July 26 (UPI) -- North Korea may have a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile by next year -- about two years ahead of schedule, a new assessment by the Pentagon says.
An analysis by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency accelerates the timeline of Pyongyang's missile capabilities. It says that intercontinental ballistic missiles -- capable of carrying nuclear warheads -- could be ready by 2018.
The report's predictions, similar to those by South Korean intelligence officials, increase pressure on U.S. and Asian leaders to stop Pyongyang's missile progress.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump said North Korea would be confronted "very strongly" to stop its missile developments.
The DIA projections follow a series of missile-related tests by the North Korean government. A North Korean rocket, tested July 4, is believed to be capable of reaching most of Alaska and hitting targets deeper into North America.
An official from the office of the Director of National Intelligence told CBS News recently that the July 4 launch was "one of the milestones that we have expected would help refine our timeline and judgments on the threats that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un poses to the continental United States."
It remains unclear if North Korea currently has a missile capable of withstanding re-entry -- that is, a missile that can pass through the upper atmosphere without damaging its warhead. Such a weapon is regarded by some experts a daunting technological barrier, but U.S. analysts said the achievement could be reached with new tests that are expected within days.
The United States also believes that North Korea is making preparations to test a new re-entry vehicle, which could happen as soon as Thursday, a North Korean national holiday.
Tuesday, Pyongyang lobbed a threat at the United States and promised to unleash a "merciless" attack with a "nuclear hammer" if Washington tried to remove Kim from power.