A number of analysts now believe that North Korea is on the verge of achieving a nuclear missile capability, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
"The field deployment of a nuclear missile is imminent," said Kim Tae-woo, the former head of research at South Korea's government-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
Issue specialists believe the weapon the Kim Jong Un regime is most likely to first equip with a miniaturized nuclear warhead is the Rodong ballistic missile, which has a range of about 800 miles.
"Given the number of years that North Korea has been working at it, my assessment is that they can mount a warhead on a Rodong," said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Last spring, it was revealed that at least one U.S. intelligence agency believes Pyongyang has already acquired the ability to produce nuclear warheads small enough to mount on a missile. Responding to the furor that revelation caused, the head of the U.S. intelligence community quickly announced that the view was not shared by other intelligence branches.
In March this year, the North sparked an international outrage when it test-fired two Rodong missiles, which traveled for about 400 miles before landing in the ocean. Some analysts believe that the test to an abbreviated distance could signal an altered version of the Rodong was fired, one that had its fuel load reduced in order to carry a potential nuclear payload.
"A long-range missile test makes little sense for North Korea as a test to deliver a nuclear warhead," according to Kim. "If the North deploys a nuclear weapon, the strongest candidate to carry it will be the Rodong."
Aerospace engineer Markus Schiller of the German firm Schmucker Technologie told Reuters it would take more tests that assess precision targeting capabilities and the durability of the Rodong's reentry vehicle before North Korea could be seen to have a reliable nuclear-armed missile.
"The big question is whether this warhead would still function after re-entry," Schiller said. "My current guess is rather no than yes."