N. Korea has 30 nukes, 60 soon pos­si­ble

Ex­pan­sion of ar­se­nal alarms U.S. an­a­lysts

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

North Korea’s nu­clear ar­se­nal has ex­panded to 30 war­heads and will grow fur­ther as Py­ongyang pro­duces in­creased quan­ti­ties of weapons-grade ura­nium and plu­to­nium, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates.

In just three years, the North’s un­pre­dictable leader, Kim Jong-un, will con­trol suf­fi­cient fis­sile ma­te­rial to dou­ble that ar­se­nal to as many as 60 weapons, says the In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity in Wash­ing­ton.

To un­der­score this alarm­ing in­crease, the U.S. es­ti­mated that North Korea owned just one or two nu­clear weapons in 1999 and would have 10 or more by 2020, ac­cord­ing to a se­cret De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency re­port ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times shortly af­ter it had cir­cu­lated pri­vately last decade.

“The bot­tom line is that North Korea has an im­prov­ing nu­clear weapons ar­se­nal,” said David Al­bright, founder and direc­tor of the In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity. “The last sev­eral years have wit­nessed a dra­matic and overt buildup in North Korea’s nu­clear weapons ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

The num­bers show that North Korea is be­com­ing a true nu­clear power with the abil­ity to hit its neigh­bors and, one day, the U.S.

An­a­lysts say the North’s ob­jec­tive is sim­ple: As­sure the com­mu­nist state’s, and thus the Kim dy­nasty’s, sur­vival and co­erce U.S. al­lies South Korea and Ja­pan.

Mr. Al­bright is­sued his as­sess­ment amid the grow­ing con­fronta­tion be- tween Py­ongyang and the Trump ad- min­is­tra­tion, which says the era of “strate­gic pa­tience” with the reclu­sive

North is over.

The rhetoric was height­ened and a U.S. air­craft car­rier strike group was po­si­tioned in the re­gion af­ter the Stal­in­ist North threat­ened to test an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the con­ti­nen­tal U.S.

Mr. Al­bright, a rec­og­nized ex­pert on nu­clear weapons de­vel­op­ment glob­ally, told The Times that North Korea could “the­o­ret­i­cally use a satel­lite launcher” to­day to con­duct a nu­clear strike on the U.S., but “not with any re­li­a­bil­ity.”

“It is un­cer­tain, and there are rea­sons to doubt, that North Korea can yet build re­li­able, sur­viv­able war­heads for ICBMs,” he said in a brief­ing paper.

The North has likely mas­tered the engi­neer­ing to place a minia­tur­ized nu­clear war­head on its short­er­range Nodong mis­sile that could hit South Korea and Ja­pan. But it is un­clear whether it has achieved a sim­i­lar break­through for its fam­ily of longer-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

North Korea masks its il­licit nu­clear work and has al­lowed no in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tions in re­cent years. The West must rely on spies, com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­ter­cepts and satel­lite im­agery to put the puz­zle to­gether.

For ex­am­ple, the North is sus­pected of con­duct­ing “cold” nu­clear tests rather than det­o­na­tion at sites not yet dis­cov­ered by U.S. in­tel­li­gence. The U.S. also does not know the lo­ca­tions of weapons assem­bly fa­cil­i­ties, Mr. Al­bright said.

One de­vel­op­ment that spy satel­lites can de­tect is in­creased ac­tiv­ity around the re­ac­tor (plu­to­nium) and cen­trifuge op­er­a­tions (en­riched ura­nium) at Yong­byon Nu­clear Sci­en­tific Re­search Cen­ter, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of build­ings.

Satel­lites have picked up ac­tiv­ity near the North’s un­der­ground test site.

Mr. Al­bright said that, from the North’s point of view: “Con­tin­ued un­der­ground test­ing will pro­vide North Korea op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove sig­nif­i­cantly its weapons in terms of less fis­sile ma­te­rial (par­tic­u­larly plu­to­nium) per weapon, in­creased war­head minia­tur­iza­tion, and/or greater ex­plo­sive yields.”

A North Korean pri­or­ity is a fo­cus on ex­pand­ing its gas cen­trifuge pro­gram to dra­mat­i­cally boost plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion, mean­ing more bombs.

Mr. Al­bright said there is ev­i­dence that North Korea has con­structed a sec­ond cen­trifuge plant yet to be dis­cov­ered by Western in­tel­li­gence.

Part of the ev­i­dence is that dur­ing the failed “six-party talks” be­tween North Korea and five lead­ing Western na­tions in the 2000s, the U.S. re­moved com­po­nents that were later shown to con­tain highly en­riched ura­nium.

Pres­i­dent Trump would have to make a mil­i­tary de­ci­sion when in­tel­li­gence agen­cies re­port that North Korea has as­sem­bled and plans to test a long-range ICBM ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the U.S. Pre­sumedly, this above­ground tar­get could be taken out with sea-launched Tom­a­hawk mis­siles. Or the pres­i­dent may ap­prove the use of an anti-mis­sile sys­tem to knock it out of the sky.

Much more dif­fi­cult would be stop­ping an un­der­ground nu­clear test.

White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer on Mon­day down­played talk of a pend­ing mil­i­tary strike, em­pha­siz­ing that China and other na­tions can pres­sure Py­ongyang to change course.

“I think that we’re go­ing to con­tinue to work with China in par­tic­u­lar to help find a way for­ward on this,” Mr. Spicer said.

The com­man­der in chief has the tools if he ul­ti­mately au­tho­rizes an air war to crip­ple North Korea’s nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture or for regime change, said re­tired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McIn­er­ney.

He said the air plan should in­clude drop­ping 20 to 30 Mas­sive Ord­nance Air Blast Bombs (MOABs) on hard­ened North Korean ar­tillery sites, nul­li­fy­ing the North’s planned bom­bard­ment of the South Korean cap­i­tal, Seoul.

“Those mas­sive shock waves will kill crews, just like it did in Afghanistan,” said Mr. McIn­er­ney, re­fer­ring to the April 13 bomb strike on Is­lamic State fighters, the first time the 21,000-pound, satel­liteguided bomb was used in com­bat.

The Air Force also should un­leash about 100 30,000-pound pen­e­trat­ing bombs on the North’s net­work of un­der­ground com­mand cen­ters and di­rect pre­ci­sion-guided 2,000-pound ord­nance to seal un­der­ground han­gar com­plexes to keep the North’s air force grounded.

Mr. McIn­er­ney said that when he con­ducted in­tel­li­gence and op­er­a­tions plan­ning, he looked at an 100-hour plan to de­stroy the North Korean air force and anti-air­craft ties.

“It’s eas­ier to do now,” given the tech­nol­ogy, he said. He said the North has three land at­tack cor­ri­dors for in­vad­ing the South on the west and east coasts, and through cen­tral North Korea.

“But they are all very nar­row and easy to seal off be­fore they break out,” he said. “Air power will seal them off, and we will de­stroy them as they back up.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Leader Kim Jong-un is turn­ing North Korea into a true nu­clear power.

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