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SEOUL — Despite reports claiming North Korea is nearly ready to deploy a mobile ballistic missile with greatly increased capabilities, American government and military officials say the new system could not threaten the continental United States.

The most recent reports, published in Jane’s Defense Weekly, claim North Korea has developed two new missile systems, the more worrisome of which is a sea-based ballistic missile that could be launched from a submarine or ship.

“It would fundamentally alter the missile threat posed by [North Korea] and could finally provide its leadership with something that it has long sought to obtain — the ability to directly threaten the continental U.S.,” the article read.

But later in the week, U.S. officials cast doubt on that claim. A New York Times report quoted American government officials as saying the North didn’t possess a submarine capable of using such a system, and that there was no indication the missile was developed to be hidden inside freighters to be launched closer to land.

“There is no way this can hit the mainland,” the Times quoted officials as saying.

Nevertheless, the land-based systems would put U.S. bases in Guam and Okinawa within reach of North Korean missiles, according to the report. The North’s systems are already capable of hitting U.S. targets in South Korean and mainland Japan.

“Both these new land and sea-based systems appreciably expand the ballistic missile threat presented by the DPRK,” the Jane’s report concluded, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

According to Jane’s, the land-based missile system has an estimated range of between 1,500 miles and 2,500 miles. The sea-based system has an estimated range of 1,500 miles.

Both systems appear to be based on rockets formerly produced in the Soviet Union, Jane’s said.

Publicly, U.S. military officials say they are most concerned with the “asymmetrical” threats posed by the North’s military machine. Asymmetrical weapons include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

But the North’s continuing investments in its missile programs also worries military officials. In his most recent interview, published last week in the Washington Times, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon LaPorte said North Korea has a known arsenal of at least 800 missiles.

“Their growing missile technology, their continued research and development and testing of missiles, that is a concern to all of us,” LaPorte said.


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