With Each Weapons Test, N. Korea Inches Closer to Being Able to Strike U.S. With Nuclear Missile

In this undated image made from video distributed Sept. 6, 2016, by North Korean broadcaster KRT, a missile is launched during a drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AP)
In this undated image made from video distributed Sept. 6, 2016, by North Korean broadcaster KRT, a missile is launched during a drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AP)

North Korea has taken a key step toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the mainland United States, analysts said Friday after Kim Jong Un ordered yet another nuclear test.

The test, which Pyongyang said was a “nuclear warhead explosion,” appeared to be North Korea’s biggest yet.

“It’s a clear indication of progress towards developing a miniaturized nuclear warhead for North Korea’s ballistic missiles,” said Alison Evans, a North Korea analyst at IHS Markit, a consultancy.

“We estimate that North Korea has an inventory of 15 or 20 nuclear weapons and that they could be put on a truck or a short-range missile. But what North Korea is aiming for is to put them on an intercontinental ballistic missile,” she said.

North Korea was officially founded 68 years ago Friday — the day of the nuclear test — with opposition to the United States as its raison d’etre. Its propaganda lauds the protection the Kim family has provided from the “hostile” Americans.

But the reclusive country has dramatically accelerated its nuclear and missile programs since Kim Jong Un became North Korea’s third-generation leader almost five years ago, conducting three of its five nuclear tests in that time.

Since early 2014, Pyongyang has also noticeably stepped up its missile testing, launching a variety of vehicles, including some long-range missiles. Last month, it successfully launched a ballistic missile from a submarine.

On Monday, North Korea launched three extended-range Scud missiles in quick succession, apparently to try to outsmart U.S. and Japanese missile-defense systems in the region.

Then, on Friday, it said it had “standardized” nuclear warheads so that it could produce “a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power.”

The test showed that North Korea is “ready to retaliate against the enemies” and has “practical countermeasures to the racket of threat and sanctions” against Pyongyang, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

It is impossible to verify North Korea’s claim to have mastered the technology to fit warheads to missiles, as that proof would come only with a test. And Pyongyang does have a habit of exaggerating its abilities, with its claim to have tested a hydrogen bomb in January immediately dismissed as fanciful.

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SOURCE: Anna Fifield 
The Washington Post