- May 9th, 2017
Now that Kim Jung Un and the ‘Norks’ have taken recently to brandishing ballistic missiles at everyone within reach, it might be time to remember a few things about their weapons.
Not all ballistic missiles are created equally and there are a few simple concepts to remember. Without diving into the minutia of literal rocket science, there are three things to understand:
‘R’ for Reliability: Will the engines ignite? Will the guidance system work? If the rocket has several stages, will each stage separate cleanly? Will the warhead be able to arm itself? Will it detonate properly?
If there are – say – five critical sub-systems, and each is 95% reliable, the chance that a missile will attack its target is 77.37%. Given the success of their tests – and the general standards of their economy – Nork reliability rates may be around 80%. If the Norks were to salvo ten Hwasong-6s (essentially an extended range Scud) at Pusan Harbour, four 700 KG warheads should explode
around the port – even before anti-ballistic missiles are taken into consideration.
CEP for Circular Error Probable: This is the radius around the aiming point of the ballistic missile within which it will land 50 percent of the time. As rule of thumb, 99% of the time a missile will land within 4x CEP. The elderly rockets the Norks based their missiles upon were notoriously inaccurate – those four Hwasong-6 warheads would explode scattered around in a circle around 12 km wide.
Y is for Yield: Assuming that the missile actually is armed with a nuclear warhead. This is an unknown with North Korea – but of five nuclear bomb tests, one was a ‘fizzle’, their ‘H-Bomb’ wasn’t, but the September 2016 fission weapon test worked well enough with yield of something like 25 kilotons.
Size of the warhead is usually less important than accuracy thanks to the mechanics of nuclear explosions (most of the energy is wasted – a warhead that is four times more destructive than an earlier one must be nine times larger). However, North Korea cannot precisely or reliably target anything, and so their ballistic missiles would be purely terror weapons fired indiscriminately at large sprawling cities rather than at military bases, naval ports, and military airfields.
As almost all of Pyongyang’s rockets are armed with high-explosive warheads, and the CEP is usually greater than the danger radius of their warheads. While chemical warheads can be delivered by ballistic missiles – nobody has ever used them thusly. Of all the ways to deliver poison gas, a ballistic missile is the least efficient. That 10 Hwasong-6 missile salvo at Pusan will probably consist of explosive warheads, and at least one will kill a lot of fish.
Right now, North Korea’s ballistic missiles are terror weapons largely only capable of indiscriminately bombarding cities with conventional explosives – much as Saddam Hussein’s did in the 1991 Gulf War. Moreover, there have been quantum improvements in anti-ballistic missiles since the poor primitive Patriots of that war. North Korea’s threats might be well-nigh impotent.
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