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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Warhead Miniaturization

The discourse over whether North Korea has miniaturized nucler weapons that can be mounted on long range ballistic missiles is a bit difficult to understand. In the United States, such improvements in yield-to-weight ratios were underway soon after the first test in 1945, and had made major progress by the late 1950s. North Korea's first declared nuclear was on October 9, 2006, and there is reason to believe North Korea participated in Pakistan's second underground nuclear test on 30 May 1998. Surely the DPRK has had enough time to develop missile-eardy warheads.

North Korea, Pakistan and Iran have had a close working realtionship on nuclear and missile programs since at least the mid-1990s. No one doubts that Pakistan's missiles carry nuclear warheads, and the potential nuclear capability of missiles of similar if not the same design in Iran is not in question. There would thus seem to be no reason to doubt that the DPRK's Nodong-1 has a nuclear warhead, just as the same missile in Pakistan - the Ghauri - is assumed to have a nuclear warhead, and this same missile in Iran - the Shahab-3 - is assumed to be nuclear capable.

The persistent claim that North Korea is the only nuclear weapons state that cannot mount a warhead on a missile may simply reflect a lack of understanding of the realtive ease of this task "easily within the reach of even the smallest nuclear power." Or it may reflect a deliberae policy to "deny the benefits" of possesing nuclear weapons by deprecating the DPRK's nuclear weapons. "Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy... the FEAR to attack." The benefit of North Korean nuclear weapons is diminished if those against whom they are directed - South Korea, USA, etc - claim not to fear them because they do not believe that they can be delivered.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said at a hearing by the National Assembly's Defense Committee on 14 June 2011 that Pyongyang may have produced a lighter nuclear device, in what amounted to a rare admission by a high-ranking defense official. "It has been a long time [since the North's nuclear test], so we believe the North had enough time to make a smaller or lighter nuclear weapon," he said. "Considering cases involving other countries, there is a strong chance that the North has succeeded."

The US military commander in South Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, told reporters at the Pentagon on 24 October 2014 that Pyongyang has the ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads for the purpose of putting them on a ballistic missile. “I believe they have the capability to have miniaturized the device at this point, and they have the technology to potentially, actually deliver what they say they have,” said Scaparrotti.

North Korea’s capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon appears to have reached “a significant level,” according to South Korea’s defense chief. During a parliament audit 27 October 2014, South Korean Defense Minister Han Min Koo told lawmakers it is prudent for the South Korean military to prepare for this scenario.

Department of Defense spokesperson Peter Cook told reporters on 08 March 2016 that the Defense Department did not believe North Korea was able yet to sufficiently miniaturize any nuclear device to use it as a warhead on any missile. "The United States has not seen North Korea demonstrate an ability to miniaturize a warhead. Nothing has changed… Our assessment has not changed," Cook stated.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said March 09, 2016 his country had developed miniature nuclear warheads that can fit on a ballistic missile. While such bellicose claims were not new from the reclusive nation, this is the first time the North Korean leader has made such an assertion. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim met with nuclear scientists and technicians who briefed him on "research conducted to tip various types of tactical and strategic ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads." The agency also published photographs that appeared to show the North Korean leader visiting a facility where the warheads were made.

Some US military leaders have said in the past that North Korea had the right connections and technology to develop a miniaturized nuclear device, but it had yet to demonstrate such capability. North Korean boasts about its nuclear capability support Pyongyang's intensified efforts to counter world condemnation following the country's fourth nuclear test and recent long-range rocket launch.

"We think the North's technology of miniaturizing nuke arms has reached a significant level… But South Korea and the U.S. have not had any intelligence that the North has succeeded in fitting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles. There is no sign for that," Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed official from the Defense Ministry as saying.

South Korea's Defense Ministry has analyzed photos of the supposed miniature warhead published in the North Korean Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Tuesday and found that Pyongyang does not yet possess the technology to create a functional miniature warhead, the agency reported.

Admiral William Gortney, commander of the US Northern Command, told a Senate committee 10 March 2016 it was “prudent” to assume Pyongyang had the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and mount it on an ICBM that could reach the US.

DPRK Nuclear Warhead Designs As Presently Understood

©By C. P. Vick, 2015/2016

Senior Technical & Space Policy Analyst

April 14/ September 29, 2016

North Korean Nuclear Tests Record*


Yield - remark





A. Suggested 1990

1 St. Nuclear Device Developed

Partial confirmation

B. Suggested 1993

? North Korean test

Not confirmed


[Attempt to purchase 4,400kg of Beryllium from Russian mafia group thwarted 1993]


1. May 30, 1998

12Kt. - Joint Pakistani/North Korean Fuel supplied by North Korea confirmed by two separate sources

Success confirmed

2. October 9, 2006

4 Kt. North Korea Less than 1 Kt performance

Partial success confirmed

3. May 25, 2009

4-5 Kt. North Korea suggested 4 Kt , performance

success confirmed ?

4. Feb . 12, 2013

5-6 Kt.


5. Jan. 6, 2016

6-7 Kt.

Success Confirmed Thermonuclear test?

6. Sept 9, 2016

10-12 Kt.

Success Confirmed

*Warhead design mass reduced from 1,158 kilograms No-dong-A, A1 payload capacity to No-dong-B/HS-10 to a known 650-600 kilograms design mass.

Derivative Nuclear Weapon Warhead Design of the DPRK:

DPRK nuclear warhead designs based on DPRK supplied imagery details from the known warhead design and sizes.

We have to be aware and take into account the DPRK deception and physiological warfare operations image projection at the T’aeso’ng (Tae-sung) Machine Factory.

The 650 kilogram warhead mass is documented from Soviet design specifications requirement for the SS-N-6 published in Russian Federation books. It is not a small nuclear weapon being in the 600-650 kilogram range. If it is a two stage nuclear weapon design then it could potentially produce 15 kilotons according to the DPRK nuclear scientists. The No-dong-A1 utilizes the similar No-dong-B/KN-07, and KN-11 SLBM and now the Block-II KN-08 / KN-14 warhead design all reflect the 650 kilogram warhead design specification utilized in the SS-N-6. They have tested the No-dong-B and KN-11 but not to full potential range.

The warhead design displayed in illustration as well as the hardware displayed suggest that the nuclear device is the design now utilized by the three common warhead designs from the SS-N-6 Soviet heritage but improved by the DPRK Soviet era trained nuclear scientists. They even described the general difference in the Soviet design verses their improved design admitting this reality in an indirect manner. The RV that is in favor is the design flown to date on the SS-N-6/KN-11 and No-dong-B.

The nuclear devices depicted from the DPRK schematic illustration displayed indicate a spherical Fission weapon: implosion design technique. Some evidence of potential multi-stages thermonuclear systems may be present in the hardware design but this has yet to be determined from the existing illustrations. There is no certainty of a multi-stages IE: second or third-stage devices.

The image in the poster display deserver’s special attention, and the North Koreans have given it particular focus by virtue of the way that Kim Jong-un and his entourage are carefully posed to give emphasis to the poster. No great imagination is required to notice the cylinder above the sphere that are the hallmark of a two stage implosion device, commonly known as a hydrogen bomb. Whether in fact the DPRK has such bombs on hand is a different matter, as it is obviously far easier to draw a cartoon of an H-bomb than to actually build one. But this photograph is clearly intended to encourage the belief that in fact the DPRK does have two stage devices.

This image of the modern Russian nuclear warhead design above displays the as openly characterized non-spherical atomic bomb above the spherical Hydrogen bomb standard design used as publically understood.

Only the indication of arming, fusing systems, gas bleed off ports, the detonation starter apparatus, separation spring loaded explosive bolts, and the implosion device are indicated though this may be in the process of being changed with additions. The thermonuclear systems and other instrumentation is not fully displayed in spite of its Soviet era known heritage. The design maybe does not show the other required components for a thermonuclear device design though there is enough room for their installation in both warhead design that have their design heritage based in Soviet era nuclear warhead designs. At best this is an incomplete view of the DPRK nuclear weapons technology. The short cylinder domed package above the spherical fission device is probably associated with the triggering start of the nuclear explosion but whether it is thermonuclear related is uncertain.

It appears the inside of the RV is painted a yellow like aerospace color but that material may be associated with the thermonuclear package systems. Some insulation on the inside skin may be present. There may be some reflectors mirror like surfaces on the inside of the RV. There is a lot of wasted space inside the RV. The nuclear devices appear to be aluminum silver color. Other instrumentation appears to not be present in the design details displayed

The background right side image over Kim Jung Un’s left shoulder displays the DPRK nuclear warhead design for a fission implosion weapon which could be the trigger for a thermonuclear device design. It design details is entirely consistent to the known design for nuclear weapons as displayed in the book US Nuclear Weapons by Chuck Hansen. The design may not show the other required components for a thermonuclear device.

The HS-10 nuclear warhead

This is the standardized all systems up DPRK nuclear warhead design that has been reduced from 1,158 Kilograms down to 650-600 kilograms. Their present DPRK efforts are aimed at increasing the energy output of the weapons system not decreasing its launch mass.

I am not as sure that the cylinder dome above the sphere is for a thermonuclear related device. It is not a sphere but is a short cylinder with a base dome. Equally the yellow colored liner area that encompasses the entire nuclear devices is perhaps some of what is required for the second and or third stage of the nuclear weapons system. The question is whether they are in fact the Lithium Deuteride or U-238 mantle optional materials but the U-235 or Pu-239 spark plug is not apparent. It is also realized the starter may be the boxes below the sphere on one side. Certainly the nuclear devices systems could be reversed in the arrangement from the expected design and still work but more mass forward is required to stabilize the spinning RV during re-entry. There are a lot of unknown’s here that must remain that way.



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Page last modified: 28-11-2016 19:54:05 ZULU