweeted in response to the WaPo article.
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