Wednesday, September 14, 2016

North Korean Nuclear Progress

The BBC has a news article about North Korea's nuclear progress. The article interviews Dr. Siegfried Hecker, Jeffrey Lewis and John Schilling.

As expected Dr. Hecker basically echoes what I have said here - he is a physicist and so am I, we have the same concerns - so that part is fine.

I don't know enough about missile development timelines, so what John Schilling is saying could be right.

I was a little unsure of what to make of Jeffrey's comments.
In June, for example, it fired a missile that reached an altitude of 1,000km (620 miles). It probably fired high rather than long to avoid Japan (an action which would have been too provocative) but the distance travelled impressed Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
"That suggests the missile worked perfectly. Had it been fired at its normal angle, it would have flown to its full range," he said.

It could be that something is being lost in translation here but if Jeffrey's comments are about that particular test vehicle **only**, then I agree - that particular test vehicle could have reached full range.

But if Jeffrey's comments are about any other test vehicle that the North Koreans are building, I am not in agreement. There is a massive difference between making one shot that goes the distance and making an actual vehicle that does the distance every single time around. North Korea is not in a position to make claims about every single vehicle doing the same thing that single shot did. The North Koreans have never demonstrated the ability to reliably put satellites in orbit. They have pulled off one-offs but nothing that can be verified by external observers. North Korea has never launched a satellite that remained in a particular orbit as demanded and verified by quality metrics set by an external customer. There is a world of difference when your set up is that transparent - the North Koreans are not there yet as far as we know.

Also if the words full range imply any kind of CEP - then there is no open source data to support that and it is unwise in this climate to make that kind of extension.

I do not want to create a situation where we make them ten feet tall and scare ourselves into an over assessment of their true capabilities.

I feel on the national stage, we are experiencing what happens when people place more emphasis on analyses which is not backed up by hard verifiable facts. This will lead us to a bad place - of that I am sure, so I don't want to see this kind of thing pervade nuclear weapons related policy.

I am aligned with what Jeffrey says for the most part about DPRK's nuclear progress, we should be giving the DPRK scientists credit - but I also want to be conservative and only give the DPRK credit for what it has actually demonstrated. 

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