How has North Korea’s nuclear programme advanced in 2017?

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Monday 11 September

Dramatic missile progress in 2017

North Korea’s efforts to develop a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US mainland have accelerated during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency. The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has presided over a series of successful missile tests, including North Korea’s first launch of an ICBM on 4 July, a development he promised in a televised new year’s address. Like all tests, the missile came down in the sea but its trajectory was thought to place Alaska in range of a live strike.

A second test of the Hwasong-14 ICBM less than a month later demonstrated an increased range, potentially including New York. The test on 28 August of an intermediate range ballistic missile, which activated public warnings as it passed over Japan, shows Kim also wants to keep rattling his near-neighbours.

The US now appears in range

The potential range of the Hwasong-14 tested on 28 July could be the game-changing weapon seemingly sought by Kim ever since he assumed power in 2011. Observers noted the missile had been quickly modified from its previous test on 4 July, which is a strong indicator of the regime’s enhanced capabilities.

There is a growing consensus that former Soviet missile engines acquired on the black market in Ukraine have enabled Kim’s scientists to take the strides seen this year. A definitive demonstration that North Korea has built a warhead vehicle capable of enduring the extreme heat and velocity of atmospheric re-entry will be one of the last major hurdles they need to clear.

Nuclear tests are also getting bigger

Developing a fully functioning ICBM is only part of the challenge North Korea has set itself. It also needs to produce a miniaturised nuclear bomb that can be loaded on to such a missile to complete a credible weapon. An underground teston 3 September, North Korea’s sixth since they began in 2006 under Kim’s predecessor and father, Kim Jong-il, suggested that milestone may also be within reach.(Agencies)

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