A new assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) concludes North Korea will have a nuclear-capable ICBM by next year. From the Washington Post:
The new assessment by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which shaves a full two years off the consensus forecast for North Korea’s ICBM program, was prompted by recent missile tests showing surprising technical advances by the country’s weapons scientists, at a pace beyond which many analysts believed was possible for the isolated communist regime…
“There has been alarming progress,” said Joseph DeTrani, the former mission manager for North Korea for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a former special envoy for negotiations with Pyongyang. “In the last year they have gained capabilities that they didn’t have, including ones that we thought they would not have been able to obtain for years.”
The July 4 missile test also caught South Korea’s intelligence service off guard, prompting a hasty revision of forecasts, according to South Korean lawmakers who have received closed-door briefings.
Earlier this month, when the first ICBM test took place, CNN was reporting that North Korea could have a nuclear missile before the end of Trump’s first term:
Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009, believes that should Pyongyang continue at its current pace, the country could develop an indigenous missile that can reach Seattle and carry a North Korean-built nuclear warhead before the end of Trump’s first term.
With DIA saying the missile could be ready next year, obviously, the timeline is accelerating. But there are still a couple of technical problems the North Koreans need to work out. For one thing, it’s not clear if they have successfully miniaturized a nuclear weapon, making it small and light enough to sit atop a missile. However, last year Kim Jong-Un was seen inspecting what North Korea claimed was a miniaturized warhead. That claim is not considered to be confirmed yet.
— José Miguel Sardo (@jmsardo) March 9, 2016
The other issue is reentry. So far, North Korea hasn’t demonstrated that their missile can protect a warhead as it reenters the earth’s atmosphere. But a test of a new reentry vehicle could take place as soon as this Thursday. From the Guardian:
The Pentagon has picked up signs that North Korea is preparing for another missile test, a US defense official said on Tuesday, as the US cited progress in pushing China to impose tough new UN sanctions.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP that if the test goes ahead, it would “probably” occur on 27 July, which is the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Korean armistice agreement.
The Post adds that while the previous test on July 4th seemed aimed at testing the missile’s range, the one they are preparing for this week will likely test reentry. If that test is a success and if the miniaturized nuke shown in those pictures above is real (as yet unconfirmed) will it really take a year to put all these pieces together? Even a year is not very long for North Korea to be able to reach Alaska or perhaps Hawaii with a nuclear weapon.