On March 9, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, a paranoid psychopath, displayed a nuclear missile warhead he threatens to launch against the United States and its allies.
The public is being misled by the White House, some so-called “experts” and mainstream media casting doubt on whether the Great Leader’s threat is real. They claim North Korea has not demonstrated sufficient “miniaturization” of a nuclear weapon to be delivered by a missile.
However, defense and intelligence community officials warn North Korea probably already has nuclear armed missiles. The Defense Department’s 2016 report “Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea” warns that, in addition to medium-range missiles, they have six KN-08 mobile nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that can strike the U.S. mainland.
Recently, the Pentagon warned North Korea rolled out a new longer-range ICBM, the KN-14, that can probably deliver a nuclear warhead to Chicago.
So the notion that we don’t have to worry about North Korean nuclear missiles because they cannot “miniaturize” warheads is a myth. Adm. William Gortney, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is correct to presume that is the case and to prepare to defend against that threat, as he said last October.
Technologically, “miniaturizing” a nuclear warhead is much easier than developing an atomic bomb or a multi-stage missile for orbiting satellites — as North Korea has already done. Ever since the USSR orbited Sputnik in 1957, analysts have rightly credited any nation that has tested nuclear weapons and orbited satellites with the capability to make a nuclear missile warhead.
Miniaturization was no huge obstacle to the United States.
According to the “Nuclear Weapon Archive” just a few years after destroying Hiroshima with an A-Bomb weighing 9,700 pounds, the U.S. Army had the T-1, a man-carried atomic landmine weighing 150 pounds.
In 1958, the United States developed its first ICBM warhead, the W49 for the Atlas, in about one year. Development could have been faster without USAF stalling because it preferred bombers, according to Edmund Beard’s book “Developing the ICBM.”
A major problem with warhead miniaturization was the bulky, heavy vacuum tube electronics of the 1950s. Microelectronics resulted in part from programs to miniaturize nuclear weapons.
The microelectronics revolution solved most technological challenges of warhead miniaturization long ago for North Korea and for all nuclear missile aspirants.
A nuclear missile warhead also needs shock absorbers to soften forces of acceleration during launching and deceleration when re-entering the atmosphere. A heat shield to penetrate the atmosphere, in order to blast a city, is also necessary — these are technologically simple and within North Korea’s capability.
Indeed, in 2013, a publicity photo by state media of North Korea’s KSM-3 satellite interior shows a shock absorber cage, allegedly for an earth observation camera but suitable for a small nuclear weapon. North Korea recently conducted another illegal missile test demonstrating a re-entry vehicle and heat shield.
The president and the press is missing, or ignoring, the biggest threat from North Korea — their satellites. On February 7, North Korea orbited a second satellite, the KSM-4, to join their KSM-3 satellite launched in December 2012.
Both satellites now are in south polar orbits, evading many U.S. missile defense radars and flying over the United States from the south, where our defenses are limited. Both satellites — if nuclear armed — could make an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that could blackout the U.S. electric grid for months or years, thereby killing millions.
Technologically, such an EMP attack is easy — since the weapon detonates at high-altitude, in space, no shock absorbers, heat shield, or vehicle for atmospheric re-entry is necessary. Since the radius of the EMP is enormous, thousands of kilometers, accuracy matters little. Almost any nuclear weapon will do.
Moreover, North Korea probably has nuclear weapons specially designed, not to make a big explosion, but to emit lots of gamma rays to generate high-frequency EMP. Senior Russian generals warned EMP Commissioners in 2004 that their EMP nuclear warhead design leaked “accidentally” to North Korea, and unemployed Russian scientists found work in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The 2004 EMP Commission report warns: “Certain types of relatively low-yield nuclear weapons can be employed to generate potentially catastrophic EMP effects over wide geographic areas, and designs for variants of such weapons may have been illicitly trafficked for a quarter-century.”
Such an EMP nuclear warhead could resemble an Enhanced Radiation Warhead (ERW, also called a Neutron Bomb), a technology dating to the 1950s, deployed by the U.S. in the 1980s as the W48 ERW artillery shell, weighing less than 100 pounds.
Are EMP warheads on those North Korean satellites?
The immediate focus should be on Senate passage of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act to protect the U.S. electric grid — not on the miniaturization problem myth.
• R. James Woolsey was director of the Central Intelligence Agency and is chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.