A U.S. defense official said Tuesday that-- if left unchecked-- it is "inevitable" that North Korea will develop a nuclear device that has intercontinental capabilities.
Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at a Senate hearing that North Korea is working to produce a device that can be transported on a ballistic missile.
"If left on its current trajectory, the regime will ultimately succeed in fielding a nuclear-armed missile capable of threatening the United States homeland," Stewart said.
Stewart’s remarks are the latest indication of the U.S.’ increased worries about North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons program, which Pyongyang has said is only being developed for self-defense.
Stewart was joined by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coasts.
Coats added that North Korea’s testing over the last year indicates Kim Jong Un is intent on proving the isolated regime’s capability. The North's public claims suggest it could conduct its first flight of an intercontinental ballistic missile this year.
North Korea has significantly speeded up its missile tests over the past year or so and appears to be making tangible progress toward developing an arsenal that poses a threat to South Korea and Japan — which together host about 80,000 U.S. troops — and developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.
North Korea’s often-stated goal is to perfect a nuclear warhead that it can put on a missile capable of hitting Washington or other U.S. cities.
Its state media, meanwhile, have stepped up their calls for even more missile launches because of what the government says is an increasingly hostile policy from President Trump.
Stewart and Coats’ remarks came as the heads of six U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a slew of national security challenges facing the United States, warning about deteriorating security in Afghanistan, China's rising challenge, and Russian and other countries' use of cyberspace to target the U.S. and its allies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.