Can N.Korea Detonate Nuke Warheads in the Air?

  • By Kim Jin-myung

    February 08, 2022 11:56

    North Korea seems to have conducted a test of a warhead on a low-altitude short-range missile that explodes in the air, which could be used with a nuclear payload, Voice of America reported Monday.

    Commenting on two surface-to-surface tactical guided missiles the North tested on Jan. 27, Olli Heinonen formerly of the International Atomic Energy Agency told VOA, "It looks from photos or video shots -- that it exploded above the ground and this is what you do when you want to have a maximum impact on the people on the ground."

    On the day after the test of the missiles, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said that the two tactical guided missiles "proved the explosive power of their warhead as designed."

    "When you master that technology that you're so precise in detonation and the fusing system survives the reentry to the atmosphere, you can do the same with a nuclear device," added Heinonen. "This is, for me, kind of an alarming sign that they have achieved another important threshold that they are able to have the explosion of the warhead above the ground, most likely at the level which they can decide."

    "The mastering of the timing of the detonation is essential for nuclear warheads, which -- in order to have the maximum impact -- are exploding about half a kilometer above ground."

    "This could mean that North Korea may not need to conduct experiments with detonations at higher altitude, which could prompt additional actions by the UNSC," he added.

    Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies also told VOA, "Typically when we detonate a nuclear weapon in an airburst mode above the ground, that just makes it much more efficient use of its blast. So that's quite possible." 

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