On April 16 two enormous intercontinental ballistic missiles rolled through the streets of Pyongyang as part of Kim Il Sung’s birthday celebrations. Kim, the grandfather of current North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un, has been dead since 1994 but the day he was born remains a national holiday.
It was an ominous time for a show of military strength. Just days earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was sending an “armada” to the Korean Peninsula. It has since transpired the ships, which included aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, were moving further away from Korea, and into the western Pacific. This week Vice President Mike Pence has also visited the demilitarized zone that has separated North and South since the end of the Korean war in 1953.
In the corridors of power in Washington and Seoul, Pyongyang and Beijing, war is very much on everyone’s minds. North Korea said Tuesday that a thermonuclear conflict may break out at any moment and in the last year the nation has carried out five missile tests, two of which it claims involved nuclear weapons.
North Korea’s long-term ally, China, warned that “a storm is about to break” after Trump sent his “armada” to the Korean Peninsula, while Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador has accused the United States of turning the region into a “hotspot.”
On Sunday morning, North Korea launched a ballistic missile that failed just as Pence was flying to Seoul and a senior official told the BBC that the country will test missiles on a “weekly, monthly, yearly” basis.
But how extensive is North Korea’s weapons arsenal, and could it really attack the U.S. if it wanted to?
What missiles does North Korea have?
North Korea has carried out five missile tests in the last year and is in possession of four different types of missile. Its short range ‘Scud’ missile has a range of 500 miles , meaning it could reach Japan. Its medium range ‘Nodong’ missile is capable of hitting targets either in China or Southeast Asia. The ‘Musadan’ has a 2,500 mile range and could reach India while its ‘Taepodong’ missile has a 5,000 milereach and could target Scotland, Alaska, and Canada.
In terms of development, North Korea purchased its first missiles — Scuds —from Egypt during the 1970s but soon after began developing its own short range weapons known as ‘Hwasongs’. Its longer range missiles have been developed domestically.
Where are its launch sites?
Different missiles require different sites: Punggye-ri is the main nuclear test site in North Korea’s North East, although Youngdoktong, in the east of the country on China’s border, could possibly be capable of an advanced weapons launch. Sangnam Ri, Yong-jo ri, Musadan Ri, and Sangnam Ri, are where ballistic missiles are launched from, and are all in the far north east, where the main concentration camps are located.
But a noticeable feature of the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that rolled through Pyongyang was that they were carried on tracks, enabling them to be carried off-road. This could make launch pads harder to detect.
The new ICBMs use solid, rather than liquid fuel, which means they can remain fueled, so can be fired at short notice, the New York Times reported.
How much do we know about North Korea’s military?
It’s impossible to know how many missiles North Korea has but experts estimate between 20 and 120 in total.