As North Korea continues to talk of war against their neighbour to the south, they’ve also started to threaten the United States, saying that “thermonuclear war” may be on the horizon.Reality, yet again, is not on the side of Pyongyang.
The North Koreans still need a few things — a reliable long range, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a nuclear warhead built to fit that missile, and the technology that can guide it through launch, reentry, and hitting the target, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
North Korea has test fired a number of missiles with varying ranges. They’ve been successful with some short and medium range platforms, but their long range capabilities have been marked with many failures.
These include its Taepodong-1 rocket launch in 1998, which failed to reach orbit, and its Taepodong-2 in 2006, which ended up exploding only 40 seconds after takeoff. They are slowly progressing though, with a new system (they claim is only for launching satellites) called Unha-3 boasting a range of approximately 6,000 miles (Pyongyang to San Francisco is about 5,600). As Gizmodo reports:
In early December, though, North Korea’s Unha-3 launch found moderate success. Which is a little terrifying, given its presumed specs and capabilities. While they can’t be independently verified, we do know that it too is a three-stage rocket, based on the Unha-2 design, measuring about 105 feet tall and eight feet in diameter. Its primary stage engine carries 80,000 kg of fuel, its second stage carries an additional 7,000 kg, and its final stage shot a 220-pound weather satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-3, into polar orbit. A satellite which quickly, hilariously, and dangerously spun out of control.
And since no one outside of North Korea can verify the data on the latest rocket, it’s important to remain sceptical of claims coming out of Pyongyang. Especially when most experts viewing a parade last year of supposed-ICBMs deemed them fake.
Markus Schiller, a German missile expert, had this to say to the BBC:
“If you take a close look at the displayed missiles,” he said, “there are many details that are plainly wrong, indicating that there might be something wrong with the whole program.”
“The displayed missiles all have minor differences in detail that add up to major differences in configuration and design. You will never see this in real missiles,” he said.
While the North Koreans work hard on missile delivery systems, they also have a long way to go in making those systems nuclear. As Bloomberg reports:
The American intelligence community assessment is that North Korea remains some years from achieving the capability to threaten the continental U.S. with a nuclear device small enough to fit on a ballistic missile, though it may pose a nuclear threat to its regional neighbours sooner.
South Korea said after last month’s test that it doubts Kim Jong Un’s regime has perfected the miniaturization technology.
Yahoo! News spoke with Song Young-keun, a retired South Korean general:
Song said the general consensus was the North had yet to shrink a nuclear warhead to put on an intercontinental ballistic missile and more crucially there had been no tests to prove it has mastered the re-entry technology needed to bring a payload back into the atmosphere.
“It’s hogwash, blackmail,” Song said of Thursday’s threat against the United States.
North Korea certainly has the capability of hitting their regional neighbours — Japan, Guam, and South Korea — but a defiant Kim Jong-Un claiming he’s ready to launch nukes at the United States, is nothing but talk — and everyone knows it.
That includes the U.S. intelligence community, which pegs the regime as years away from developing a system we might fear, as Bloomberg points out.
“I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday.
Update: Prof. Mike Gruntman, a PhD and professor of astronautics at the University of Southern California, contacted Business Insider and indicated that he’s not so quick to dismiss the technological capabilities coming out of Pyongyang.
“What matters in my view is that they show continuous progress (which means they do not execute their scientists and engineers for failures and let them learn from mistakes) and try to do pretty complex thing,” Gruntman told Business Insider in an email. “One cannot exclude major surprises in the capabilities, as a result. Consequently, the threat is serious and real and should not, in my view, be played down.”
In this video that he sent along — which is a bit technical — Gruntman concludes that it is only a matter of time before North Korea achieves indigenous ICBM capability and deploys operational satellites. You can watch that video below:
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