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North Korea's Nuclear Program
From Eleanor Albert, Council on Foreign Relations...North Korea’s accelerated buildup of weapons of mass destruction.
“North Korea has tested a series of different missiles, including short-, medium-, intermediate-, and intercontinental- range, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
“Estimates of the country’s nuclear stockpile vary: some experts believe Pyongyang has between fifteen and twenty nuclear weapons, while U.S. intelligence believes the number to be between thirty and sixty bombs. The regime successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), each capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, in July and November 2017. Pyongyang said that in its November testing of the new Hwasong-15 ICBM, the missile hit an altitude of 4,475 kilometers (2,780 miles), far above the International Space Station, and flew about 1,000 kilometers (590) before landing in the sea off Japan’s coast. Analysts estimate the Hwasong-15 has a potential range of 13,000 kilometers (8,100) and, if fired on a flatter trajectory, could reach anywhere on the U.S. mainland.
“American analysts and experts from other countries still debate the nuclear payload that the ICBM could carry, and it is still unclear whether the ICBMs have the capability to survive reentry. A confidential U.S. intelligence assessment from July 2017 reportedly concluded that North Korea has developed the technology to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to fit its ballistic missiles. And some experts caution that it is only a matter of time before North Korea completes its nuclear force. ‘We’re going to have to learn to live with North Korea’s ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons,’ said Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies.
“North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests (the last in September 2017)...Future nuclear tests are anticipated. North Korea possesses the know-how to produce bombs with weapons-grade uranium or plutonium, the primary elements required for making fissile material – the core component of nuclear weapons.
“With each test, North Korea’s nuclear explosions have grown in power. The first explosion in 2006 was a plutonium-fueled atomic bomb with a yield equivalent to two kilotons of TNT, an energy unit to measure the power of an explosive blast....and the September 2016 test had a yield of thirty-five kilotons, according to data from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan think tank. (For comparison, the U.S. bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, the first atom bomb, had an estimated yield of sixteen kilotons.)
“The test carried out on September 3, 2017, was significantly larger, experts say, and could indicate that the country has developed much more powerful bomb-making technology. Initial estimates from seismic activity led observers to conclude that the explosion may have exceeded one hundred kilotons. An explosion of such a size gives credence to the North’s claims of having developed a hydrogen bomb.
“As the power of these explosions has intensified, so too has the pace of both the country’s nuclear and missile tests. Under Kim Jon-Un, who assumed leadership of North Korea in late 2011, the nuclear program has markedly accelerated. In addition to four tests under his regime, the country has carried out more than eighty missile tests, far exceeding the trials of his father and grandfather before him.
“There remain significant unknowns surrounding the accuracy of North Korea’s ballistic missiles. Expert observers have said that these missiles are usually inaccurate because of their reliance on early guidance systems acquired from the Soviet Union. However, some defectors and experts say North Korea has begun using GPSguidance, similar to that of China’s navigation system, raising questions about the provenance of the system and whether North Korea’s arsenal of missiles is more accurate and reliable than previously believed.”
[Source: Defense News]
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