Guam is the only US territory North Korea could hope to reach with its missiles

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[From an analysis by John Schilling, an American aerospace engineer with more than 20 years of experience, specializing in rocket and spacecraft propulsion and mission analysis.]

North Korea recently did something it has never done before: it tried to launch its Musudan  missile four times in two months, and failed every time. North Korea’s missiles usually fail the first time. In the past, the North Koreans have always done what sensible engineers do in the face of failure — stand down, figure out what went wrong, and fix it before trying again.

The Musudan missile seems to be based on a 1960s-era Soviet design with some local modifications. It appeared to be a mobile intermediate-range missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead as far as the critical U.S. base at Guam.

Guam is the only sovereign U.S. territory North Korea could hope to reach with its current weapons.

Any North Korean test also raises the question of capability: Can they blow us up with nuclear missiles now? The answer is pretty clearly that they can’t blow up anybody but themselves with Musudan missiles. It is possible that they will retrench and give their engineers time to fix the problems, and maybe come back with a working missile in a year or two.

North Korea has also been working on a small ballistic-missile submarine, and a new solid-fuel intermediate-range missile. These have the potential to be more capable and versatile systems than the Musudan would have been, but they aren’t likely to enter service before 2020.

Today, all we have to worry about are the thousand or so short- and medium-range missiles with which North Korea could attack targets in South Korea and Japan, and the dozen or so nuclear warheads they may be able to mount on some of those missiles.


This entry was posted in by Grant Montgomery.

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