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North Korea Could Threaten US Guam Base As Early As Next Year

KCNA/via Reuters

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) could be ready to go much earlier than initially expected, says a U.S.-based think tank.

“The Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile could enter operational service sometime next year,” John Schilling, an aerospace engineer with knowledge of North Korean missile technology, argues on the U.S.-Korea Institute’s 38 North blog.

This may sound shocking given that North Korea has conducted seven tests, with only one successful launch. It tested a Musudan IRBM Saturday, only to have it explode shortly after takeoff.

The recent failure says a lot more about North Korea’s progress than it does about its incompetence. Experts initially expected them to wait and analyze the data after a successful launch for the cameras, but that has not been the case.

“They are continuing with an aggressive test schedule that involves, at least this time, demonstrating new operational capabilities. That increases the probability of individual tests failing, but it means they will learn more with each test even if it does result in failure,” Schilling noted.

“Amateurs practice until they get it right, but professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong. The North Koreans have just shown that they can still get it wrong, [so] they are still practicing,” he added.

North Korea has conducted seven tests in seven months — an incredible rate — one much greater than most U.S. strategic missile programs. At this rate, North Korea will eventually get its Musudan IRBM right, and that day may come next year.

The Musudan has an estimated range of about 2,500 miles, meaning that it can hit the U.S. base in Guam. The only other missile with this kind of range is the Taepodong-2, which has been used for satellite launches and is still in the works. Some experts believe that satellite launches are actually intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

North Korea has the missile capabilities to threaten U.S. bases in Japan and South Korea.

It claims that it can attach nuclear warheads to ballistic missiles, a skill supposedly mastered during the Sept. 9 nuclear test. Were North Korea to attach a nuclear warhead to a functional Musudan missile, it could potentially pose a serious threat to U.S. forces in the Asia Pacific.

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