Day of the Sun- North Korea Must Be Stopped
So April 15th, 2017, the Day of the Sun, celebrating North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung seems to have come and gone without the long-awaited nuclear test. The day was not without surprises though. South Korean and Japanese warships joined the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group in exercises in the Sea of Japan. The US 18th Air Wing in Japan staged a surprise air power exercise to further threaten the North Koreans. Japan warned of possible North Korean missile attacks including missiles armed with sarin nerve gas. China with 150,000 troops massed on the North Korean border, and a further 25,000 being reportedly called-up, joined Russia in urging calm. While we have not seen a North Korean nuclear test, by all accounts they are primed and ready and the test can take place with little or no warning.
North Korea for its part continued to threaten its neighbors and the US with war, and nuclear war, and decided to show of its long-range missile forces as a show of strength. The massive military parade in Pyongyang showed off the flight-tested solid fuel KN-11 Pukkuksong Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) for use aboard North Korea’s lone Gorae-class submarine. As well, the land-based version of the Pukkuksong, or KN-15 Pukkuksong-2 solid fuel Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) tested in February was also featured, with a tracked transporter erector launcher (TEL) and was fully canisterized. This is significant because the tracked transporter can go off road making it harder to find, and the fact that it is canisterized means that it is ready for firing. It was the first time that the Pukkuksong variants have been seen in public, and that are viewed as key to a North Korean second strike capability.
Another important capability on parade, was the Hwasong-10 Musudan Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), known as the ‘Guam-killer,’ that has seen only two reported successful tests. The center-piece of the military event was the parading of two larger-canisterized road-mobile ballistic missiles believed to be either the KN-08 or KN-14 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), and thought to be capable of reaching most of the continental US. The ICBMs have not been successfully flight-tested to date that we know of, but may have been involved in failed tests last year. One of the believed ICBMs appeared on a transporter similar to the Musudan, while the other appeared on a vehicle similar in appearance to the Chinese DF-41 or Russian Topol-M. It was also reported that North Korea has a likely nuclear arsenal of 30 or so weapons.
The problem for North Korea is that its demonstration of nation strategic power, while threatening, does not convey survivability in the face of pre-emption from an outside nuclear power. In fact, the North may be vulnerable to a preemptive conventional weapons-focused attack. Thus far, the North’s nuclear tests have shown an ability to produce Hiroshima-level atomic bombs with some degree of confidence. North Korea has claimed to have tested a hydrogen or thermonuclear device but outside observers have questioned the North’s story based upon the low yield of its 2016 tests. The North Koreans likely have the capability to produce nuclear-tipped warheads for their Short and Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles, but likely have not achieved the technological threshold to miniaturize a warhead for their ICBMs which remain untested. The Musudan IRBM has only reportedly been flight-tested twice successfully. In summary, North Korea is working rapidly on achieving a survivable, second-strike, nuclear capability that includes the capacity to strike the continental US, but it is not there yet. The second that Kim Jong-un has that capability look out and very shortly thereafter, North Korea will likely give that capability to Iran for hard currency. The bottom-line is that North Korea must be stopped and it must be stopped now.