Following promises of “fire and fury” from President Donald Trump if it continues its belligerence, North Korea released a statement on Wednesday threatening to launch an “enveloping strike” at the island of Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. Here’s why Pyongyang thinks Guam is a worthy target.
This was not the first time North Korea has threatened Guam, but this threat was no doubt the most specific yet.
The statement was released through the official North Korean news agency, KCNA, and reportedly came from General Kim Rak Gyom, the commander of the Strategic Rocket Force of the Korean People’s Army. It said North Korea is “seriously examining” the possibility of launching four Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missiles toward Guam.
While the preparations are now underway, a decision will not be made for several weeks as the leader of the Hermit Kingdom, Kim Jong-Un, will make the final decision whether to carry out the mission.
This war of words comes on the heels of reports that North Korea has moved much further ahead in its ability to weaponize their rocket forces with nuclear weapons in recent months.
On Tuesday, it was reported that North Korea had successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted to a ballistic missile. If the intelligence reports are to be believed and are accurate, North Korea has pushed past a key milestone in their frantic race to develop a nuclear weapon capable of threatening the continental United States.
According to the Washington Post, this recent report was prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence branch, and it comes on the heels of another report indicating that North Korea may be in possession of as many as 60 nuclear warheads.
Why Target Guam?
Guam is a tantalizing target for North Korea. The tiny Western Pacific island is home to about 160,000 people and nearly 7,000 American military personnel, and that number will only grow as the U.S. is planning on relocating thousands of Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam in the coming years.
Part of the Mariana Islands chain, Guam is closer to Pyongyang than it is to Hawaii, with only 2,200 miles separating North Korea from Guam.
Andersen Air Force Base on Guam has been a temporary home for American bomber forces in the region since 1944. In fact, the recent B-1B flights along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) have originated from Guam. These flights have gotten under the skin of the North Koreans, as another statement from KCNA this week specifically addressed the B-1B flights “which get on the nerves of DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above Korea.”
Guam is also home to Naval Base Guam, which sits aside Apra Harbor and is the home to the four forward-deployed fast-attack nuclear-powered attack submarines of Submarine Squadron 15. The four subs are all equipped with vertical launchers to fire Tomahawk missiles. Two submarine tenders and several Coast Guard vessels are the remaining permanently-based American ships, though Apra harbor is a frequent port-of-call for deployed American warships.
Defending Guam is Task Force Talon, which operates the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense unit, or THAAD. The THAAD anti-ballistic missile battery is designed to intercept short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase which is either during descent or reentry.
The THAAD missile is essentially a bullet designed to hit another bullet, and the THAAD operators on Guam clearly understand their mission is directed towards North Korea. In fact, the unit’s nickname is the Musudan Manglers, named after one of North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
With amazing specificity, the North Korean statement detailed the flight path their missiles will take as they streak toward Guam, making no apologies for planning to fly them over Japan. If this goes according to plan, the Hwasong-12 will launch from North Korea and fly over the Japanese Prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima, and Koichi. After traveling about 2,100 miles, the missiles will land somewhere between 12 to 24 miles away from the island of Guam.