North Korea Road-Mobile Missile a Concern for U.S., Thurman Says

North Korea’s new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile is of concern to the U.S. in part because it may be difficult to detect, according to the departing commander of U.S. Forces Korea.

The Hwasong-13 is now part of North Korea’s weapons portfolio, retiring Army General James Thurman told reporters in Seoul today. While it is “difficult to assess” the missile’s full operational capability it demonstrates North Korea’s “continued desire to develop long-range missiles,” General Thurman said.

North Korea unveiled the road-mobile Hwasong-13 ICBM in April 2012 and continues to develop the Taepodong-2, which could reach the U.S. if it is developed as an ICBM, the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center said in a report this year. The center put the maximum range of both missiles at least at 5,500 kilometers (3,420 miles).

Concerns over North Korean’s missile capability have increased since the North conducted its third nuclear test in February. South Korean officials and arms experts have said Kim Jong Un’s regime may be getting closer to marrying nuclear warheads to missiles, with North Korea in 2009 abandoning international talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear programs.

‘Close Watch’

“Of concern to us, obviously is the road-mobile capability and the ability to detect that,” General Thurman said. The missile’s development “is something we will continue to keep a close watch on,” he said. “What we watch every day is not only that system” but North Korea’s entire missile program.

The U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center said in its report that continued efforts to develop the Taepodong-2 and the most-recent ICBM “show the determination of North Korea to achieve long-range ballistic missile and space launch capabilities.” “North Korea has exported ballistic missile systems and will probably continue to do so,” the center said.

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