North Korea is preparing for a possible launch of another intercontinental ballistic missile, South Korea’s defense ministry revealed Monday.
North Korea shocked the world last week by first firing an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan and then testing what appears to be a staged thermonuclear weapon, a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted on the North’s new Hwasong-14 ICBM.
Seoul has detected signs that North Korea intends to launch another ICBM, Maj. Gen. Jang Kyung-soo explained Monday. While he did not offer a specific time frame, experts suspect that the North may conduct a test Sept. 9, the anniversary of North Korea’s founding, as well as its fifth nuclear test. Although North Korea has a history of marking important holidays with their own personal fireworks display, it is difficult to predict North Korean missile launches.
South Korea’s spy agency has arrived at the same conclusion, informing lawmakers that the North may choose to fire its ICBM along a standard launch trajectory into the Pacific to test its capabilities under realistic combat conditions.
The only ICBM in Kim Jong Un’s growing arsenal of ballistic missiles is the Hwasong-14, a two-stage, liquid-fueled weapon that expert observers suspect can strike targets across most of the continental U.S. North Korea tested this weapon twice successfully in July. In both tests, the missile was lofted, but the North needs data on how it might perform in combat. Evidence suggests that North Korea’s surprising shot over Japan last week was meant to set a precedent for such a test involving North Korea’s new ICBM.
North Korea is advancing its missile program at an alarming rate, creating a viable nuclear deterrent against the U.S. and its allies.
While North Korea only possesses the Hwasong-14 right now, Kim appears to be developing another long-range missile — the Pukguksong-3.
North Korea is in the process of developing a road-mobile, solid-fueled ICBM, according to state media. North Korea successfully tested a solid-fueled medium-range ballistic missile — the Pukguksong-2 — earlier this year. This weapon is likely the predecessor to the ICBM in development.
A mock-up of a possible Pukguksong-3 was presented at a military parade in April.
Unlike their liquid-fueled counterparts, solid-fueled ballistic missiles can be fueled in advance, significantly reducing the size of the crew required for launch. Furthermore, they can be fired without warning, giving the North the ability to launch surprise attacks. Making the jump from liquid to solid-fueled missiles is a challenge, but North Korea has clearly demonstrated that when it comes to nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, it is up to the task.
The U.S. and its allies are in talks about how best to handle the North Korean threat, as diplomacy and sanctions have failed to curb the rogue regime’s ambitions. The U.S. and South Korea are discussing relocating American strategic military assets, such as aircraft carriers and stealth fighters, to the Korean Peninsula in an effort to bolster U.S. conventional forces in the region. The U.S. and its allies are hesitant to apply military force, as a conflict with a thermonuclear North Korea would undoubtedly kill millions of people.
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