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N.K.'s KN-08 ICBM capable of delivering nuclear warhead to 'much of continental U.S.': Northern Commander

All Headlines 02:52 April 15, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, April 14 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's road-mobile KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile is believed to be capable of launching a nuclear warhead "to much of the continental United States," the U.S. Northern commander said, amid growing concern that Pyongyang could soon conduct its first mobile missile test.

"The regime's efforts to develop and deploy the road-mobile KN-08 ICBM have profound implications for homeland missile defense, primarily because the missile obviates most of the pre-launch indicators on which we have traditionally relied to posture our defenses," Adm. William Gortney said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday.

"While the KN-08 remains untested, modeling suggests it could deliver a nuclear payload to much of the Continental United States. We assess Kim Jong Un is unlikely to attack our Homeland unless he perceives an imminent threat to his regime's survival," he said.

Concerns have grown in recent weeks that Pyongyang could undertake yet another provocation, such as a nuclear test and a long-range missile launch, to mark Friday's birthday of founding leader Kim Il-sung, grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said Wednesday that the North has deployed one or two Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles near the eastern port city of Wonsan for a possible launch, and a launch could come on the occasion of the late leader's birthday.

U.S. officials have been quoted as saying that the North could attempt to test the longer-range KN-08.

"We are concerned the possession of a nuclear ICBM could embolden the regime's intransigence below the nuclear threshold and complicate our response to a crisis on the peninsula," Gortney said.

Though Pyongyang's efforts to develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile represent a near-term threat to the U.S., the program "underscores the level of effort and resources the regime is willing to devote to developing advanced weapon systems," he said.

"As the combatant commander charged with defending the homeland, I take this threat very seriously, particularly in light of North Korea's unpredictable leadership," the commander said.

Brian McKeon, principal deputy under secretary of defense, also told the hearing that the North is forging ahead with efforts to bring its KN-08 road-mobile ICBM to operational capacity.

"Although the reliability of an untested North Korean ICBM is likely to be very low, North Korea has used its Taepodong-2 launch vehicle to put a satellite in orbit, thus successfully demonstrating technologies applicable to a long-range missile," he said.

A launch of either Musudan or KN-08 would mark the first time that the North has tested a mobile ballistic missile. The communist nation has displayed the KN-08 and other mobile missiles in military parades in recent years, but has never test-launched them.

U.S. officials have voiced strong concerns about the North's mobile missiles, especially the KN-08, as they can be fired from mobile launchers and are harder to keep an eye on. The U.S. has steadily strengthened its missile defense system to guard against such threats.

The North has advanced ballistic missile technologies, and succeeded in putting satellites into orbit aboard long-range rockets twice, first in 2012 and again in February this year. Experts say long-range rockets and ICBMs are basically the same with differences only in payloads.

Last week, the North claimed that it successfully carried out a ground test of a powerful ICBM engine, with leader Kim saying that the test "provided a firm guarantee for mounting another form of nuclear attack upon the U.S. imperialists."

jschang@yna.co.kr
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