North Korean missile explosion part of planned test

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South Korean government officials said today that they do not believe the most recent North Korean missile test, which exploded shortly after launch, was a failure.

“We don’t believe the mid-air explosion was an accident,” cable news channel YTN quoted a government official as saying. “It’s believed the explosion was a test to develop a nuclear weapon different from existing ones.”

The nuclear-armed isolated country fired a ballistic missile on Saturday morning from near Pukchang in Pyeongannam-do (South Pyeongan Province). The missile climbed to 71 kilometers before exploding within North Korean territory, according to the South Korean and U.S. defense ministries. The explosion happened two or three minutes after blast-off.

Military experts say mid- or long-range missiles normally stabilize at 20 or 30 kilometers above ground. In the latest test, the missile climbed to three times the so-called “stabilizing height, which means the chances that any internal mechanical failure caused the explosion were “very low,” according to experts.

The officials also added that they think this test flight is preparation for a future nuclear bomb test that would take place above ground.

Update: This detailed essay takes a look at North Korea’s military capabilities for attacking its neighbors by short and long range artillery and missiles.



  • wayne

    Extremely intriguing.

    Operation Fishbowl-
    High altitude Nuclear Tests

    >of particular interest is the Starfish-Prime test, detonated at 250 miles, and the subsequent electromagnetic-pulse generated.

  • wayne

    I betcha’ they were going for an altitude test of one of their boosted fission weapons. (but I only play an engineer on the internet.)

    Referencing Operation Fishbowl;
    Starfish Prime was the highest (400 km) and at 1.4 MT, but Test Yucca was a 1.7 KT airburst at 26 km.

    This version is shorter & with beautiful-crisp Color.
    Starfish Prime Test
    -Interim Report (1963)

  • LocalFluff

    Gordon Chang, a regular guest of John Batchelor’s show, was the first one I saw, on Fox, suggest that the test might not have been a failure.

    And they could do it above their own territory, out of reach for THAAD and other air defense. An EMP nuke just needs to go up up up, an interceptor would have to catch up and the decision to fire over NK territory has to be made immediately. And nuclear size doesn’t matter much for the EMP effect, no need for a fusion bomb. Other bomb design factors do matter, a neutron bomb is for example not optimal since neutrons aren’t electric. But everyone knows that a bomb like Starfish works, without need of knowing exactly how or why.

    At a certain altitude, like 400 km where the ISS is and the furthest a sounding rocket has been launched is 1,000 times that altitude beyond the Moon’s orbit, the radiation from the nuclear explosion interacts with an atmospheric layer of ions and a storm of electrons follow the magnetic field lines down to the ground in a wide area. Even from above North Korea, all the 200,000,000+ who live in South Korea and Japan, and as many in Northeastern China including Beijing, would have all their unprotected electronics fried. So buy your next Samsung gadget already today!

  • wayne

    Thank you. I’m behind on my John Batchelor Show general listening. (Not warming up to his new website design, at all.)

    As I recall, we had a lengthy thread on EMP’s a few months ago.

    -Even though that Fishbowl film I referenced is circa 1962, I guarantee– anyone who watches it will know more than 99% of all Talking Head News Readers on cable/network, as it concerns nuclear bombs exploding at altitude.

    tangentially– If we tell the people in Hawaii, that the Super-Massive-Gigantic-Telescope, they all hate, is good for defending against NK missile attack, would they allow it?)

  • Tom Billings

    “At a certain altitude, like 400 km…. the radiation from the nuclear explosion interacts with an atmospheric layer of ions and a storm of electrons follow the magnetic field lines down to the ground in a wide area.”

    Actually, there are 2 altitude ranges in which atmospheric pressure makes EMP possible from a nuke. The high altitude range is from 25 kilometers to 450 kilometers. The low altitude range is from 3 kilometers to sea level. The EMP pulse affects everything not inside a Faraday Cage within line of sight, so the low altitude range is not much talked about, as the horizon is relatively close. The limits on the high altitude range give a good idea why the old Sprint ABM had a maximum altitude of 25 kilometers, and its long range counterpart, the Spartan, had a maximum range of 750 kilometers, to give coverage higher than 450 kilometers.

    The test may be significant in this tech, or may be something else.

  • Garry

    Thanks for the link to the detailed essay.

    The graphic showing Artillery Concentration is interesting, and very pie-in-the-sky. The authors admit that the graphic is based on unrealistic assumptions, such as zero failure rate and use of all assets simultaneously.

    However, they don’t mention the most important point: the graphic apparently represents the maximum concentration of fire for each small area; the scale goes up to 981,804 kilograms of explosives per square kilometer per hour, which may be achievable for a short time if they concentrated all their assets on a very small area. There’s no way all the artillery in the world can deliver the maximum concentration simultaneously to all areas on the map, or even a significant portion of them.

    The article rings true when it states that North Korea would have to ration its assets carefully. Our challenge would be to counter the sheer numbers in a short time. I have no doubt we could quickly take out a lot of enemy artillery in a short order, but if there are hundreds in a small area, real-time targeting becomes a problem.

    The mission of artillery is to “shoot, move, and communicate,” with shooting probably being the easiest of these three. If they don’t move, our counter battery radars quickly lock in on their location. Communication within the battery area is probably by wire, but communication with observers, with higher headquarters, and for coordinating movement is probably by radio, which we can easily jam.

    With our modern precision targeting capabilities, I would be ready to strike their ammunition storage areas.

    In some ways, the rockets pose a bigger threat than the artillery; they can get off a large amount of rounds very quickly. However, I’m under the impression these are similar to World War 2 vintage rockets, which are unguided and very inaccurate, better suited for harassment and terrorizing soft targets.

    As I’ve said before, once the shooting starts, North Korea can do a lot of indiscriminate damage in a short time, and maybe even overwhelm local forces, but they have no realistic road to anything resembling victory, so long as South Korea, the US, and Japan are determined to win.

    I hope it doesn’t come to that.

  • LocalFluff

    Their newest rocket artillery is the KN-09 with 200 km range and 300 mm fragmentation and penetration warheads, and it is GPS-guided. It seems as if Kim Jong-Un has prioritized modernization.

    South Korea isn’t unarmed. They have 21 months conscription and can mobilize almost 4,000,000 soldiers. They have 5,800 artillery pieces, 2,700 armored fighting vehicles, 2,500 tanks whereof 880 are old M48 Patton. 5,800 pieces, if ready along the border, should be able to quiet the noise quickly.

  • Cotour

    I think after all of the noise and the fireworks, this all boils down to China being forced by Trump and others to with extreme prejudice economically control North Korea. If it really came down to it and Kim really fired off a nuke in a real manner, either for a first strike or an EMP the next ensuing events would severely hamper North Korea’s future. And if Kim and his generals do not understand that someone needs to explain it to them.

    I say this is all really about making threats and noise as the Chinese to what ever degree they are turning the screws on North Korea. Trump is going to double talk the situation, as is the Trump way, with the end result being something more positive than negative. It is not in the Chinese interests to allow this to get too far out of hand to the point of a launch and I just do not believe that the North Koreans will do much more than they have done without Chinese sanction. No Chinese support, no North Korea.

  • mpthompson

    Does China realize that they will ultimately be blamed if North Korea goes too far? After all, North Korea is the mad dog at the end the leash they are holding. Given that China wants to be perceived as a “world leader”, letting their mad dog wander and terrorize the neighborhood isn’t a way to win friends and influence people.

  • Garry

    LocalFluff wrote, “Their newest rocket artillery is the KN-09 with 200 km range and 300 mm fragmentation and penetration warheads, and it is GPS-guided.”

    Thanks, I’m surprised they have something apparently so sophisticated.

    Still, GPS guided means that they have to have very accurate targeting information to make a direct hit on something. I would guess that this means they can only attack fixed targets, and not military units that have moved. Seeing that their only conceivable plan is to strike as much terror as they can in a short time, they would probably target fixed military installations and civil facilities in Seoul and other cities.

    Also, as you mentioned previously, if we have enough warning we (meaning the US and nations in the area) can probably disable the GPS they are using.

    Today I found other videos of their artillery barrage; didn’t see anything new with artillery itself, but saw a whole bunch of rockets launch, and it was much more impressive than the cannons. I can’t imagine that they shot off a lot of GPS guided rounds, as I would guess that they are precious. I would guess that either they shot mostly earlier models of rocket artillery, or the rounds for the new one come in GPS and unguided variants.

  • pzatchok

    Even iF Kim has GPS guided weapons whose GPS is he using?

    His best bet would be to use a ground based system like they used to do for water craft and shipping. Sort of like an updated LORAN system.

    Just set up several transmitters around the country that he can use it just like GPS uses satellites.

    If you want to get real tricky use the Japanese and SK civilian TV and radio transmitters to home in on.

  • pzatchok

    I hope no, pray that NK does try an EMP test.
    We will finally know if they will work on modern equipment.

    The last tests were done before fuses were even common in homes let alone appliances, cars and electronics.

  • Chris

    An EMP attack on Japan and the South is the most reasonable explanation. No intelligence needed on your victims military position and no great guidance needed. It inflicts tremendous economic damage while killing few – at first. Power grids go down for years. No communication- radioTV, internet. All that equipment is permanently dead. Modern silicon geometries make most devices in equipment fully susceptible. You also take out whatever military HW that is not hardened, which is probably a lot. Hardening is very tough and gives you a slower (electronically) device. This is an unbelievable strike of biblical proportions. The North loses little – not much active silicon there.

    The result: the North vs adversaries who are lowered to the North’s level. A real asymmetric strike.

    To understand the implications read William Forstchen’s One Second After with afterward by Newt Gingrich. The US report on this threat was ignored since it was published the day the 9-11 report came out.

    If Kim or Iran for that matter were to get miniaturized warheads that they can hurl GENERALLY toward us and Europe – the game is up. They reduce/eliminate our technology and can meet us hand-to-hand.
    Our society is in utter chaos with ALL government and normal societal systems removed.

    This threat must be prevented by whatever means necessary.

    Remember to thank the presidents of Jimmy Carter through Barrak Obama for this situation.

  • LocalFluff

    The EMP threat makes a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea now immediately the only survivable option. That USS Michigan cruise missile sub has 150 nuclear cruise missiles aboard? That should be enough to open up for the follow up aerial bombings to finish it off.

  • LocalFluff

    2/3 of NK full time army is said to be dug in along the DMZ. Preemptively building a protective nuclear wall of fire and a trench of collapsed underground fortifications, by using a string of nuclear ground detonations hugging each other from coast to coast across the border on the Korean peninsula, would save tens of thousands of innocent lives from a NK first strike. Would quite all NK border artillery 20 minutes after them opening first fire.

    The US could win the Korea war today, if the political will to do it was in place.

  • wayne

    Tom B.– highly informative. Definitely recall we had this EMP discussion a few months ago.
    LocalFluff– I thought the USS Michigan carried something like 75 cruise missiles, but I do not know.
    All of our cruise missiles btw, are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. I believe we use W80 warheads, with a variable yield between 5-150kt’s. (and interestingly ironic for Kim, they utilize “boosted fission primary’s.”)

    Garry–yes, interesting stuff at Stratfor. I do find the “H.E. per square km,” stuff to be pie-in-the-sky type calculations, but it does give me a relative-measure by which to judge.

    I believe the key point with NK is that they already have workable warheads, and have had for some time. They desperately want fusion weapons, but may just be able to boost their fission warheads. (which is a higher level of technology within the operation)
    Concurrently, they have only to mate a warhead with one of their medium-long range rockets, to be in business.
    (They aren’t necessary saber-rattling, they are testing.)
    I’m surprised the NK’s haven’t sold a warhead to the Persians.

  • wayne

    My mistake,
    The USS Michigan carries 154 tomahawk cruise missiles.

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