The head of U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command said Tuesday that North Korea is continuing to develop a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile system capable of firing nuclear weapons to U.S. shores.
Adm. Bill Gortney said the U.S. believed that the long-range KN-08 ICBM missile was “operational today.” He further explained that North Korea’s military could miniaturize a nuclear to mount on the missile.
"We haven't seen them test the KN-08 yet and we're waiting for them to do that, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they will fly it before they test it," Gortney said.
The Pentagon has released previous intelligence reports saying the North Koreans could miniaturize nuclear warheads and mount them to the KN-08. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, made the same assessment last October at a press briefing.
The KN-08 provides a significant threat to the U.S. because its mobility makes it harder to track, defense analysts have said. However, many others question whether the North Koreans are any closer to
In July 2014, reports emerged that the North Koreans had tested the KN-08’s engines. The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, which first reported the test, said the next step would be to institute flight tests.
The North Koreans first displayed the KN-08 in 2012 although some observers said the missile system in the military parade was only a model.
At his briefing, Gortney acknowledged issues in the U.S. missile defense system but “I have confidence it will work against North Korea. Based on our assessment, we are outpacing the threat,” he said.
Gortney noted problems with the $2.2 billion Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX) system that was initially billed by the Pentagon. However, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that the Hawaii-based SBX was a “$2.2 billion flop” whose field of vision was too narrow to detect incoming missiles and guide counter-measures.
Gortney said the SBX was an example of instances where “we were putting in capabilities before we had (them) properly tested.”
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.