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NUKEWARS
N. Korea has produced miniaturized nuke warhead: US media
By Thomas WATKINS
Washington (AFP) Aug 8, 2017


How serious is North Korea's nuclear threat?
Washington (AFP) Aug 8, 2017 - US intelligence believes North Korea has now built a nuclear weapon small enough to fit onto a ballistic missile, making it a potent threat against neighbors and possibly the United States, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The country's nuclear advances have proceeded much more quickly than expected, but experts say North Korea still needs significant technological gains in order to become a full-fledged nuclear threat.

- Where does the North Korean nuclear capability stand? -

Pyongyang has conducted five nuclear bomb tests, with the last one, on September 9, 2016, roughly the size of the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on Nagasaki in 1945: 20-30 kilotons. That device, North Korea said, was going to be miniaturized and "standardized" for use on its ballistic missiles.

This year it demonstrated an ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in two tests. The most recent of them, on July 28, showed a missile with a theoretical range of 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles), meaning it could hit much of the United States and Europe, including population centers like New York and Paris.

- Is that enough to constitute an immediate threat? -

Besides reliable missiles with accurate targeting technology, Pyongyang needs to make sure its bombs would survive a 16,000 mile per hour (25,800 kilometer per hour) reentry from high in the atmosphere on an ICBM. It is possible their warheads are currently robust enough to survive the slower speeds of a shorter range missile that could strike Japan, but unlikely with an ICBM.

According to Michael Elleman, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the re-entry vehicle on the July 28 test likely broke into pieces and disintegrated.

Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University nuclear expert, said it could be another five years before North Korea has an adequately robust reentry vehicle.

"I don't believe they have sufficient missile or nuclear test experience to field a nuclear warhead that is sufficiently small, light and robust to survive an ICBM delivery," Hecker told AFP.

- What other technical hurdles does NK face?-

Hecker, who has visited North Korea several times to view its nuclear activities, said its weapons program is deeply constrained by its small supply of uranium and plutonium, especially plutonium, which is preferrable in an ICBM-mounted weapon. Combined, he said, its uranium and plutonium supplies are likely enough for 20-25 nuclear weapons.

But according to the Washington Post report, the US Defense Intelligence Agency believes the country already has up to 60 nuclear weapons in its stockpile.

North Korea has produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles, US media reported Tuesday, marking a major development sure to further inflame already sky-high tensions.

The milestone comes as global alarm continues to mount over the accelerating pace of North Korea's weapons program, with Japan calling recent steps a "new level of threat."

The Washington Post cited parts of a Defense Intelligence Agency analysis that says officials now think North Korea has "nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery" -- including in its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the Post said the assessment's broad conclusions were verified by two US officials familiar with the analysis, and CNN said it had confirmed the report.

The Post said it was not known if North Korea had successfully tested the smaller warhead design, though North Korea last year claimed to have done so.

The progress means North Korea is further along the path to having a deployable nuclear missile than has previously been acknowledged.

Experts had until last month said it would still take another two or three years for North Korea to develop a nuclear-tipped ICBM. But that calculus suddenly changed after Pyongyang last month tested two ICBMs -- the first time leader Kim Jong-Un had demonstrated such a capability.

The first of these trials, which Kim described as a gift to "American bastards," showed the rocket had the potential range to hit Alaska.

The second rocket tested last week flew even longer, with some experts even suggesting that New York could be vulnerable.

The Post also reported that another intelligence assessment estimated that North Korea now has up to 60 nuclear weapons, more than previously thought.

- Technical hurdles -

Despite the advance, North Korea still must overcome technical hurdles before it can claim to have perfected its nuclear weapons technology.

After Kim's second ICBM test, experts said it appeared the "re-entry vehicle" that would carry a warhead back into Earth's atmosphere from space had failed.

Without proper protection during a re-entry stage, a missile's warhead could burn up.

"North Korea likely made some of the key measurements required to define those extreme conditions during the two July tests, but I can't imagine it has learned enough to confidently make a warhead that is small and light enough and sufficiently robust to survive," Stanford University expert Siegfried Hecker said in an interview with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The former Los Alamos National Laboratory director said advanced re-entry vehicles and mechanisms to defeat missile defense systems may still be years away.

"However, make no mistake, North Korea is working in all of these directions," he said.

News that Kim appears to have produced a small nuclear warhead comes as tensions around Pyongyang's program ratchet up ever higher.

"Especially since last year, when it pushed ahead with two nuclear tests and launched more than 20 ballistic missiles, it has posed a new level of threat," Japan's defense ministry said in an annual report that also reiterated concerns over China's increasing military posture.

Japan, which lies across the sea from North Korea, has been wary for decades over its missile development as well as Pyongyang's history of abducting Japanese citizens to train its spies.

The most recent ICBM test saw the failed re-entry vehicle splash down into waters off Japan's Hokkaido island.

North Korea has vowed that tough new UN sanctions agreed over the weekend would not stop it from developing its nuclear arsenal, rejecting talks and angrily threatening retaliation against the United States.

NUKEWARS
N.Korea's ICBM fires up fears in South for US alliance
Seoul (AFP) Aug 2, 2017
North Korea's latest missile test has extended the range of its weapons to much of mainland US and raised a new fear in the South: would Washington protect Seoul when that could put American cities in danger? The US is security guarantor for the democratic and capitalist South, where 28,500 US troops are stationed to defend it from Pyongyang after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefir ... read more

Related Links
Learn about nuclear weapons doctrine and defense at SpaceWar.com
Learn about missile defense at SpaceWar.com
All about missiles at SpaceWar.com
Learn about the Superpowers of the 21st Century at SpaceWar.com


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