CBRN Assessment

Pentagon intelligence finds North Korea can arm ICBMs with nukes

10 August 2017
The ICBM that North Korea test-fired on 28 July is seen here being erected by a 16-wheeled transport-erector-launcher. North Korea first launched an ICBM on 4 July. Source: KCNA

Key Points

  • DIA reports that North Korea can now produce compact nuclear weapons for its missiles
  • The agency also believes North Korea may have enough fissile material for as many as 60 nuclear weapons

A new US military intelligence assessment reportedly found that North Korea can produce a nuclear device small enough to arm its long-range missiles, and that the country may have enough fissile material for up to 60 weapons.

The Washington Post on 8 August first reported the US Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA’s) assessment, based on a summary document dated 28 July. Notably, this is one organisation’s judgement and, as far as is known, not yet the wider intelligence community’s consensus.

Nonetheless, the report hues to some generally shared assumptions regarding North Korea’s significant progress towards fielding a credible nuclear threat that can reach the US homeland.

According to the report, DIA believes North Korea can build a compact nuclear weapon to arm its longer-range ballistic missiles. It is not clear which specific missiles the agency referenced, but could include the Hwasong-14 (KN-20) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-12 (KN-17) intermediate-range ballistic missile, or Pukkuksong series (KN-11 or KN-15) of solid-fuel missiles.

The DIA in 2013 reported with ‘moderate confidence’ that Pyongyang could fit a nuclear device on a missile, a congressman revealed at the time. In 2016 it twice tested nuclear devices and claimed advances in size and weight reduction. In July 2017 it twice tested Hwasong-14 ICBMs.

This latest DIA report also assessed that North Korea could have enough fissile material to build as many as 60 nuclear weapons, far more than previously thought.

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