North Korea’s weapons progress a top concern as US senators have rare briefing

With all 100 U.S. senators invited to a rare briefing on White House grounds Wednesday on North Korea, it’s hard to overstate how concerned officials are about the technological advancements out of Pyongyang.

North Korea's weapons progress a top concern as US senators have rare briefing

Some U.S. intelligence analysts now believe that North Korea “probably” possesses a miniaturized nuclear warhead, several U.S. officials told CNN on March 25th.

Image March 2016

North Korea's weapons progress a top concern as US senators have rare briefing

One arms control analyst who asked not to be identified said the weapon in the photographs appears to be a multipoint implosion bomb, a design dating to the 1950s. A multipoint implosion bomb surrounds the plutonium core with high explosives, creating a spherical shape. The explosives detonate simultaneously, compressing the core until it becomes supercritical. Then, boom.

Recent photos showing Kim standing next to what the North Koreans claim is a miniaturized nuclear device are still being scrutinized by U.S. analysts for any indication of progress, officials said, declining to provide additional specifics.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests in the past 11 years, the last several being the most destructive – and now they are threatening a sixth.

As of the begining of April, 2017, the isolated regime has already carried out at least seven launches, suggesting no let-up in the pace of development testing.

There have been one or more test failures, the latest reportedly on 22 March. Often justified by North Korea as a response to the threat of external aggression, the provocative tests not only indicate current operational capabilities but also highlight the progress of several new longer-range systems.

The North Korean regime also appears to be continuing the design and development of nuclear payloads and the associated systems for weapon delivery.

lthough the Hwasong-10 programme continues to be problematic, there are clear indications of progress elsewhere, particularly with regard to the development of solid-propellant motors.

This is a technology that offers greater launch readiness and ruggedness over the liquid-fuelled counterparts Pyongyang has until now depended upon.

North Korea's weapons progress a top concern as US senators have rare briefing

In addition, tests on the country’s first submarine-launched ballistic missile, Bukkeukseong-1 (KN-11), continued throughout 2016 and these demonstrated an apparently successful switch to a solid motor – quite likely the result of earlier reported failures of the liquid-fuel design.

North Korea's weapons progress a top concern as US senators have rare briefing
Bukkeukseong-2 (KN-15)

A land-based modification of KN-11, the Bukkeukseong-2 (KN-15), which also uses a solid motor, was shown publicly for the first time in a successful February 2017 test. This used a tracked transporter-erector-launcher vehicle, offering improved mobility. KN-15 was also reportedly launched in the most recent 4 April test.

Despite flight tests of these new missiles, the regime’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programmes have remained so far on the ground.

North Korea's weapons progress a top concern as US senators have rare briefing

Neither the Hwasong-13 (KN-08), with the potential to hit much of the US mainland, or its Hwasong-14 (KN-14) derivative have yet been test flown.

North Korea's weapons progress a top concern as US senators have rare briefing
Hwasong-14 (KN-14)

Propulsion and re-entry-systems ground tests were carried out in 2016, and the regime in early 2017 suggested that its pre-flight ICBM test-development programme was nearing completion.

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper also said in a front-page editorial that its military is prepared “to bring to closure the history of U.S. scheming and nuclear blackmail.”

The editorial said, “There is no limit to the strike power of the People’s Army armed with our style of cutting-edge military equipment including various precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.”

It is that miniaturized nuclear weapon that is the biggest concern to the United States, and the rest of the world.

“They have expressed the intent to [miniaturize a nuclear weapon],” Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Fox News. “It raises the stakes and increases the risk of missile threats to the region and the U.S. homeland.”

North Korea would need that smaller nuclear weapon to deliver it long-distance. According to the New York Times, “As Dr. [Siegfried] Hecker, a man who has built his share of nuclear weapons, noted last week, any weapon that could travel that far would have to be ‘smaller, lighter and surmount the additional difficulties of the stresses and temperatures’ of a fiery re-entry into the atmosphere. By most estimates, that is four or five years away. Then again, many senior officials said the same four or five years ago.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats are expected to update senators on the North Korea situation Wednesday afternoon. (Today)

President Trump told a meeting of United Nations Security Council ambassadors on Monday they must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korea. “This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not,” Trump said.

Obtaining reliable intelligence on North Korea has always been difficult. Kim Jong-un rules the country with an iron fist. The nation is so cut off from the world that is has been dubbed the ‘hermit kingdom.’

On March 9, North Korea released photographs of Kim Jong-un inspecting what appears to be a miniaturized implosion device, but that photo op was met with skepticism.

“No reason to believe that is true, or to disbelieve it. No reason to dismiss it or to panic,” Karako said. He added, “I think that our insight into these programs is relatively modest. I think the posture of our military is to assume the worst.”

This has the U.S., and the world, on high alert. The Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper, published an editorial on Tuesday stating, “The game of chicken between Washington and Pyongyang has come to a breaking point. If North Korea carries out a sixth nuclear test as expected, it is more likely than ever that the situation will cross the point of no return.”

Mary Greeley News