By Victor Cha
Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command Adm. William Gortney’s press briefing at the Pentagon on April 7 addressed concerns on North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.
- If the NORAD commander’s statements are intended to confirm to the press North Korea’s road-mobile KN-08 capability, the main strategic implication is that North Korea’s nuclear forces are potentially more survivable.
- It would be difficult for the United States to counter the KN-08 threat because, as Adm. Gortney acknowledged, the United States does not currently have the persistent ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) over North Korea to deal with a mobile, re-locatable target.
- Therefore, should North Korea have a flight-tested KN-08 its nuclear forces would be less deterrable from a strategic stability perspective.
- The KN-08 is presumed to be an ICBM, a mock-up of which was first publicly paraded in April 2012. Speculation indicates that the KN-08 is a three-stage liquid-fuel missile system that can possibly carry a miniaturized nuclear warhead with a range capable of reaching the U.S. west coast.
- Gortney gave the assessment that North Korea has the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead for a KN-08 ICBM but emphasized they have not yet tested such technology.
- April marks some important anniversaries in North Korea’s calendar including Kim Il Sung’s birthday (April 15) and the founding of the Korean People’s Army (April 25). On April 1, 2015, North Korea implemented a no-fly, no-sail zone over the East Sea leading to speculation that a possible provocation or missile test may be in the works.
- In April 2012 North Korea unsuccessfully launched a Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 satellite with a flight trajectory over the East Sea. It was followed by a successful launch in December 2012.
Dr. Victor Cha is senior adviser and holds the Korea Chair at CSIS. You can follow him on twitter @vcgiants.
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Thumbnail image shows an Unha-3 rocket carrying a Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 satellite on April 8, 2012. Source: Wikimedia, via VOA, U.S. Government Work.
Dr. Victor Cha is senior adviser and Korea Chair at CSIS. He is also a professor of government at Georgetown University.