Saturday, March 21, 2015

US Officials Believe North Korea Has SLBMs, Miniaturized Nuclear Devices


Plus, Japan and Australia plan to buy Ospreys, China picks a new diplomat for Pyongyang, and more.

The Washington Free Beacon reports that North Korea is making progress toward operationalizing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The report, by the Beacon‘s Bill Gertz, cites comments made by the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Cecil D. Haney, in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee disclosed on Thursday. As The Diplomat covered last fall, North Korea’s SLBM development has been under the watchful eye of observers for some time now. A satellite imagery study by 38 North strongly hinted at an ongoing SLBM development process at North Korea’s Sinpo South Shipyard. Gertz’s report confirms that U.S. officials now believe that a North Korean SLBM is a safe assumption. A robust SLBM capability would be a major step for North Korea, particularly if it manages to successfully miniaturize a nuclear device for delivery from a submarine (a considerably more challenging task altogether, though a report Friday suggests U.S. officials believe North Korea has already done this).

In other news, both Japan and Australia may turn out to be significant customers for the Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. Aerospace Daily notes that Japan may end up purchasing more than the 17 that it has budgeted for in the coming year. Bell Helicopter’s Vice President for International Military Sales Richard Harris notes that Australia is also a prospective customer. The Osprey is a highly versatile air asset for its ability to swiftly transport troops and equipment, particularly in amphibious scenarios.

Reuters reported on the United States’ ongoing efforts to beef up its missile defense capabilities with Iranian and North Korean threats in mind. The director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, James Syring, told the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee that North Korea possesses hundreds of missiles capable of reaching U.S. Pacific forces and that Iran continues to advance its missile program. Neither North Korea or Iran have the ability to credibly and consistently threaten the U.S. homeland, though Syring notes that both countries are pursuing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). For a detailed technical analysis of North Korea’s ICBM program, see John Schilling’s piece for 38 North.

China has a new envoy for  North Korea, one of the more sensitive diplomatic postings a Chinese diplomat can aspire to within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Relations between North Korea and China have faced troubled times as of late and the new ambassador, Li Jinjun, will have quite the task ahead of him.

Also, ICYMI, a Chinese military document finally admits to offensive hacking capabilities within the PLA, effectively marking the first time a Chinese military source has clarified the existence of cyber-warfare units within the People’s Liberation Army. The Diplomat

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