North Korea now has a range of ballistic missiles that are thought to be capable of hitting both the US mainland and American interests throughout the Pacific, The Heritage Foundation reports in its 2016 Index of US Military Strength.
The annual report examines the strength of the US military, and also takes into account potential rising threats to the US and its allies from across the world. According to Heritage, the threat from the nuclear-armed, anti-American authoritarian state will only get more complicated in 2016.
Pyongyang has continued to develop of a range of ballistic missiles, at the same time the regime pushes to create miniaturized nuclear warheads that can be placed atop those missiles. If constructed, these warheads would allow Pyongyang to hypothetically launch long-range nuclear strikes, as this graphic from Heritage demonstrates:
“North Korea has an extensive ballistic missile force that could strike South Korea, Japan, and US military bases in Asia,” the report states. “Pyongyang has deployed at least 400 Scud short-range tactical ballistic missiles, 300 No-Dong medium-range missiles, and 100 to 200 Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles.”
The longest-range missile, the Taepo Dong 2, is still in development. However, if deployed, the missile is believed to be nuclear capable if North Korea ever succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear warheads.
The most serious of North Korea’s missile threats comes from the country’s KN-08 missile. The KN-08 is a road-mobile intercontinental missile, meaning Pyongyang can move the launch system throughout the country. In contrast, other long-range missiles must be fired from stationary launch pads.
“It’s the relocatable target set that really impedes our ability to find, fix, and finish the threat,” Adm. Bill Gortney, the commander of NORAD, told reporters in April 2015. “And as the targets move around and we if don’t have the persistent stare and persistent [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] that we do not have over North Korea at this time, that relocatable nature makes it very difficult for us to counter it.”
Heritage notes that Gortney also said in April 2015 that the KN-08 “is operational today. Our assessment is that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland.”
A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013.
In an article for Johns Hopkins University’s 38 North, North Korea experts John Schilling and Henry Kan estimate that the KN-08 would have a maximum range of 5,600 miles, making the missile capable of hitting the West Coast of the continental US.
The weapon, however, is unlikely to have the accuracy required for precision targeting on large US cities. And although the Pyongyang may soon develop the capability needed to launch missiles towards the US, it’s still possible that it wouldn’t be able to evade existing US missile defenses.
“Should [a missile] get airborne and come at us, I’m confident we would be able to knock it down,” Gortney told reporters.