After North Korea fired a missile over Japan on Aug. 28, hopes of decreasing tensions between North Korea and its rivals have gone out the window. With Japan, the U.S., and other allies on high alert, preparing for a possible attack by North Korea, one essential fact is left unknown: how many missiles North Korea has. And while military experts have rough estimates of the number of missiles, the number of nuclear weapons is largely unknown.
ABC News reports that the Pentagon has a rough estimate of how many missiles North Korea has, including 200 launchers for short- to medium-range ballistic missiles, less than 100 launchers for ranges of 200 to 600 miles, and fewer than 50 for its 800 to 2,000 mile range missiles.
A 2012 Department of Defense report, "Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" shows that the Pentagon has, at the very least, a rough estimate of North Korea's arsenal. The report states that North Korea has "several hundred" missiles of varying ranges, including missiles that could theoretically carry miniaturized nuclear warheads, which could do significant damage to Japan and South Korea. In the years since this report was released, North Korea has continued to work on its nuclear program, and experts believe they have the capability to reach the U.S.
The small country is, however, notoriously secretive, and there's no way to know for sure what else they have in their arsenal or what they're capable of.
Per Al Jazeera, U.S. reports estimate that North Korea has upwards of 60 nuclear weapons; independent reports estimate around 30. There are also reports that North Korea has claimed the capability to mount nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles, but those claims have not been verified.
There is a large difference between regular missiles with non-nuclear warheads and nuclear weapons and warheads. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) can follow specific trajectories and travel for long distances. It should be noted that missiles themselves are not weapons, but rather the tools that carry the weapons, called warheads. That said, regular warheads can do their fair share of damage, but if North Korea has indeed been successful in miniaturizing nuclear warheads to fit on ICBMs, that could spell disaster for their enemies.
And that's nothing short of terrifying.