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North Korea Is Closer to Building a Nuclear-Capable ICBM Than We Thought

Experts thought it would take the Hermit Kingdom until 2020 to develop the technology. A new report from the Pentagon shaves two years off that estimate.

by Drew Schwartz
Jul 25 2017, 8:25pm

STR/AFP/Getty Images

A new, confidential Pentagon report has determined that North Korea will be able to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead by as early as next year, the Washington Post reports.

Up until now, experts figured it would take until at least 2020 for North Korea to accomplish that feat. But according to the new report, prepared by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the nation could begin production on a "reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM" by 2018.

The Hermit Kingdom successfully tested an ICBM that can hit a target 4,000 miles away from its coastline back in July, alarming defense experts around the world. The accomplishment has put Hawaii on high alert, prompting the state to prepare a nuclear readiness plan that outlines a number of concrete steps people should take in the event of an attack on Honolulu.

"The apparent success of the July 4 test is an alarming development as North Korea accelerates its pursuit of being able to hold the United States at risk with nuclear weapons," chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Texas representative Mac Thornberry, said in a statement Tuesday. "I have grown increasingly alarmed that North Korea is acting with a greater sense of urgency than we are."

An ICBM alone is no joke, but without a nuclear warhead, it's just a missile. As of now, North Korea still hasn't proven it can design a nuke small enough to fit onto the rocket's tip. If Kim Jong-Un's team of engineers manages to pull that off, they'll still have to achieve "reentry"—essentially, sending a nuke through the upper atmosphere and back without destroying it. But according to the US analysts who spoke anonymously with the Post, the isolated country is set to test its reentry technology within days.

"There has been alarming progress," Joseph DeTrani, a former North Korea mission manager for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Post. "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 new report seems to shed some light on just how terrified we should be of North Korea as Trump continues to weigh a slew of terrible options for dealing with the country. According to the Post, experts are hoping Kim Jong-Un is aware of the consequences he would face if the Hermit Kingdom actually launched a nuke at the US. Spoiler alert: Things probably wouldn't end too well for North Korea.

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