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Examining North Korea’s Potential 7th Nuclear Test: Perspectives and Predictions

Opinions on the timing of the nuclear test are “divided”
Possibility of a 7th nuclear test before or after the U.S. presidential election in November
It seems North Korea has achieved miniaturization and lightweightning
Whether to test multi-warheads in the 7th nuclear test attracts attention

北 7차 핵실험 주목받는 이유…다탄두 핵미사일 개발 가능성[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un, was seen celebrating the founding day of the Korean People’s Army with a visit to the Ministry of National Defense on the afternoon of February 8th. Photo courtesy of the Korean Central News Agency · Yonhap News 

Russia is making a fuss over North Korea’s potential 7th nuclear test.

According to a report by Russian Sputnik News on the 10th (local time), the Russian Ambassador to North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, stated that North Korea would not rule out the possibility of a nuclear test if the United States continues to provoke. The claim suggests that North Korea could proceed with its 7th nuclear test if the U.S. continues its provocative actions.

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) recently released a report titled “Why is North Korea becoming more aggressive?” suggesting the possibility of a nuclear test. The report predicts that Kim, who has abandoned the policy of peaceful reunification with South Korea, will show more aggressive behavior on the Korean Peninsula based on advanced military technology and strengthened relations with Russia.

A senior researcher, Scott Snyder, the author of the report, analyzed, “North Korea has been steadily improving its missile capabilities and stockpiling nuclear materials according to the plan adopted at the 8th Party Congress in 2021, and it now possesses enough fissile material to deploy about 50 to 70 nuclear weapons through uranium enrichment.” He added, “The remaining task is to deploy submarines capable of launching long-range nuclear missiles, and speculation continues to grow that a 7th nuclear test could be planned shortly.”

North Korea’s 7th nuclear test would be the first since September 2017

The possibility of North Korea conducting a 7th nuclear test is once again garnering international attention. The fact that signs are being detected from various angles supports this.

If North Korea conducts a nuclear test, it would be the first since September 2017. In particular, it is expected to be a turning point in the situation on the Korean Peninsula in conjunction with the intervention of the U.S. and China, which are engaged in a power struggle, and the strengthening of the U.S. extended deterrence against South Korea.

38 North, a website devoted to the analysis of North Korea, reported that satellite image analysis found activities showing that the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) in Yongbyon is almost complete and appears to have transitioned into operational status. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also announced that it observed similar activities in Yongbyon.

Concerning this, the U.S. Department of Defense stated, “Currently, we are not reporting any signs of an imminent nuclear test,” and added, “We will continue to monitor any actions by North Korea, including nuclear tests.”

北 7차 핵실험 주목받는 이유…다탄두 핵미사일 개발 가능성[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
North Korea fired several cruise missiles into the East Sea on February 14th. Photo courtesy of the Korean Central News Agency · Yonhap News

Historically, North Korea has tended to provoke around four major holidays such as the Day of the Shining Star (birthday of Kim Jong Il), the Day of the Sun (birthday of Kim Il Sung), the founding of the DPRK (September 9th), and the founding day of the Workers’ Party (October 10th).

Many experts predict that there is a possibility of a 7th nuclear test before the U.S. presidential election in November. It is analyzed that this could be a move to help the re-election of former President Donald Trump, known to be favored by North Korea. Some also suggest that North Korea might come to the table in the first half of 2025, after the U.S. presidential election, using their nuclear capabilities as a card to be recognized as a “de facto nuclear state.”

Regardless, opinions on the timing of the nuclear test are divided. The Sejong Institute’s Korean Peninsula Strategy Center Director, Jeong Seong Jang, said, “No one can accurately predict the timing of North Korea’s 7th nuclear test,” but also evaluated “Kim Jong Un’s direction of the nuclear weaponization project and the public release of tactical nuclear warheads suggest that the timing of the nuclear test is imminent.”

The Ministry of National Defense also believes that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test

Especially since last year, North Korean state-run media outlets have even publicly revealed actual tactical nuclear warheads, leading to the expectation that “North Korea is expected to conduct a 7th nuclear test with additional tactical nuclear warheads as early as a few days from now, or around the 76th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK on September 9th at the latest,” according to Director Jeong.

The Ministry of National Defense also holds the position that “we believe North Korea will conduct a 7th nuclear test” but refrains from definitively stating that it is imminent.

However, experts at home and abroad commonly agree that strategic communication with China and Russia, as well as changes in the situation on the Korean Peninsula, will influence the timing of North Korea’s decision to conduct its 7th nuclear test.

北 7차 핵실험 주목받는 이유…다탄두 핵미사일 개발 가능성[이현호 기자의 밀리터리!톡]
Kim Jong Un of North Korea (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia last September last year. Photo courtesy of A.P. · Yonhap News

Military experts emphasize that if North Korea conducts a 7th nuclear test, it is crucial to focus on what weapon system is being tested. Considering recent trends in North Korea, the testing of miniaturized tactical nuclear weapons is a strong possibility.

The actual Hwasan-31 tactical nuclear warhead revealed by North Korea was said to be more than 10 units, suggesting that they are showcasing their entry into a nuclear warhead mass production system. If North Korea’s report is taken at face value, it can be seen that they have already standardized the miniaturized lightweight tactical nuclear warheads.

The diameter of Hwasan-31 is estimated to be 40-50 mm, which suggests that it could be mounted on the “North Korean version of Iskander” KN-23 and the “North Korean version of ATACMS” KN-24. Given its diameter, the super-large multiple rocket launcher KN-25 is also observed to be capable of carrying a tactical nuclear warhead.

Military experts generally assess that North Korea has achieved miniaturization and lightweightning of nuclear warheads to a diameter of 60 cm and a weight of 200-300 kg. In particular, it is known that if the nuclear warhead is miniaturized to a diameter of 30-40 cm, it can be mounted on small tactical SLBMs launched from submarines, new tactical guided missiles with enhanced interception avoidance capabilities, and hypersonic missiles.

Attention is drawn to whether North Korea has developed a multiple-warhead nuclear missile

A perspective also looks at the 7th nuclear test from a different dimension. There is an analysis that North Korea could test a “Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) “using small tactical nuclear technology.

This weapon can hit multiple targets by installing numerous warheads on a single ballistic missile. More importantly, from the defense side, it is difficult to intercept because the warheads separate into multiple parts when entering the atmosphere. Observations suggest that if a nuclear test is conducted with 3-5 multiple warheads mounted on the Hwasong-17 type, which is estimated to be over 2.4 m in diameter, it would cause a significant shock to the U.S. and South Korea.

Therefore, whether North Korea conducts a test of miniaturized, lightweight tactical nuclear warheads or a multiple warhead test if it proceeds with a 7th nuclear test, it is clear that it could become a significant issue that could significantly change the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a way that is quite different from the previous six nuclear tests.

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