In Range

North Korea missile can hit US with nuclear warhead, Pentagon report says

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North Korea’s 950,000-troop military remains dangerous as Pyongyang’s long-range Taepodong-2 missile can reach parts of the United States with a nuclear warhead, according to a Pentagon report made public on Thursday.

The report said North Korea’s Taepodong-2, last used as a satellite launcher, is continuing to be developed as a long-range missile. The missile “could reach parts of the United States if configured as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear payload,” the 26-page report says.

The reference to hitting the United States with a nuclear warhead followed the disclosure in Congress of a classified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) study April 11 that said North Korea has mastered the technology of placing a nuclear warhead on a missile.

Administration policy and intelligence officials later sought to challenge DIA’s assessment saying the nuclear missile capability is uncertain.

The first annual report to Congress called “Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” said North Korea could conduct additional nuclear tests “at any time.” An intelligence official said recently that new activity has been detected at a nuclear test site but that it is unclear if the activity is related to a future underground blast or maintenance on the facility.

The report said North Korea’s space launch development “contributes heavily” to long-range missiles because of the shared technology in both systems.

“However, a space launch does not test a re-entry vehicle (RV), without which North Korea cannot deliver a weapon to target from an ICBM,” the report said, apparently a caveat to the classified assessment made public last month.

North Korea’s new missile systems include a short-range missile, an intermediate-range Musudan missile, and a road-mobile ICBM called the KN-08. Pyongyang’s military also has hundreds of short-range Scuds and medium-range Nodong missiles.

“These advances in ballistic missile delivery systems, coupled with developments in nuclear technology … are in line with North Korea’s stated objective of being able to strike the U.S. homeland,” the report.

Following North Korea’s third underground nuclear test on Feb. 10, the communist regime launched a “campaign” of threatening media releases and threatening statements, including an unprecedented threat to use nuclear missiles against the United States.

The objective, according to the report, is aimed at “reaffirming its need to counter perceived U.S. ‘hostility’ with nuclear-armed ICBMs.”

“North Korea will move closer to this goal, as well as increase the threat it poses to U.S. forces and allies in the region, if it continues testing and devoting scarce regime resources to these programs,” the report said. “The pace of its progress will depend, in part, on how many resources it can dedicate to these efforts and how often it conducts tests.”

The report also said North Korea “probably” has offensive computer cyber attack capabilities and has carried out several operations against banks and other networks in South Korea.

The cyber warfare capability included cyber espionage and distributed denial of serve attacks since 2009. The report said “the North Korean regime may view [computer network operations] as an appealing platform from which to collect intelligence.”

The impoverished state sees computer attack operations “as a cost-effective way to modernize some North Korean military capabilities.”

“As a result of North Korea’s historical isolation from outside communications and influence, it is likely to employ Internet infrastructure from third-party nations,” the report said.

Much of North Korea’s weaponry comes from China and Russia with Beijing having more “robust” relations with Pyongyang, the report said.

Richard Fisher, a military affairs expert with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the report, which cost the Pentagon $59,000 to produce, “should have been explicit about China's direct assistance to North Korea's ICBM program, which the world saw plain as day on April 15, 2012 when the KN-08 ICBM was paraded on top of its Chinese Sanjiang 16-wheel transporter erector launcher.”

“The Defense Department has had almost two years to figure out North Korea's new fourth generation surface-to-air missile, which is very likely of Chinese origin,” Fisher said in an email. “China is helping North Korea to obliterate Anchorage and very likely, to shoot down our retaliating strike aircraft. This report only compounds the Obama administration's failure to respond to China's enabling a direct threat to Americans. Return this report to sender."

While much of its military is outdated, North Korea has been modernizing some of its forces, including artillery, submarines, and special operations forces. The special operations commandos are a key asymmetric warfare capability and would be used in wartime to attack targets and leaders in South Korea.

North Korea’s Korean People’s Army has 4,100 tanks, 2,100 armored vehicles, 8,500 artillery pieces, and 5,100 multiple rocket launchers. (For a full size map of the Korean forces, click here.)

Its naval forces include 70 submarines, including mini submarines like the kind that was used to sink the South Korean ship Choenan in 2010, killing 46 sailors.

Missile forces include KN-2, Scud-B, Scud-C, and Scud-ER short-range missiles with around a hundred launchers each; fewer than 50 620-mile-range Nodong launchers; and fewer than 50 intermediate-range missile launchers with ranges of more than 2,500 miles.

The Taepodong-2 was reported as “not yet deployed” in the reports.

“North Korea will continue using and improving the TD-2, which could reach the United States with a nuclear payload if developed as an ICBM,” the report said. “An intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and a new short-range, solid-propellant ballistic missile are also being developed.”

“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear technology and capabilities and development of long-range ballistic missile programs, as reflected in the December 2012 Taepodong-2 missile launch and April 2012 display of a new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, underscores the threat to regional stability and U.S. national security posed by North Korea,” the report states.

North Korea also poses an arms proliferation threat, sending conventional and nuclear goods to Burma, Iran, and Syria.

Despite U.N. sanctions prohibiting arms sales, North Korea “continues to proliferate weapons-related goods and technology,” the report said.

“Weapons sales are a critical source of foreign currency for North Korea and North Korea is unlikely to cease export activity in spite of UN Security Council sanctions or successful interdictions of its weapons-related exports.”