An official with the US Department of Defense told CNN the test is not related to North Korea’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch.
In the wake of the ICBM test, the US military and intelligence communities began to take a second look at the latest intelligence about North Korea’s nuclear warhead program, according to two US defense officials. North Korea has previously claimed it has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead that could go on the front end of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Though analysts say it’s quite difficult to verify that claim, US commanders have decided, for the purposes of planning military options, they have to assume Pyongyang has that capability.
The escalation of Pyongyang’s nuclear program also has prompted a closer look at the effectiveness of missile defense systems maintained by the United States and its allies.
The US military had already begun deploying the THAAD system in South Korea earlier this year, much to the chagrin of some of Seoul’s neighbors.
Its presence is vociferously opposed by China, Russia and North Korea, which all say THAAD is fueling an arms race. Analysts note that Beijing’s biggest concern is likely that THAAD’s powerful radar could be used to snoop inside China and negate its own deterrent capabilities.
But the system has detractors in South Korea, as well. THAAD’s deployment was approved by disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye, who is currently on trial in a corruption scandal. Her more dovish successor, Moon Jae-in, campaigned on a promise to put the issue to the country’s Parliament.