North Korean military capabilities, always the object of close scrutiny, are being reassessed to determine whether they are potentially more dangerous than previously thought. A consensus in favour of the hypothesis appears to be building.

Lee Sang-haw, Director General of the North Korean Nuclear Affairs Bureau in South Korea, in a government briefing last week, revealed that Pyongyang’s KN-08 missile, under development, is expected to have a range in the region of 7,500 miles and that, as well as being able to reach the US mainland, “Europe is also within range.” The technical problems that have prevented the threat becoming imminent in recent years appear to be disappearing rapidly – now, it is understood, only a critical insulation issue on the missile remains to be resolved to make the threat real.

Seoul is conducting a comprehensive review of its northern neighbour’s capabilities, preparing a report for the MoD and Joint Staff in the first half of 2017. Within the last few days South Korea and Japan have made their first exchange of classified information on North Korea under an intelligence-sharing pact that came into force in November.

Earlier this month Pyongyang announced it is flight testing a long-endurance UAS with considerably greater range than its existing systems. Seoul has detected a significant number of UAS test flights since the beginning of the year and estimates that North Korea has some 300 UAS in service, up to 10 of which may be armed.

As well as continued hardware development, North Korea is also improving its special forces operational capacity, according to the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses. Equipping and training special forces units has increased dramatically in recent years, according to evidence derived from defectors arriving in the south. One battalion-sized unit is specifically tasked with an attack on the South Korean President’s office: it conducted a simulation of its main role within the last two weeks, according to sources in Seoul.

North Korean ballistic missile development continues apace and observers now believe at least one missile currently under development has the range to deliver a nuclear payload to the US and continental Europe. (Photo: Missile Defense Advocacy)

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