The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Thermonuclear shock: a detailed analysis of the explosion of the DPRK’s hydrogen bomb and its consequences

On Sunday morning, even before the test, the North Korean media stunned the world with a sensation. The main information agency of the DPRK published photos on which the thermonuclear charge was demonstrated. And not a simple thermonuclear charge, but suitable for installation on a ballistic missile. As the launch vehicle, primarily is the intercontinental “Hwasong-14” missile. This was indicated by a photo where the scheme of placing the charge in the head part of the ballistic missile was visible, and the signature over the circuit also called the type of carrier.

Most likely, the photo shows the layout of the device, and not it itself, as some details in high-quality photos looked strange for a real warhead. And, on the other hand, the equipped thermonuclear charge in the structure has a number of elements that require the safety of care and access to the charge of only specialists.

It is a question of the possible presence of a plutonium component (plutonium creates an appreciable level of ionizing radiation) in the composition of the assembled structure, a deuterium-tritium gas mixture (tritium is also harmful to health), and the existence of a system for undermining the nuclear node of the structure.

The nuclear node also necessarily includes a layer of conventional explosive and a system for its detonation. In other words, this detail requires careful handling, even if radioactive materials are not placed in the structure.

The device itself, really looks like a thermonuclear charge. It clearly shows the external automation unit, connected by cables to the main part, including the nuclear (the one that makes up the “larger” half of the case) and the thermonuclear nodes (the “smaller” half). Triggering of the first creates conditions for the activation of the second with a large release of energy.

What is inside the device itself, no one except the developers, knows. It’s not because the design is strange, or kept secret. Everything is simpler: there are several working variants of this shown device

What is more interesting: in official materials it was reported that the device has more than one mode of operation. That is, at a reduced and nominal capacity. There are different ways to accomplish this purpose, but the main thing is that in creating a device with two modes of operation, there is nothing supernatural.

Of course, like any announcement from the DPRK, this statement gave rise to heated debates on the issue of how realistic this demonstration is and when to wait for the tests. Among the intelligent specialists (those whose forecasts for military programs usually came true), in the very first hours a consensus arose: “If the North Koreans have made progress in the work on thermonuclear charges, there must be a successful test.” And the key feature should be anomalous power, in contrast to past tests.

Since the end of 2016, attempts have been made to assume how the thermonuclear breakthrough of the DPRK will look like to external observers. The answer was simple. The observed magnitude of the test will be 5.7 conventional units or more. And if 6 or more, then it’s definitely something thermonuclear. In general, everyone began to wait for the test, but no one expected it to happen a few hours after the announcement of photographs of the thermonuclear charge.

The Sunday test immediately caused a shock. Reports began from the United States and China about the maximum measured thrust capacity at 6.3 conventional units. In other countries, the measured level of shocks in the range from 5.7 to 6.3 has been obtained. According to some seismic stations, they observed a seismic event in the DPRK with a parameter of 6.4 conventional units. Such a strong difference is normal. The matter is that the lithosphere is a less homogeneous medium than the hydrosphere, therefore the vibrations propagate in different ways, and hence, in different directions and at different distances, there will be some differences in the received signals.

The second problem is that, depending on the depth, even at the same test site, an explosion of one power (in TNT equivalent) will also give “seismic events” different in measured power.

The third problem is that only North Korean specialists know the explosion power precisely enough. Since the translation of the measured seismic parameters into kilotons of TNT is largely dependent on which correction factors are used for the calculations. But this does not mean that nothing can be said about this.

First, it should be noted a significant fact: the lowest theoretical limit of the explosion power is not below 50 kt. And this is clearly with all permissible theoretical understatements. At a figure of 50 kt, insist in South Korea. But the assessments of Seoul always have signs of consciously strong understatement. And they are made on the basis of signals less powerful than those that are recorded in other directions from the nuclear test site of the DPRK (geology features).

Secondly, most open evaluations of independent specialists give the most likely figure of 100 kt and above. So the Norwegian NORSAR gave an estimate of 120 kt, Chinese geologists – 108 kt. Among American specialists, the interval 100-150 kt is considered the most reliable.

Thirdly, there is an indirect sign. Seismic echoes were noticeable not only in China. In other countries close to North Korea at a time roughly coinciding with the explosion in the DPRK, users began to write in the social network that they felt a slight vibration in the house. Of course, many felt nothing and did not notice, since the vibration power was not so big (the type of soil on which the building or the observer was directly involved plays a serious role), but still there are witnesses of this phenomenon.

The distance at which the echoes from the explosion were observed indicates the approximate level of energy release during the explosion. This is certainly a different level of power than in all past tests.

First of all, one can confidently say about the huge success of the DPRK military-industrial complex. The North Korean nuclear engineers managed to radically improve the qualitative parameters of their charges both in terms of a significant increase in the achieved power, and in terms of power per unit weight of the charge.

Secondly, this means radically different possibilities for inflicting damage on the aggressor during nuclear missile strikes of retaliation. The bombs of the “Hiroshima power” do not look to modern cities as threateningly as decades ago. But thermonuclear charges quite confidently carry huge destruction at great distances in modern large cities, which are built mostly of reinforced concrete. So, to cause deliberately unacceptable damage, it is required that less missiles penetrate through the missile defense system than with substantially weaker warheads. And the presence of such an opponent’s ability to cause damage usually greatly reduces the desire to attack him.

Thirdly, thermonuclear charges are the best (among possible) generators of the electromagnetic pulse. The detonation of a thermonuclear charge at a suitable altitude can damage electronics in an area of ​​one million square kilometers or more. In this case, direct shock to people by shock wave and light radiation does not occur. This is the opposite of a neutron bomb from urban legends, which allegedly kills people while preserving material values. Only here are the infrastructure, communications, machinery and equipment turned off. And people do not get hurt. And this is not counting the damage to the orbital grouping. Ideal weapons against advanced opponents, especially the most technologically advanced, completely immersed in the “digital era”.

At the same time, to detonate a charge at altitudes of 100 km and above, it is not necessary to have even verified warheads capable of surviving all overloads with a decrease in the atmosphere. The corresponding explosion is conducted outside the atmosphere. This possibility was mentioned in the materials published shortly before the test.

“Our thermonuclear charge, whose power can be regulated from tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons, not only has a tremendous destructive power, but is also a multifunctional thermonuclear warhead that can also be applied by a powerful electromagnetic impact over huge distances by detonating a charge at a high altitude,” – North Korean media said

Fourthly, the presence of such an option as the choice of explosion power creates high possibilities for choosing different targets for the optimal format of destruction by the same warhead “depending on the task”. So, in the future, greatly increases the flexibility of the nuclear arsenal. This was stated directly in the relevant statement on the test results.

Fourthly, the presence of such an option as the choice of explosion power creates high possibilities for choosing different targets for the optimal format of destruction of the same warhead “depending on the task”. So, in the future, greatly increases the flexibility of the nuclear arsenal. This was stated directly in the relevant statement on the test results.

“Success in testing a thermonuclear charge to equip an ICBM is a demonstration of the qualitative development of nuclear forces, when it is possible to freely control the power of the thermonuclear charge, depending on the object and the target of the impact. This is a very significant milestone in the improvement of the nuclear armed forces, “the North Korean press wrote.

Fifth, to create an effective intercontinental nuclear missile weapon, a compact and powerful thermonuclear block is a critical stage. North Korea has already successfully tested the Khwason-14 missile in July. And now the thermonuclear charge is also tested.

This test was conducted to confirm the operation and reliability of new technologies used in the power management system and the design of a new construction for installation in the warhead of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

So the US and its allies can now be sincerely congratulated. Their policy towards the DPRK was crowned with another deafening “success”

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.


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