February 14, 2013:
The newly elected South Korean president made it clear that she would take a hard line against North Korea, not encourage friendlier relations. This includes the new threat of a pre-emptive attack on North Korea if there was any suspicion that the north was going to use nukes. South Korea also confirmed that it had deployed a new cruise missile that can reach targets anywhere in North Korea. This was no surprise, as last year it was announced that South Korea would purchase and deploy over a thousand new ballistic and cruise missiles over the next five years. These would be aimed at specific North Korean missile launchers and artillery positions. In the event of a war, the South Korean missiles would be quickly launched and every North Korean missile or artillery weapon eliminated would mean less destruction in South Korean territory. The North Korea plan had always been to start any future war with an enormous bombardment of shells, rockets, and missiles. Most would be aimed at the South Korean capital, and largest city, Seoul.
In the last years the government revealed the existence of more of these locally developed missiles. A year ago South Korea made public the fact that it had a new cruise missile (apparently the Hyunmoo 3) and ballistic missile ready for service. South Korea is usually secretive about its battlefield missiles. Four years ago South Korean media reported that a new cruise missile, with a range of 1,000 kilometers, had secretly entered production in 2008. Called Hyunmoo 3, it has since been superseded by the Hyunmoo 3C missile, which has a range of 1,500 kilometers and is being deployed along the North Korean border, aimed at ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, and other strategic targets to the north. This is apparently the new cruise missile announced today.
Despite the U.S. refusal to help, South Korea developed a 180 kilometer range ballistic missile (Hyunmoo 1) and a 300 kilometer one (Hyunmoo 2) in the 1980s. Both are about 13 meters (40 feet) long and weigh 4-5 tons. Both of these were based on the design of the U.S. Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile, which South Korea used for many years. Cruise missiles are simpler technology, and apparently the Hyunmoo 3 is made entirely with South Korean developed components. Like the Tomahawk, Hyunmoo 3 appears to be about 6 meters (19 feet) long, weighs 1.5 tons, has a half ton warhead, and is launched from hidden (in the hills facing North Korea), and probably fortified, containers. North Korea has about 600 ballistic missiles aimed at South Korea. The longer range of the Hyunmoo 3C enables it to hit any target in North Korea and is apparently intended to knock out transportation and supply targets deep inside North Korea. With a range of 1,500 kilometers, the missile could also hit targets in China and Russia.
Two years ago South Korea moved some of its U.S. built ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) guided missiles close to the North Korean border. ATACMS is a 610mm rocket that fits in the same size container that normally holds six 227mm MLRS rockets. The ATACMS version in South Korean service has a range of 165 kilometers. That makes it capable of reaching many targets in North Korea but not the capital (Pyongyang, which is 220 kilometers north of the DMZ). There is a version of ATACMS with a range of 300 kilometers but South Korea does not have any. ATACMS is fired from the American MLRS rocket launcher. South Korea only has 220 ATACMS missiles. All of them have cluster bomb warheads. Half of them are unguided and have a range of 128 kilometers. The others have smaller warheads, GPS guidance, and a range of 165 kilometers. This is apparently the version moved close to the border, in order to make the North Koreans nervous. South Korea originally bought ATACMS in 1998, to have a weapon that could go after distant North Korean artillery and large concentrations of tanks.
North Korea desperately needs operational nuclear weapons because its conventional forces have been falling apart since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and military and economic aid from Russia ceased. There was not enough money (even though over 30 percent of GDP goes for the military) to maintain and upgrade the million man armed forces. Over the last few years the troops have been getting less food, something unheard of in the past. There is much less fuel for training, which leaves pilots and ship crews inexperienced and much less effective than their South Korean counterparts. Equipment is largely Cold War era stuff, much of it 30-40 years old. Thus the conventional military threat to South Korea (which has greatly modernized its forces in the last two decades) is going, going and now gone. Nuclear weapons restore the North Korean threat to its neighbors. This enables North Korea to demand free food, fuel, and other aid. This makes it possible for the North Korea leadership to survive because at the moment the population is becoming more unruly and hostile to their rulers.
The third North Korean nuclear test was condemned by all (except the usual suspects, like Iran) and especially by China. While always opposed to North Korean nukes, China has never done anything about it. But this time the Chinese publically warned North Korea that if there was another test there would be serious consequences. Cutting off Chinese aid and trade would be catastrophic for the north because China is the major (and practically only) trading partner. North Korea’s illegal exports (weapons, drugs, and so on) get out via China. Closing the door on North Korean aid and trade would doom the North Korean government and lead to chaos. The other option is to stage a coup and put pro-China and pro-economic reform people in charge. China has been recruiting a network of pro-China officials in North Korea for years. This is done in secret, and the North Korean leaders have been increasingly active in retiring, demoting, or firing anyone who is suspected to be part of this group. Well, not anyone, as that would eliminate a third or more of the ruling class, including many people in the secret police and technical organizations with critical skills. China is expected to support new international sanctions against North Korea. In the past China has not enforced these sanctions. The new ones would be directed at more individual North Koreans, making the sanctions rather more personal.
In the north the big crackdown on illegal cell phone use near the Chinese border has failed. People found ways to defeat the imported cell phone signal detectors (by using an earpiece and walking around or cycling in crowded areas). Those who are caught find the special secret police personnel brought in for this duty are willing to take a bribe most of the time. So information continues to get in from China and the world. News of Chinese threats over the nuclear tests are causing great unease in the north.
China sent some mobile radiation monitoring teams to the area near its North Korean border to check for any radiation from the recent North Korean underground nuclear test. China already has 25 permanent automated radiation monitoring stations along the border and they showed no increase in radiation.
February 12, 2013: North Korea, as expected, conducted its third nuclear weapons test. This one appears to be seven kilotons and a complete detonation. The last nuclear test was a five kiloton weapon in 2009, and the first one was three years before that. Western intelligence believed that the original North Korean nuclear weapon design was flawed, as the first test was only a fraction of what it should have been (less than a kiloton equivalent in high explosives), and is called, in the trade, a "fizzle." The second test was a complete detonation and apparently a much modified version of the original design. Thus, North Korea needed more tests to perfect their bomb design and is still years away from a useful nuclear weapon, even though the second bomb appeared to be more effective. The third test was considered overdue, and that may have been because more time was spent designing and building a smaller device that could fit into a missile warhead. U.S. intelligence agencies have collected air samples (as have most other neighboring countries) from the test, which can tell much about the design of the bomb. Results of that analysis may take a week or more to appear.
February 7, 2013: A North Korean propaganda, showing the north using nuclear weapons against the United States, was removed from YouTube because of copyright infringement. The video shows the aftermath of a nuclear strike in what appeared to be an American city. This was a video clip taken from a recent computer game (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3) and the publisher had the video removed for that violation.
January 31, 2013: Google announced more data for its recently announced map of North Korea for Google Maps. North Korea does not release maps, as they are considered military secrets. The Google Maps data was acquired using crowdsourcing and services like Google Earth that constantly produces vast quantities of new data. The new North Korean map shows locations of roads, prison camps, and military bases that North Korea had long considered secret information (a common practice in communist dictatorships).
January 30, 2013: South Korea used a locally made rocket to launch its first satellite. In December, North Korea launched a satellite, which has been silent since it went up. The South Korean satellite is working perfectly.
North Korea ordered an increased state of military readiness in response to the latest UN sanctions. Movement across the country has been restricted and reservists have been called up. All this is theater to distract people from the fact that they are hungry and there isn’t much heat or electricity. The movement restrictions make it more difficult to move food and fuel to areas where it is most needed.