North Korea Starts Moving to a War Footing in Last 24 Hours
North Korea has warned the US of an “unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time” in response to on-going joint US-South Korean naval exercises.
The Maritime Counter Special Operations Forces Exercise (MCSOFEX), involve fighter aircraft, helicopters and 40 surface combatants and submarines from both countries, centered around the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. There are reports that North Korea has been distributing live ammunition to forward units and moved to a war-footing. Typically, only border guards are armed with live ammunition, but it appears that this has changed in the last 24 hours. There are also reports that North Korea’s Sinpo-class experimental ballistic missile submarine may have been refitted with new equipment for its launch tubes, and that a second larger heavier Sinpo-class submarine is in building. As well, there are reports that the Pukkuksong-1 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) maybe replaced by a new, enhanced variant soon. When coupled with two Sinpo-class ballistic missile submarines, an enhanced Pukkuksong SLBM may give North Korea a survivable nuclear second-strike capability at sea.
CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, warned on Thursday that North Korea is "months away" from being able to strike the US with a nuclear missile and further cautioned that the US is "running out of time." Former CIA Director, John Brennan, put the chances of military conflict with North Korea earlier this week as high as 20 to 25 percent. The Trump administration has made it crystal clear that the President will not allow North Korea to threaten the US. There are reports that the US has replaced its expired munitions as part of an annual replenishment and increased its usual holdings on Guam by at least 10 percent in the last several months. Meanwhile, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, is hosting the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress meant to showcase his power and on Sunday Japan holds its elections.
Given North Korea’s patterns of provocation around Chinese and Japanese events, this weekend could also see Kim Jong-un showcase his power, and independence, by carrying out further missile launches.