American Consequences - August 2017


plutonium-239, while a gun-type assembled weapon can be constructed using 52.5 kilograms of uranium-235. 2 This would place the North’s stockpile at around a dozen warheads, more than adequate to place Pacific Rim population centers and U.S. and allied military bases under the threat of nuclear annihilation. The question is, which type of nuclear weapons do the North Koreans possess?

The day, more than a decade in progress, has arrived.

The nuclear arsenal of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is now a direct threat to the U.S. The nation first tested a nuclear device in 2006. It yielded around an estimated 500 tons TNT equivalent (about 1/30 the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima). Since then, its nuclear arsenal and capability has grown. North Korea’s weapon engineering and scientific community has designed smaller and more modernized weapons, increased weapon yields, and developed the means to deliver weapons on target. It has also purchased nuclear weapon design technology. 1 In early 2015, DPRK media released photographs and video of the nation’s leader, General Kim Jong Un, touring a missile facility and examining a mockup nuclear warhead. Due to security classification issues, I can’t go into too many details on the features of the DPRK warhead, but there are some unclassified historical aspects of the U.S. and Soviet arsenals that we can use to gauge development. The North’s nuclear arsenal is small, and one can derive the size and progress of their stockpile from unclassified intelligence analysis of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium production. It is quite possible for a nation like the DPRK to produce a nuclear warhead using as little as four kilograms of


Nuclear safety was enhanced by keeping the nuclear capsule separate in early U.S., Soviet, and U.K. weapons.

Implosion (Gadget, Fat Man)

High explosive shell


Open Pit Weapon - Manual Insertion Method: Nuclear capsule is removed from its storage container (Birdcage) and manually inserted into the high explosive shell, by the aircrew, en route to the target.

Automatic In-Flight Insertion

High explosive shell

Motor- driven screw


Open Pit Weapon - Automatic In-Flight Insertion (AIFI): Nuclear capsule is inserted into the weapons IFI tube, but not into the high-explosive shell, by technicians. The aircrew electrically inserts the capsule into the high-explosive shell en route to the target. Above drawings sourced from Building the Bombs.

38 | August 2017

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