Although it has yet to become the formal consensus of the U.S. Government, intelligence analysts are now claiming that Kim Jong-un’s North Korean regime seems to have successfully miniaturized their nuclear warheads, an important, and potentially final, step in making their long-range ballistic missiles into global strike nuclear weapons.
Throughout this year’s rash of North Korean ballistic missile tests, U.S. intelligence and defense experts have taken solace in the uncertainty that Kim’s regime could even be capable of mounting a nuclear weapon on any of the increasingly capable missile platforms being tested. While it has been confirmed for some time that North Korea possessed the technology necessary to create a nuclear weapon, the technological challenge of miniaturizing that weapon into a package small enough for missile delivery is a significant leap.
A report produced by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, coupled with a new Pentagon intelligence assessment, not only claims the reclusive Asian state has the capability to mount nuclear weapons on their missiles, but also indicated a dramatic increase in the number of warheads believed to be in Kim’s possession. Until recently, Kim’s nuclear arsenal was projected to be 10-20 warheads, but new intelligence indicates he may already possess as many as 60.
“The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the Washington Post reports the DIA assessment reads. SOFREP was not able to independently corroborate their claims.
It is important to note that assessments of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are often extrapolations based on satellite imagery and the limited intelligence that escapes the secured borders of North Korea, meaning even if these miniaturized nuclear warheads already exist, there is no confirmation to indicate that they actually work. North Korea conducted two underground nuclear tests in January and September of 2016. While it stands to reason that one or both of these tests may have been miniaturized warheads, the possibility is just as high that they were the same type of devices detonated in North Korea’s three previous tests. North Korea’s government claimed the September test was of a more powerful hydrogen bomb, but U.S. intelligence experts refuted that claim.
Further, North Korea’s most recent ICBM test launch, which led experts to estimate a maximum range that could indeed target the vast majority of the mainland United States, appears to have failed upon reentry. Of course, a single test failure does not necessarily indicate a significant setback for Kim’s nuclear effort.
While this new report seems to set North Korea’s nuclear program further ahead than previously estimated, it likely won’t affect most expert’s predictions that the nation will possess a fully functional nuclear ICBM by the end of this year at the earliest. U.S. Defense Officials have already been operating under the assumption that Kim possesses the capabilities Intelligence Officials now fear he has, in the interest of being prepared for any potential increase in North Korean aggression.
“It’s the prudent decision on my part to assume that he has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM,” Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, recently told Congress. That same sentiment was echoed by PACOM Commander Admiral Harry Harris in his own testimony to lawmakers.
Image courtesy of North Korea’s KCNA