North Korea may accomplish a significant development in its missile program much sooner than previously estimated.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency's recent assessment indicates that the reclusive Asian nation could be prepared to produce a nuclear-ready intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, "as early as next year."
Past evaluations put that development roughly three years into the future. The timeline change suggests that North Korea's ability to reach the U.S. with atomic weapons could also be realized in a shorter amount of time than previously outlined.
Satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea
Doing so will require overcoming two significant challenges—making a missile that travel in the upper ranges of the atmosphere without sustaining damage and creating a nuclear warhead compact enough to travel via ICBM.
Over the weekend, Gen. Joe Dunford, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, spoke at the Aspen Security Forum and offered assurances that, "The United States military can defend against a limited North Korea attack on Seoul, Japan, and the United States."
He also cautioned that in matters involving North Korea, pursuing a military solution rather than one based in diplomacy and economic measures would be "horrific" and result in, "a loss of life unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes."
Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
The Trump administration has indicated all options are on the table for dealing with North Korea.
President Trump said in June, "The era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime has failed. And, frankly, that patience is over."
Just days later, North Korea tested an ICBM it said is able to reach the "heart of the United States."