North Korea may launch an intercontinental ballistic missile in the “near future,” South Korean media reports.
The North has reportedly loaded two ICBMs onto mobile launchers, military sources told the Yonhap News Agency. While this information is unconfirmed, such actions would be consistent with recent North Korean threats.
The missiles are believed to be shorter variations of the KN-08 and KN-14 ICBMs, prototypes presented in past military parades. The Chosun Ilbo reported that North Korea may be moving the missiles somewhere for assembly, rather than for a road-mobile test.
The North may also be conducting field exercises.
Yonhap, however, insists that North Korea may test its ICBMs soon.
The missiles in question are “different from a conventional Musudan missile,” the North’s intermediate-range ballistic missile, intelligence sources told the Chosun Ilbo.
“I don’t recognize the missiles from this description,” Joshua Pollack, editor of Nonproliferation Review, told Reuters. “But as we saw in 2016, there’s certainly a variety of active missile programs underway in North Korea.”
The information surrounding North Korea’s ICBM development activities may have been leaked intentionally to send a “strategic message” to the incoming U.S. administration, Yonhap’s sources revealed.
Although nothing has been confirmed so far, it is certain that North Korea has the ability to launch a missile at the time and place of its choosing, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense says. “We are maintaining readiness under the judgement that the North can launch a missile at any time and any place if the North’s leadership has determined,” defense ministry deputy spokesperson Lee Jin-woo said in response to questions about the North’s road-mobile ICBMs.
During his New Year’s address, Kim Jong-un said that North Korea has “reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.”
“The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere,” the foreign ministry said a week later.
“Soon our ICBM will send the shiver down its spine,” the Rodong Sinmun, the primary publication of the ruling Worker’s Party, claimed a few days later.
“We are at the point where an actual ICBM test is realistic,” Scott Lafoy, a North Korean missile systems expert, told NK News.
North Korea does appear to be in the final stages of ICBM development, according to Melissa Hanham, a Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center of Nonproliferation Studies.
After conducting engine and heat-shield tests, flight tests will be the next stage of development.
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