Friday, March 17, 2017

The Most Dangerous Man in the World

            With North Korea’s ballistic missile tests and nuclear weapons program in the news, let’s take a look at America’s nuclear capabilities, for comparison. Some have labeled Kim Jong Un the “most dangerous man in the world” for the North’s jingoistic rhetoric and provocative actions. But is he really so dangerous? Most Americans are probably unaware of US nuclear capabilities, including, apparently, the leader of the free world. President Donald Trump proclaimed that America’s nuclear arsenal must be at the “top of the pack.” Yet, most nuclear weapons experts would say that America’s arsenal is already the best in the world, despite the age of many of the missiles currently deployed and stockpiled.
            The DPRK has an active nuclear weapons program and tested nuclear explosive devices in 2006, 2009, 2013, and twice in 2016. The DPRK is also capable of enriching uranium and producing weapons-grade plutonium. North Korea deploys short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and successfully launched long-range rockets in 2012 and 2016. North Korea has conducted several tests with nuclear bombs. However, in order to launch a successful nuclear attack on its neighbors, it needs to be able to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on to a missile, or else risk carrying the nukes on bombers, which could easily be shot down. North Korea claims it has successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads, but this has never been independently verified, and some experts have cast doubt on the claims. There is no consensus on exactly where North Korea is in terms of miniaturizing a nuclear device so that it can be delivered via a missile. Professor Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University, a highly authoritative voice on North Korea’s weapons development, said Pyongyang’s ability to field an intercontinental ballistic missile fitted with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the US was still a long way off, perhaps 5 to 10 years to completion. Chances are the North’s weapons are simple and heavy.
            In contrast, the US has the world’s most advanced nuclear arsenal. America has all three legs of the triad and will spend up to a trillion dollars for the next 30 years to maintaining this arsenal. With 7,000 warheads in the Russian Federation and around 6,800 in America, the two countries have more nukes than the rest of the world combined. But the two arsenals are not equal. A “super-fuze” device incorporated into submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads are so deadly and accurate that they could possibly wipe out an entire fleet of Russian ICBMs in their silos, creating a preemptive strike-first capability that would give Russia little time to respond. Since 2009, the super-fuze device has been built into the Navy’s W76-1/Mk4A warhead as part of its modernization program. Super-fuzes are designed to make the warhead more accurate by exploding precisely above the intended target. The super fuze is a revolutionary development because it drastically enhances the targeting capabilities of warheads. Before the new super-fuze, even the most accurate ballistic missile warhead could miss its intended target and detonate too far away for maximum impact. Now, with the new fuze system, it simply detonates above the target in a much more effective way, thus maximizing its targeting capabilities. Therefore, if need be, the US could completely destroy the DPRK in an instant.
   Even if North Korea was able to launch a nuclear missile, America has the best missile defense systems in the world, and is positioning this system right next door. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is a United States Army anti-ballistic missile system designed to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill approach. THAAD was developed after the experience of Iraq’s Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War in 1991. The missile carries no warhead, but relies on the kinetic energy of impact to destroy the incoming missile. A kinetic energy hit minimizes the risk of exploding conventional warhead ballistic missiles, and nuclear tipped ballistic missiles will not detonate upon a kinetic energy hit. With the size of America’s nuclear arsenal, its accuracy, and the US’ ability to defend itself and its allies, just who exactly is the bigger threat?

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