CBRNE & EOD Defence

North Korean nuclear programme advances

30 March 2016

Punggye-ri, North Portal: spoil piles change detection analysis. (© DLR e.V. 2014-15 and © Airbus DS Geo GmbH 2014-15 / © 2016 IHS)

North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, based on the simultaneous development of a weaponisable nuclear device and ballistic missile delivery systems, appears to have advanced incrementally in early 2016.

Following Pyongyang's claimed - although widely disputed - test of a 'H-bomb' (thermonuclear) device at its Punggye-ri complex on 6 January, and the launch of two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan on 10 March, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on 14 March declared that his country would imminently conduct a "nuclear warhead explosion" test and a test launch of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile.

On 18 March, North Korea conducted two further ballistic missile tests. The South Korean military stated that the first projectile was launched from a site in the west of the country and travelled 800 km before coming down in the Sea of Japan off the east coast of the peninsula. A second projectile disappeared off the radar shortly after launch. An unnamed US official speaking to the Reuters news agency identified the projectile as a medium-range road-mobile missile, a description that would match North Korea's No Dong. North Korea last tested this missile in March 2014, and before that in July 2009.

Kim's 14 March promise of further tests came as he inspected what the official state news provider, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), described as successful simulations for the atmospheric re-entry of a ballistic missile's re-entry vehicle (RV) and followed the earlier release on 9 March of a video purporting to show Kim meeting the country's nuclear technicians at a warehouse facility. At that meeting, he congratulated scientists for having developed a "miniaturised" nuclear warhead. The upscaling of the rhetoric also included a 7 March threat of a pre-emptive nuclear strike against South Korea.

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