On February 10, 2014, AlertsUSA issued the following
Flash message to subscriber mobile devices:
Tensions rise as N. Korea completes prep of Punggye site for 4th nuke test. Upgrade of long range missile launch complex @ Tongchang also complete. Monitoring.
On Monday of this week AlertsUSA subscribers were notified via text messages to their mobile devices that N. Korea is reported to have completed site preparations for their next nuclear weapon test at Punggye-ri, as well as upgrades to their long range missile launch complex at Tonchang.
Initial disclosure of the work came early Monday when S. Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin briefed the 300-member National Assembly on N. Korea’s efforts at both locations. “These things (the nuclear test and the missile launch) depend on the decision by the North Korean leadership. As seen in the past, the long-range missile test and the nuclear test are connected to each other,” Kim told lawmakers.
N. Korea has detonated three nuclear devices since 2006 with the most recent occuring February 12, 2013. S. Korea’s defense ministry estimated the yeild at 6–9 kilotons using the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization’s calculation method.
In July of last year, N. Korean expert Siegfried S. Hecker, a Standford University nuclear scientist and former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, stated that North Korea already has everything in place for a fourth nuclear test but is hesitating due to the fear that it would anger China. Hecker said North Korea “needed additional tests …to miniaturize”, referring to the effort to develop a bomb small and robust enough to fit onto a delivery vehicle such as a missile.
In November of last year, Victor Cha, a professor at Georgetown University and former Director for Asian Affairs in the White House’s National Security Council, predicted that the test would occur in the spring of this year.
Missile Launch Site Preparations
Concurrent to work at the nuclear test facility, N. Korea has also been wrapping up modifications to their Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang. While S. Korea’s defense minister briefly touched on the topic while addressing the National Assembly , excellent analysis of the situation was published late last week by the U.S.-Korea Institute (USKI) located at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
According to the USKI website 38North.org, “A new eleventh level has been added — one more than previously estimated — allowing the facility to handle large rockets of up to 50 m in length and almost 70 percent longer than the Unha-3 space launch vehicle tested twice in 2012.”
Additionally, their report goes on to state that, “Modification of the Sohae launch pad should be completed by March or April 2014 if work progresses at the current rate. The pad will then be available for additional launches, probably of the Unha-3 rocket or a slightly longer variant, such as the Unha-9, which was first displayed as a model in 2012.”
Readers are reminded that in November of 2013, Adm. Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, stated that N. Korea’s KN-08 missile — a new road-mobile, ICBM-range weapon — is a serious threat with the potential to hit the United States with a nuclear warhead.
Further, according to an unclassified portion of an assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency released last Spring: “DIA assesses with moderate confidence that North [Korea] currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles… However, the reliability will be low.”
AlertsUSA continues to monitor developments within both the N. Korean nuclear and missile programs and will provide additional alerts and details to service subscribers as events warrant.