NORAD Chief: North Korean Mobile Nuclear ICBM ‘Operational Today’

The head of U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command said Tuesday that North Korea is continuing to develop a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile system capable of firing nuclear weapons to U.S. shores.

Adm. Bill Gortney said the U.S. believed that the long-range KN-08 ICBM missile was “operational today.” He further explained that North Korea’s military could miniaturize a nuclear to mount on the missile.

“We haven’t seen them test the KN-08 yet and we’re waiting for them to do that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will fly it before they test it,” Gortney said.

The Pentagon has released previous intelligence reports saying the North Koreans could miniaturize nuclear warheads and mount them to the KN-08.  Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, made the same assessment last October at a press briefing.

The KN-08 provides a significant threat to the U.S. because its mobility makes it harder to track, defense analysts have said. However, many others question whether the North Koreans are any closer to

In July 2014, reports emerged that the North Koreans had tested the KN-08’s engines. The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, which first reported the test, said the next step would be to institute flight tests.

The North Koreans first displayed the KN-08 in 2012 although some observers said the missile system in the military parade was only a model.

At his briefing, Gortney acknowledged issues in the U.S. missile defense system but “I have confidence it will work against North Korea. Based on our assessment, we are outpacing the threat,” he said.

Gortney noted problems with the $2.2 billion Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX) system that was initially billed by the Pentagon. However, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that the Hawaii-based SBX was a “$2.2 billion flop” whose field of vision was too narrow to detect incoming missiles and guide counter-measures.

Gortney said the SBX was an example of instances where “we were putting in capabilities before we had (them) properly tested.”

— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.
  • macman1138

    The leadership of North Korea is just crazy enough to fire them at the US under a variety of circumstances.
    Do not take the nuclear threat from North Korea, China or Iran lightly.

    • Guest

      Especially if you live in Hawaii, and more especially near a military base there.

      • Drew

        Can you live in Hawaii and not near a military base?

    • Will

      Nah, I doubt anyone believes the Hermit Kingdom is that crazy, to want to risk a retaliation they could not and would not recover from.

      • bbabbitt

        Don’t delude yourself. They have a million-man army. These wackos believe they are invincible.

        • t1oracle

          You mean a million starving man army. I bet the sum of their weights only adds up to a few thousand Americans.

    • t1oracle

      You’re assuming these things actually work. I’m not so convinced.

  • Lance

    Bet China helped them all the way on this.

    • Chuck Stable

      I’m not sure about that. On the one hand, China is an ally of North Korea and like the disruptive role that it plays. The North Korean threat ties up American resources in the region. If North Korea wasn’t there, there would be a stronger pro-American ROK right next to China. And without having the defend against North Korea, the U.S. would be able to allocate more resources in the Pacific to checking China. However, on the other hand, China is wary of their nut job North Korean neighbor and they don’t want North Korea to do anything that would ‘upset the apple cart’. (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/world/asia/chin… ) If North Korea started a war, that wouldn’t be a good thing for China. After all, China relies on the U.S. to buy a lot of its exports and a war could obviously put a crimp on that. So, bottom line, even though China is ostensibly a close ally of North Korea, I’m not sure how much help China actually provided them in developing an ICBM. Moreover, if China really wanted North Korea to have ICBMs, it could simply sell them some.

      • Doc

        To Chuck S.,
        Thoughtful analysis. Taking it a step further, if North Korea wasn’t there, South Korea would not exist and a united Korea would be much more neutral in the US – China influence struggle. Hence, DOD and State department really love Crazy North Korean Dictators! Look what is happening to Taiwan ROC. Accommodation nation.

  • Truth

    It just shows that sanctions doesn’t work.

    • BlackOwl18E

      To the contrary, sanctions generally work to some effect on nations tied into the global economy, but North Korea is definitely not one those nations.

      • Truth

        The problem with sanctions are that they move relatively slow. Iran for instance will have capability in the short run and sanctions at this point will only slow the process. This was stated by Obama himself.

        Another problem with sanctions is that you have to be the biggest kid on the block in economic terms. If a block of countering economies with similar economic power do not join the sanctions then it is not as effective.

        Lets say that all the planets align and sanctions were placed, it would still be difficult to apply pressure due to the many avenues in the black markets to sell and buy goods.

    • U LYNT

      In regards with content of industry predicated befits are changed conclusion satellite entrollment ask to not tell considering cituation

      • rodrigo

        Something is wrong with your translation program.

      • blight_

        You forgot the link to sell fake handbags.

        • macgringo

          Awesome!

      • Jace2000

        If the only record of the 21st Century was this comment, it would accurately reflect our entrollment with satellites, and all of the changed conclusions therein

  • guest

    I thought the Clinton administration signed a treaty or agreement that forced them to shut their nuke program down. What happened??

    • jeb

      you actually think they followed it. in what world is North Korea trustworthy

      • Engineer

        Insert Iran versus N. Korea in the story in 5 years - can’t believe how naive we can be some times. Let’s see Clinton and Obama……….now what do they have in common…….just can’t put my finger on it…………

        • guest

          Hillary??

    • Justin

      Because N.Korea can be trusted to NOT advance and develop their nuclear weapons program…

    • oblatt23

      Bush reneged on the deal

      • crackedlenses

        Because they more or less admitted that they never intended to follow it in the first place. You can’t reason with some people…

    • bbabbitt

      We even gave them food and money to not build a nuke. Are we naive or what?

  • greg

    And we have old Billy Clinton to thank for this. He believed all their BS and they played him for the fool he was and is.

  • Derek

    Our missile defense system is garbage.

    I’m sure we will track it, and watch it hit the US, because IF we launch an intercepting missile, there is a good chance it wont hit its target.

    I think we should stop dumping money into the “hit a bullet with a bullet” nonsense, and use large, land based, solid state lasers to destroy the incoming threat. They may have a blazing fast missile that keeps changing it’s trajectory and deploys several decoys…but none of that matters when your defensive weapon has unlimited ammo and fires at the speed of light.

    • Captain Obvious

      Um, what? We have fleets in both the launch region and the target regions to deter incoming missiles.

      And you also have to taken into consideration that they have A missile - you have no idea on its guidance capabilities. It may just fall in the sea like the rest of them.

      Sounds like you just wanted a soap box.

    • blight_

      So you think guiding a fast moving projectile onto a fast-moving projectile is insurmountable, so instead you propose guiding a laser onto said target? If the problem is target tracking, then how is the laser going to be a better solution? Unless you have no faith in the kill vehicle: but do you have more faith in a laser that must have equivalent range to the BMD system?

    • macgringo

      Or attach midgets with TNT, strapped to fliyng porpoises!!

  • rodrigo

    Our missile defense systems, both long range and medium range, will do the trick for a small country’s attack. For large numbers of incoming, from Russia or China would be overwhelming. The capability of launch on warning still exists, and Russia and China both know we won’t wait until after the missiles all have arrived. Iran and N. Korea both don’t care what our response will be, either because they believe their own bluster or god. They are the ones who will fire the first missiles, and their citizens will be counted as victims of their government’s stupidity. Our stupidity was to allow them to develop the weapons.

    • ex NORAD

      our BMD only works when we jigger the test results. its just to defense contractors to keep shareholders happy. good thing is DPRK couldn’t find its ass with both hands. they launch its a glass factory.

  • wtpworrier

    Ain’t that the same picture Bush and Cheney used to call for an invasion or Iraq???

    • rodrigo

      N.Korea won’t deny they have WMD the way Iraq did. Also, no one is going to invade N. Korea unless the launch a weapon on S. Korea or Japan.

      So this is not like the Iraq WMD argument, no comparison. And N.K. will launch, they can’t think past a parade or news headline.

      Iran doesn’t care about headline, their god is telling them to kill everyone.
      Because of this, both will be the first to launch.

      Russia and China have some doubt they will survive, so the MAD still works for nukes. But since we put doubt in the air, now they think they can get away with stealing states. Caution, before the election, China may move on Taiwan or Japan interests in the China Sea.

      We’ve set up their expectation of us not responding until it is too late. Our bad. Hilary will not do more than bring the Reset Button to the meeting, so be sure to send someone with Reagan’s background and proven to not bluff.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    It is not realistic to think that the US can prevent any other nation from ultimately developing nuclear weapons, if it wants to do so badly enough. N. Korea operates as a pirate state not that different from the Barbary corsairs of the eighteen century, demanding concessions, threatening to disrupt the lives of its’ neighbors (or worse), forging currency and trading weapons and technology with other outlaw nations. Sanctions hurt Iran because Iran does want to ultimately enjoy the benefits of modern civilization; sanctions are little better than meaningless as against North Korea since it’s barely a part of world commerce in the first place. The Kims and the political system they have created are indifferent to the misery of their subject population, and that sheer indifference makes North Korea more of a serious threat to use nuclear weapons then any other nation on the planet. And while I hope I’m wrong, there’s nothing in the recent history of our BMD efforts that gives me any confidence that we can stop an incoming missile.

    • Auyong Ah Meng

      Well there is the MAD doctrine…just need to remind the Norks daily if necessary if you fire 1 at me…i tell China, Russia and neighbouring nations also in advance…i can now fired 1 back and i make very sure the asshole who made the decision for the launch be taken out too.

      You want to be MAD…fine…we can be MAD too.

    • Docsenko

      You need to look at Iran one more time. They want Israel out of the way. A bomb would do it. But I believe Israel will attack if Iran starts building that bomb. It does not need to be a big one. A few Kilo tons woulod do the trick. Just hit Tel Aviv.

      • ex NORAD

        Israel has hundreds of nukes. Iran would be an idiot to do it.

        • crackedlenses

          The leaders of Iran just might not care if they believe Israel will be destroyed in the ensuing inferno. The anti-Semitism is strong with some people….

          • Brian B. Mulholland

            Iran has matured into a state with enough bureaucratic contenders, and a theologically limited kind of election system - I gag at calling it a democracy - that no one or two people can make a decision to go to war and start a nuclear holocaust. North Korea may still be in that state where Kim Jong Un could make such a decision. Iran would, as ex NORAD states, face extinction if such an exchange were initiated, the moreso since Israel’s ABM system is arguably the best in the world. A missile or three would not suffice; Iran would need to saturate Israeli defenses, which implies MIRV systems, which aren’t anywhere in sight.
            Obama’s treaty, though it is a high risk gamble, is also the best course open to us. There’s no safety to be had in war, and the sanctions regime isn’t going to last forever. All you need is one defector (Russia would be the most likely) and it becomes meaningless.

          • blight_

            The Guardian Council has considerable power, but like the autocratic Shah beforehand they know that pushing the limit will result in another revolution. Iran isn’t quite the religiously radical hellhole as Taliban madrassas or a Saudi place, but going against the state (which is indeed very intertwined with Shia religious authorities) is a bad idea.

            I don’t know if Iran would sentence people to death for Sunni blasphemy (Whereas the Saudis, Bahrainis et al frown deeply on Shiism and attempted religious mobilization).

    • Sev

      A few well placed cruise missiles on north korean missile facilities begs to differ.

  • Roland

    Are we giving them some ideas on how to make these things?

    • ex NORAD

      Engineering something that works is a bitch. Basic theory and science is out there. 60 year old engineering diagrams used to be open sourced in government pubs in any good university library. Iran and Iraq lobbed home made missiles in the 80s, you need national level funds to build systems. Terrorists don’t have the depth of either funds, industrial plants and experts to do this. Their best bet is to buy or steal finished product.

  • purpleheartpark

    Love that Mardi-Gras Color for the Missile….

  • Biggles

    Mobile? Well then we just nuke the whole country. 4 or 5 well aimed warheads should do an adequate job.

    • Lightingguy

      What a stupid solution. We have zero clue as to how many warheads and missiles they might have and where they might be stored. There is no method to guarantee we would get any, much less all as we DON’T KNOW HOW MANY THEY HAVE, so what are we aiming at ?. As well, the NK’s are masters at burying stuff deep and without precise targeting info., even a megaton nuke (which we don’t have) might not do the trick. 4 or 5 isn’t going to do squat except blow a lot oa fallout japan’s way and maybe our way, do recall we are downwind.

  • Paul

    they do not need missiles when they have tunnels into the south

    • blight_

      Considering the historical use of tunnels, digging explosive charges underground and detonating them to seal tunnels across the DMZ might not be a bad answer. Not like the Norks have sufficient rebar and concrete to properly secure tunnels from underground detonations.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Tunnels are useful in the event of a non-nuclear invasion, or the occasional act of NK terrorism in the South. They’re not going to defeat S. Korea that way; South Korea has a modern military and North Korea does not. Kim’s sole real military asset is his nuclear asset.

    Since my last post, Russia has announced that it will indeed now supply S-300 systems to Iran. So the embargo coalition is indeed starting to crumble.