"I really suggest that we start behaving like North Korea does have a nuclear warhead.": Senior researcher at Center for nonproliferation studies. (Popsci).
In September 2016, experts warned that North Korea would have a working intercontinental nuclear missile by 2020. Between now and then, we’ve been in a period of uncertainty: North Korea may test a missile that may be capable of carrying a warhead that may be miniaturized enough to fit inside the missile.
“The language I often use is—as a scientist officially—no we don’t know if they have a warhead. They may, or they may not. We don’t have enough evidence,” says Melissa Hanham, a senior researcher at the James Martin Center for nonproliferation studies. “That being said, as a policymaker, I really suggest that we start behaving like they do.”
The evidence Melissa cites is not trivial: North Korea’s conducted five nuclear tests, with the most recent one just over a year ago. North Korea’s state-run paper published a picture of their dictator Kim Jong-un standing in front of a faceted silver sphere, which almost resembles a disco ball.
“We can’t see what’s inside that object, but we can view other things, we can take measurements, and we can make estimates of the weight and that kind of thing. That silver disco ball definitely fits into the payload of an ICBM or other shorter-range missiles too,” Hanham continued, “but whether it’s real or not is not something we can determine from pictures alone.”
Ballistic missiles are the main way countries threaten each other with nuclear weapons, but they’re not the only way. The only atomic bombs ever used in war were carried by bombers, but bombers come with several limitations. They have to fly close to the target to release the bombs, and they can be shot down by fighters and other anti-air weapons en route.
Submarines, instead, can carry missiles secretly under the sea, and then launch their deadly payload without warning. North Korea is currently pursuing a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which went from a spectacular failure of a test in December 2015 to a modestly successful 300-mile flight in a test in August 2016.
Joshua Pollack, editor of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review, told The World Weekly that the North made two key technical advances in 2016.
The first was a static test of a heat shield, a component designed to protect the nuclear warhead on the missile’s reentry into the atmosphere.
The second was a static test of the first stage of a KN-08 mobile ICBM. According to Mr. Pollack, both tests (which were broadcast to the world) seemed “designed to correct common misconceptions in the West about North Korean ICBM technology.”Because ballistic missiles leave the atmosphere before returning to hit their targets on earth, a working heatshield is vital to make sure that the nuclear payload survives the journey intact.
“What they haven’t done yet is test the vibrations on a dummy warhead,” explained Hanham. “And so, that’s probably going to be a component of their flight testing. They need to make sure—because the warhead itself will be somewhat delicate—that it isn’t shaken to pieces before it arrives at its destination.”
In addition, North Korea will likely want to make sure it has a working guidance system, so the missile can hit where it’s aimed. Unless, that is, North Korea sees value in the missile standing alone as a sort of terror threat, where the uncertainty about where it falls is sufficient for protecting the country from attack. Hmmm............They could ask Iran to do a few tests .Read the full story here.