Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Air Force General Paul Selva, speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2016. Photo: ReutersS/Gary Cameron

A top Air Force general has told reporters in Washington that the US military is confident it could destroy “most” of the infrastructure underlying North Korea’s nuclear missile program in a strike.

But Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted in a briefing earlier this week that such destruction of the North’s missile systems would take place under a “favorable scenario.” He also declined to estimate the percentage of North Korean missiles that might be destroyed in such a military action.

Selva added in a widely reported Tuesday briefing that Pyongyang has not yet shown that it’s successfully tested all the components necessary for a nuclear-tipped missile that can hit the US.

He conceded that the North’s tests to date show that its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) can reach the US and maneuver stably towards their targets. But Selva doubted that it has a “terminal guidance system” that allows for the specific targeting, as well as a warhead “reentry vehicle” capable of surviving the stress of reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Selva didn’t rule out that Pyongyang possesses such technologies. But he said the country hasn’t demonstrated them.

“It is possible, although I think unlikely, that (Kim) has found a way to do the test without us knowing,” Selva said. “But I can’t envision what that test would look like, where he would be convinced that he has those components at a reliable-enough level of performance to declare that he’s ready.”

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