DOD: North Korea nuclear missiles are real, but unreliable

Intelligence gleaned about the North Korean program shows that Pyongyang is taking "initial steps" toward getting that nuclear weapon into the field, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House Intelligence committee on Thursday. 

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"We believe [North Korea] has already taken initial steps toward fielding this system, although it remains untested," Clapper said, noting Pyongyang's two successful tests of its long-range missile technology last December.  

North Korean forces unveiled this new "road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile" last spring, and has routinely put the weapon on display as a public show of force since then, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief Lt. Gen Michael Flynn testified to the panel the same day. 

Pyongyang has already sent out the mobile missile launchers designed to fire the new ballistic missile "but not the missiles themselves," Flynn added.  

Pyongyang is still preparing to launch several long-range, non-nuclear missiles positioned on the eastern coast of the peninsula, which could happen as soon as this week, according to South Korean military analysts. 

North Korean military units began moving the non-nuclear missiles into position last week, in a show of force directed at Washington and its allies in the Western Pacific region.

"That's an area we watch very, very carefully as to what their real capability is," the DIA chief said Thursday. 

Clapper and Flynn's assessments coincide with a new DIA report that found North Korea might have nuclear weapons that could be delivered by ballistic missiles, although the reliability was low.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) read from the unclassified section of the classified report, completed in March,  at a House Armed Services hearing Thursday.

“DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however the reliability will be low,” Lamborn read.

Lamborn asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey if he agreed with the DIA assessment, but Dempsey declined to comment on the report because it was classified and hadn’t been released.

Flynn told members of the House Intelligence panel he would provide further details to House members on North Korea's nuclear missile capability during the classified portion of Thursday's hearing.

The North Korean army claimed Wednesday that it has final approval to launch a nuclear strike against the United States.

The Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army formally notified Washington that U.S. threats would be “smashed by ... cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means" in a statement last month. 

"The merciless operation of [our] revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified," said the statement, published by North Korea’s state-run news agency.

— Jeremy Herb contributed to this report