What Is North Korea Actually Realistically Capable Of?

Four ballistic North Korean missiles, reportedly ready to launch. This picture was sourced from the country's state-run news agency, so it's impossible to verify. AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS

Honey, I Shrunk The Bomb

The latest development in this sense came about just a few days ago when the Washington Post – citing anonymous US intelligence officers – published a report claiming that North Korea is now able to “miniaturize” their weapons and mount them on warheads.

If accurate, this is a major step-up. Nukes are almost useless as weapons in the modern age if they can’t be launched on a missile. Now, it appears the country has manufactured 20 to 60 small nuclear warheads, an unknown handful of which can be attached to long-range missiles.

So now the key question is: What are North Korean missiles like?

That’s a complicated question. North Korea has inarguably made huge progress on missile technology since it first started giving it a go a few decades back, but it fails as often as it succeeds. When it test fires a new rocket, it either explodes on the launch pad or, as planned, lands in the Sea of Japan – a provocative act to one of its oldest foes.

At present, it has fired at least two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the second of which traveled 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), reached a height of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles), and then splashed again into the Sea of Japan.

The mushroom cloud of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 – a scene that hopefully will never be replicated. Everett Historical/Shutterstock

Experts have suggested that, if aimed at a certain angle, the missile could have a maximum range of 10,400 kilometers (6,462 miles). When the rotation of the Earth is taken into account, this range is only extended.

Technically then, these missiles could reach both the western and eastern seaboard of the United States. Hawaii is easily in range, as is Guam, an American territory in Micronesia with 163,000 people living on it – and one that’s been threatened by a North Korean missile strike.

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