A confidential Central Intelligence Agency assessment of North Korea’s re-entry vehicles indicates the country has what it needs to carry out a nuclear strike on the continental U.S., sources knowledgable about the report told The Diplomat.
North Korea conducted its second test of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile in late July, and while the CIA assesses that the re-entry vehicle did not survive the lofted test, it assumes that the re-entry vehicle would perform properly if the missile were fired along a normal trajectory, the sources with direct knowledge of the assessment told The Diplomat.
The CIA assesses that the lofted trajectory put additional stress on the re-entry vehicle, causing it to fail during testing, but believes that the technology would probably not encounter performance problems on a minimum energy trajectory.
The U.S. has sought comfort and a sense of security by denying that North Korea could produce an ICBM, by refusing to accept that North Korea could miniaturize a nuclear warhead, and by consistently highlighting North Korea’s inability to develop a functional re-entry vehicle.
But the latest report indicates the U.S. is running out of excuses to downplay the North Korean nuclear threat.
The Hwasong-14 ICBM is believed to have a range that puts most of the continental U.S. within striking distance, according to leading experts. The Defense Intelligence Agency is certain that North Korea now has the ability to mount nuclear warheads on its ballistic missiles, including its ICBMs, and now, the CIA is largely convinced that the North has a re-entry vehicle.
North Korea is emerging as a nuclear-armed state with the ability to threaten its neighbors and the U.S. with missiles armed with nuclear warheads. The North has achieved what many observers thought was beyond them, and ahead of schedule.
From here, the North will likely continue to advance its missile capabilities.
It is unclear how these developments factor into President Donald Trump’s war of words with North Korea, which announced earlier this week that it intends to conduct new weapons testing in which it fires missiles along standard trajectories.
Trump warned North Korea Friday that the U.S. military is “locked and loaded” for an assault on North Korea if necessary, promising that Kim Jong-un “will regret it” if he chooses to fire on the U.S. or its allies in Asia.
So far, the U.S. has vastly underestimated North Korea, both in its determination and its capabilities.
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