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North Korea may be closer to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, say experts

Ballistic missile mock-ups photographed in Pyongyang in July appeared more advanced than those seen last year, weapons experts said.

North Korea missile launch pad 2012 4 9Enlarge
Two North Korean soldiers stand guard in front of the Unha-3 rocket at Tangachai -ri space center on April 8, 2012. (PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korea appears to be getting closer to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially carry a nuclear warhead as far as the west coast of the United States, two weapons experts said Tuesday.

They described missiles displayed in Pyongyang earlier this year as “scary good.”

The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies said the missiles photographed during a military parade in Pyongyang in July, even if mock-ups, appeared to be more genuine than those seen in April last year, which were widely dismissed as fakes.

“Last year’s mock-ups were crude; the sorts of things engineers put together when they aren’t sure exactly how all the parts will fit together in three dimensions and want to try out various possibilities,” Jeffrey Lewis and John Schilling wrote on 38 North, a blog run by the institute.

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But the missiles seen this year were “more like the sort of mock-ups engineers build when they are confident in their design, ready to start testing on the ground before committing to flight.”

Lewis and Schilling wrote that North Korea possessed “components and technologies” that could be used to “cobble together” a missile with “theoretical ranges from 5,500 kilometers to over 11,000 kilometers.”

While the design may not be “elegant,” the missile had the potential to reach “virtually the entire United States of America.” 

“The precise configuration of the missile is less important at the moment than the fact that North Korea appears to be moving to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile,” they warned.

North Korea threatened in March to launch a “pre-emptive” nuclear strike on the US amid growing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

While Pyongyang has carried out a number of nuclear tests, most experts believe it doesn’t yet have the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile that would be capable of reaching the US.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/north-korea/131105/intercontinental-ballistic-missiles