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Asia-Pacific , Missile and Space

The Transformation and Rapid Modernisation of North Korea's Defences in 2017; How U.S. Intelligence Underestimated Pyongyang's Military Industrial Capabilities

Part Three

January 30th - 2018

The Hwasong-14 ICBM was twice tested successfully, and has the capability to deliver nuclear payloads to cities on the U.S. West Coast - as well as Alaska and the strategically critical U.S. Pacific Command on Hawaii. A two stage rocket with a range of 7000-10,000km, the missile is a game changer for North Korean's deterrence program bringing about the vulnerability of the U.S. mainland several years before Western intelligence believed this ever would have been possible. Mass produced and armed nuclear warheads, they are to provide North Korea with a parity possessed only by the United States and China - and make it the only non superpower nation since the Second World War to attain parity with the Western bloc and an independent deterrent which does not rely on protection from superpower patrons. The missile's successful test, coming from a nation the West deemed highly corrupt, backward, collapsing, and bordering on a failed state, caught the Western bloc completely by surprise. Its implications were dire indeed for the U.S. position in the Asia-Pacific.

Following the missile tests North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test in September, with a payload far exceeding those of previous warheads. The weapon was a hydrogen bomb, and it reinforced the achievements of the country's missile program with an exponentially more destructive payload. Further building on gains made throughout the year, on 28 November North Korea tested its Hwasong-15 ICBM - an entirely new platform with an estimated range of 13,000km - putting New York and Washington D.C. well within range of nuclear strikes. With the Hwasong-15 only having been tested once, it is likely that North Korea will attempt a second test in early 2018. With South Korea having pressured the United States to cancel military exercises on the peninsula, such a weapons test is unlikely unless North Korea perceives the United States to be resuming provocations - which will likely be followed immediately by a second Hwasong-15 test just as the announcement of the Vigilant Ace exercises in November 2017 were.

2017 marked the year than North Korea achieved basic nuclear parity with the United States - which is likely to be followed by mass production of warheads and missiles and potentially the development of a second stage submarine based nuclear deterrent. The country has also indicated a future focus on the development of surveillance satellites to allow the country to deliver strikes against enemy targets more accurately. While the Western bloc's window for intervention narrowed significantly in 2017, by the end of 2018 this window will have closed completely. North Korea is set to enjoy an unprecedented era of security, one it has sought since losing 20-30% of its population in the early 1950s as a result of U.S. bombardment during the Korean War. The security of East Asia too as a whole is set to increase profoundly, as while the risk of U.S. military intervention and a devastating regional war was long on the table with the U.S. mainland now directly threatened war will likely prove impossible.


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