North Korea Takes Steps Toward Long-Range Missiles

01 April, 2015

A top United States intelligence official says that North Korea has made progress in developing long-range missiles. This comes as the possibility of deploying a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea has gained attention.

James Clapper is the National Intelligence Director for the United States. He recently wrote to the U.S. Congress saying that North Korea has made progress in developing a missile that could reach the U.S.

He said that North Korea has taken steps to test a long-range inter-continental ballistic missile, or ICBM.

North Korea Takes Steps Toward Long-Range Missiles
A South Korean man watches a TV news program showing the file footage of the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, March 13, 2015.

David Stilwell is an official with the U.S. Department of Defense. He recently said that the North Korean missile threat has created what he calls a "demand" for the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. THAAD is an acronym for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense.

Shin In-kyun is a security expert with the Korea Defense Network. He said South Korea is more concerned with short-range missile threats, not ICBMs.

The THAAD missile defense system is able to track objects up to 1,000 kilometers away. It is designed to stop ballistic missiles at high altitudes.

He said ICBMs cannot attack South Korea due to the limits of the missiles' firing range. He believes that Mr. Clapper's comments on ICBMs actually expressed concern about a possible cut in the U.S. defense budget.

China and Russia oppose the use of a THAAD system in South Korea. They say the system could possibly be used to intercept their missiles. They say this would increase U.S. military capabilities in the area.

Officials in South Korea have avoided any formal declaration on THAAD. They say no official request has come from the U.S. and that no official consultations have been made. They also say South Korea has not decided whether to place a THAAD system on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea has not started testing any ICBMs. But experts with the U.S.-Korea Institute say there is photographic evidence that shows rocket engine testing and construction in North Korea. They say that North Korea may have a functioning ICBM within the next three to five years. But ongoing sanctions and technical problems could delay development by years or even decades.

North Korea also must complete a number of tests before the ICBM is ready for use. Shin In-kyun said a missile must go through at least ten firing tests and must pass at least seven. He estimates it will take several more years for North Korea to build a working ICBM.

It is not known how close North Korea is to developing a small nuclear device that could be used on a ballistic missile. General Curtis Scaparrotti is the Commander of U.S. Forces Korea. Last year, he said he believed North Korea has the expertise and ability to build a small nuclear device. South Korean Minister of Defense Han Min-koo also said North Korea has made progress in its nuclear device technology.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Brian Padden reported this story from Seoul. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter edited it.


Words in this Story

acronym – n. a word formed from the first letters of each one of the words in a phrase

ballistic missilen. a weapon that is shot through the sky over a great distance and then falls to the ground and explodes

interceptv. to stop and take someone or something that is going from one place to another place before that person or thing gets there

sanctions – n. actions taken or orders given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc.