by Ian Greenhalgh with Jeff Smith
This week North Korea announced they had successfully developed and produced a miniaturised nuclear warhead. The significance of this is in the ‘mini’ part – it is small enough to be placed atop a ballistic missile and the North Koreans have a lot of those.
The map on the left shows the relative ranges of the various North Korean ballistic missile types. The whole of Japan, China, The Phillipines and SE Asia could be struck, as could Russia as far as the Urals; however, Moscow, European Russia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas are out of range. Residents of Anchorage, Alaska may sleep a little less well however, they are at the extreme limit of the reach of North Korea’s Taepodong-2 missiles.
Here is the full story from the BBC:
North Korea ‘has miniature nuclear warhead’, says Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un says North Korean scientists have developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles.
State media published images showing the North’s leader standing next to what it said was a miniaturised weapon.
The claim is impossible to verify from the images alone and experts have long cast doubt on such assertions.
The North has stepped up its bellicose rhetoric in response to the UN imposing some of its toughest sanctions.
The move by the Security Council came after the North conducted its fourth nuclear test and launched a satellite, both of which broke existing sanctions.
In recent days, Pyongyang has threatened to launch an “indiscriminate” nuclear strike on the US and South Korea, as they began their largest ever round of annual military exercises.
The drills, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, routinely generate tension.
The claim from Mr Kim was made as he inspected a nuclear facility on Wednesday.
“The nuclear warheads have been standardised to be fit for ballistic missiles by miniaturising them,” state news agency KCNA quoted him as saying.
“This can be called true nuclear deterrent,” he added.
He also inspected nuclear warheads designed for thermo-nuclear reaction, the type used in a hydrogen bomb, KCNA said.
If the claim is true and North Korea can put nuclear warheads on to the tips of its ballistic weapons, it would represent a clear threat to the North’s neighbours and the US.
In October 2014, the commander of US forces in South Korea, Gen Curtis Scaparrotti, told reporters that he believed the North had the capability to miniaturise a nuclear device.
In May 2015, the North Korea’s National Defence Commission said the country had succeeded in miniaturising nuclear weapons.
But the validity of the nuclear boasts has been widely questioned. Experts also still doubt the North’s claim that the nuclear test it conducted in January was of a hydrogen bomb.
In addition to the new UN sanctions, which target luxury goods, financing and trade, South Korea has also announced its own measures against the North, which includes blacklisting individuals and entities it believes are linked to the weapons programme.
The US and South Korea are currently discussing the possible deployment of a US missile defence system to the peninsula, a move strongly opposed by North Korea, Russia and China.
This new North Korean nuclear capability represents a huge step forward in that nation’s programme to develop nuclear weapons. The BBC published an article that assessed the state of the North Korean nuclear programme on 16th February this year:
North Korea’s Nuclear Programme – how advanced is it?
North Korea’s nuclear programme remains a source of deep concern for the international community. Despite multiple efforts to curtail it, Pyongyang says it has conducted four nuclear tests and there are indications it is developing long-range missile technology.
Has North Korea got the bomb?
Technically yes, but not the means to deliver it via a missile – yet.
North Korea said it conducted four successful nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016.
Analysts believe the first two tests used plutonium, but whether the North used plutonium or uranium as the starting material for the 2013 test is unclear.
While these three were atomic bomb tests, North Korea said its test in January 2016 was of a more powerful hydrogen bomb. Again, the starting material is unclear and experts cast doubt given the size of the explosion registered.
H-bombs use fusion – the merging of atoms – to unleash massive amounts of energy, whereas atomic bombs use nuclear fission, or the splitting of atoms.
Shortly after that test Pyongyang launched a satellite, a launch widely seen as a test of long-range missile technology.
The US said in February it had intelligence indicating that North Korea could soon have enough plutonium for nuclear weapons and was taking steps in making a long-range missile system.
What do we know about the North’s nuclear programme?
The Yongbyon site is thought to be its main nuclear facility. The North has pledged several times to halt operations there and even destroyed the cooling tower in 2008 as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal.
However, the US never believed Pyongyang was fully disclosing all of its nuclear facilities – a suspicion bolstered when North Korea unveiled a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon, purportedly for electricity generation, to US scientist Siegfried Hecker in 2010.
In March 2013, after a war of words with the US and with new UN sanctions over the North’s third nuclear test, Pyongyang vowed to restart all facilities at Yongbyon.
In 2015 a US think tank said satellite pictures suggested the reactor at Yongbyon may have been restarted. Then in September, state media announced that “normal operation” had started at the production plant.
The January 2016 test was said to have been carried out at the Punggye-ri site.
Both the US and South Korea have also said that they believed the North had additional sites linked to a uranium-enrichment programme. The country has plentiful reserves of uranium ore.
What has the global community done about this?
The US, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea have engaged the North in multiple rounds of negotiations known as six-party talks, but none of this has ultimately deterred Pyongyang.
In 2005, North Korea agreed to a landmark deal to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for economic aid and political concessions. But implementing it proved difficult and talks stalled in 2009.
Then in 2012, North Korea suddenly announced it would suspend nuclear activities and place a moratorium on missile tests in exchange for US food aid,. But this came to nothing when Pyongyang tried to launch a rocket in April that year.
The UN further tightened sanctions after the 2013 test.
The 2016 test brought another round of universal international condemnation, including from China, the North’s main ally.
Did recent tests advance North Korea’s nuclear capabilities?
After its 2013 test and again in 2015, North Korea claimed it had “miniaturised” a device, or made a device small enough to fit a nuclear warhead onto a missile – which the US cast doubt on.
Pyongyang also said the 2013 test had a much greater yield than the devices detonated in previous tests. It was indeed larger in force than previous ones, but monitors failed to detect radioactive isotopes – a key indicator – so uncertainty remains.
Claims of an underground test of a hydrogen bomb in January 2016 were met with plenty of scepticism.
Initial estimates put the blast in the 10 to 15 kiloton range, whereas a full thermonuclear blast would be closer to 100 kilotons.
North Korea again claimed this was a successful test of a miniaturised device, and again it has not been verified.
What is clear from the BBC article is that the North Korean nuclear programme was still in a developmental phase with only four test explosions to date; however they now claim to have successfully produced a miniaturised nuclear warhead, so either Pyongyang is lying about it’s latest nuclear development or it has made a huge lap forward in it’s nuclear weapons technology.
The answer to that question was staring us in the face however; it just took a nuclear weapons expert to point it out. Below is the picture published by North Korean media of their Glorious Leader inspecting one of their new miniaturised warheads and as out resident expert Jeff Smith points out:
“A lot of people in the main stream media are joking about North Korea’s new mini nuke design but it is no joke. It is real.”
Jeff explained why no-one has grasped the deadly seriousness of this development and dismissed it as a joke:
“Due to the lack of knowledge as to how these weapons are designed the entire main stream media are ignorant as to just exactly what they are looking at. As usual you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink it.
This is no joke. What you are looking at is a 60 year old WW2 era, 92-point solid core implosion weapons design. This design was first tested and used by both the US, France and Great Britain as their second generation design in the 1950’s – the successors to Fat Man and Little Boy. The Indians, Pakistanis, Russian and Chinese all copied this design and used it. It was the first miniaturized design after Fat Man and it reduced the weapon’s weight and size by at least a quarter of it’s original weight of 10,000 lbs. This one probably weighs in at about 1,200 lbs, making it a “miniaturized design” as compared to Fat Man.
Fat Man required over 4,500 lbs of high explosives to compress the pit by only 50% at 30 % efficiency. As you add more compression points the amount of explosive require to compress the pit goes down and compression efficiency goes up. Whether or not the pit is boosted with tritium or deuterium is questionable but based on recent test yields of less than 20 KT it probably is not.”
So the North Koreans have a working mini nuke of an older but well proven design. This ‘joke’ is turning out to not be very funny. Jeff went on to explain what exactly we are seeing in this photograph:
“The giveaway here is the brass looking single point shock mount required to hold and support the weapon in ballistic flight. Its basically a shock absorber used to absorb excess G forces during lift stage. If the war head pulls too many Gs it can damage or shift the position of the internal shaped charges and possibly make the weapon fail or fissile. This is a classic 1st generation ICBM warhead design and it is a “knock off copy” of the early Chinese ICBM nuclear warhead designs. Looks like North Korea got some help. If you look at classified photos of early Chinese ICBM-based nuclear warhead designs it is an almost identical copy if not an original weapon on “Lend Lease”. How do you spell pay back from last summers nuclear attack on China. Your looking at it. What goes around comes around as they say.”
The attack last summer that Jeff refers to is the huge explosion that rocked the port city of Tianjin. We know that in the hours after that event, North Korea launched it’s entire submarine fleet to sweep the Sea of Japan, most likely they were hunting a submarine that had fired a nuclear armed cruise missile at Tianjin, almost certainly they were doing so at the behest of their Chinese allies. Now China has equipped it’s North Korean allies with nuclear warheads for it’s ballistic missiles; clearly there are serious and far-reaching political ramifications to this move. However, the political machinations behind this development are, as yet, unclear to us; we will be keeping a close eye on this situation as it is clearly part of a much larger nuclear geopolitical game.
Some further reading on North Korea and it’s nuclear weapons programmes:
North Korea country profile
For decades North Korea has been one of the world’s most secretive societies. It is one of the few countries still under nominally communist rule.
North Korea’s nuclear tests
North Korea’s nuclear programme has been a source of great concern for the international community for more than 20 years.
North Korea’s missile programme
North Korea is believed to have more than 1,000 missiles of varying capabilities, including long-range missiles which could one day strike the US.
Posted by Ian Greenhalgh on March 14, 2016, With 3004 Reads Filed under Military. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.