Tag Archives: Pyongyang

DPRK Situation Report: North Korea Prepares New HS-15 Orbital Launch, Tests Anthrax Weapon on ICBM Amid Officer Disappearances.

Western Media Has Been Quiet About North Korea This Week, But North Korea Has Not Been Quiet And Prepares New Tests.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, populated headlines in the west and especially the United States for several weeks until recent, sensational domestic events replaced concerns over Pyongyang’s weapons programs and rhetorical threats. But the news from North Korea has become no less significant even though western media has momentarily shifted its attention away from the DPRK.

Orbital Launch of HS-15 ICBM Over Japan Possible.

The most recent intelligence gleaned from open sources suggests the DPRK may be preparing to launch its new HS-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) two-stage missile to put a satellite into orbit soon. The Hwasong-15, or “HS-15”, was first confirmed flight-worthy on Nov. 29, 2017. During that test launch the missile flew a high trajectory flight profile reaching 4,475 kilometers in altitude and landing in the ocean 950 kilometers from its launch site off the Korean coast between Japan and Korea. This new suggestion of an orbital attempt is significant since, if an object were boosted into orbit atop an HS-15, it would overfly Japan and likely parts of the U.S. during its orbit. The potential payload for a possible orbital launch has not been revealed by North Korea or U.S. intelligence sources.

Hwasong-15 on its mobile launch platform prior to November test launch. (Photo: 38North)

Anthrax on ICBM could reach U.S.

A media report released Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 revealed that North Korea was conducting testing on a biological weaponized anthrax warhead for its long-range ICBM program. The report follows the first successful test launch of North Korea’s new longest range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-15 on Nov. 29, 2017.

This development is significant since some western analysts diminished the significance of the successful Hwasong-15 long-range ICBM launch test by suggesting the missile could not carry a large enough warhead to significantly threaten the U.S. Analysts said that North Korea could not develop miniature nuclear warheads for Hwasong-15. If those analysts are correct the diminished threat of nuclear attack by long range ICBMs may now shift to include biological attack by ICBM.

The news of the tests was published in the Japanese Asahi newspaper and attributed to a secret South Korean intelligence source. “North Korea has started experiments such as heat and pressure equipment to prevent anthrax from dying even at a high temperature of over 7,000 degrees generated at the time of ICBM’s re-entry into the atmosphere,” the report said. “In part, there is unconfirmed information that it has already succeeded in such experiments.”

Last week, the White House echoed the Japanese reports when it released its U.S. National Security Strategy saying that North Korea is “pursuing chemical and biological weapons which could also be delivered by missile.”

Japanese media reports voice continued concern over North Korean weapons proliferation, most recently, this report about biological weapons on ICBMs. (Photo: AsahiNews)

North Korean Leadership Disappearances.

An examination of North Korean events suggests that the disappearance of top officials often pre-dates significant events in the country. Two top generals have disappeared in North Korea recently.

A high-ranking North Korean official named Park In Young was purged and executed following delays and now reported problems with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Young was reported to be director of North Korea’s Bureau 131, the part of the Central Committee that oversees the nuclear test facility and Punggye-ri, North Korea. Mr. Young also oversaw operations at the Sohae Satellite Lauching Station according to reports that originated from a recent North Korean defector.

Some reports suggest multiple catastrophic problems at North Korea’s nuclear test facilities, including landslides and earthquakes resulting from underground nuclear tests. One report cited “200 dead” in a landslide following an underground test.

A week before the reported disappearance of Park In Young another high-ranking North Korean military official, General Hwang Pyong-so, also disappeared. General Hwang Pyong-so was the Vice-Marshall of the Korean People’s Army. He also held a political post as Vice-Chairman of the State Affairs Commission.

Few news reports, official or otherwise, have reported on the specific locations or activities of the two high-ranking officials since their disappearances. A Dec. 17 report in Newsweek magazine said that Mr. Park In Young, the former nuclear boss, had been “executed”. Possibilities range from official sanction and banishment from government office to even punishment as severe as prison or execution.

Failures in nuclear testing may have led to the sanctioning and even execution of top North Korean officials according to media reports. (Photo: 38 North)

Submarine Launched Missile Test Advances.

Satellite imagery from commercial intelligence gathering satellites has shown consistent activity at the Nampo Navy Shipyard in North Korea. Photos taken from orbit on Nov. 11, 16 and 24 and reported on the website 38 North show a second submersible ballistic missile test stand. The underwater stands are used to test submarine launched ballistic missiles.

Specifically, the two submerged barges are reported to support the testing and development of the Pukguksong-1 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) as well as the new SINPO-Class ballistic missile submarine.

Accidental Engagement: The Greatest Threat.

Despite threatening rhetoric from both North Korea and the U.S. many analysts still suggest the most likely solution to the North Korean problem will be diplomatic. Considering the cost of life and the potential damage to the global economy most reasoning suggests neither the U.S. or North Korea has much to gain from initiating military aggressions.

Even with sensational saber-rattling both countries likely understand the cost of an armed conflict and the lack of strategic benefit from a war. However, with the U.S. and Japan both maintaining a high state of readiness and bolstering forces in the region and North Korea expands its test and development activity the chances of an accidental engagement at sea or in the air likely pose the greatest threat to further destabilizing the region and touching off a larger conflict. If forces in the region can maintain their readiness while avoiding an unintentional engagement the diplomatic solution may continue to develop against this volatile background.

North Korea continues weapons development and testing despite risks of accidental conflict and diplomatic instability in the region. (Photo: 38 North)

Top image: The new long-range Hwasong-15 during its first November 29 launch test. (Photo: 38North)

What We’ve Learned About North Korea’s New Hwasong-15 Long Range ICBM.

This Week’s DPRK Launch Test Opens New Tensions with Sophisticated Missile.

On Nov. 29, 2017, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) tested a new, claimed-longer range ICBM called the Hwasong-15. It was launched from a ballistic missile test facility in South Pyongan Province, North Korea.

The launch test was significant for two reasons.

This Wednesday’s test followed over two months without any North Korean ICBM launch tests and was punctuated by a U.S. Presidential visit to neighboring China and Asia. Some analysts suggested the two events may have signaled the beginning of moderation in the ongoing North Korean crisis.

In opposition to the theory of impending détente, this week’s North Korean missile test proved to be a continued escalation of tensions. The missile launched for the first time this week was an ICBM not previously reported by the U.S. The new missile, the Hwasong-15, has longer claimed range than any prior North Korean ICBM. Hours after the test North Korea’s official news agency claimed the Hwasong-15, “could strike anywhere in the U.S.”

Official North Korean news sources claimed the Hwasong-15 reached an altitude of approximately 2,700 miles – well above the orbital altitude for the International Space Station – and covered nearly 600 miles in horizontal distance moving east toward Japan during its 53-minute flight. This launch test was predominantly vertical in trajectory. North Korea claimed the missile, “hit its intended target” in the Pacific near Japan. If the trajectory of the Hwasong-15 were altered to a more horizontal geometry the missile could theoretically cover substantial distance. In a statement following the launch test the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit think tank headquartered in Massachusetts, voiced concern that the missile’s range was, “more than enough to reach Washington D.C., albeit with a reduced payload.”

In typically theatric tone, a North Korean newscaster proclaimed, “After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power!”

In what appears to be a staged photo (there is no missile track on the monitors) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reacts to eat Hwasong-15 missile test. (Photo: North Korean Media)

This Wednesday’s North Korean missile launch test of the new Hwasong-15 was first detected by one of only four South Korean Air Force 737 AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning & Control) aircraft, called “Peace Eye”. The surveillance aircraft (based on the Boeing 737 airliner) were delivered to South Korea between May and October of 2012. They are based at Gimhae Air Base. South Korea claims the missile was detected, “within one minute of launch”. The missile was soon also observed on radar by at least one South Korean Navy Sejong-the-Great class destroyer at sea using their AN/SPY-1D antennae and Aegis Combat System.

A South Korean Air Force 737 AEWC “Peace Eye” surveillance aircraft detected the missile launch. (Photo: Boeing)

Along with the E7, several other aircraft were monitoring the launch, including a U.S. Air Force RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, deployed to Kadena, Okinawa, Japan, able to track ballistic missiles reentry vehicles and warheads during the final phase of flight; and a USAF E-8C JSTARS.

According to media reports in Asia, “Two minutes after the North Korean missile launch at 3:17 AM local time Wednesday morning, South Korean President Moon Jae-in was briefed about the provocation by his top security adviser. Six minutes after the launch, the South Korean military staged a live-fire missile exercise, in an apparent display of its response capabilities to strike the North Korean origin of provocations. At 6 a.m., the South Korean president held a meeting with the National Security Council at the Blue House bunker.”

Noteworthy observations about the newly observed Hwasong-15 include a new mobile launch platform. The wheeled platform shown in a photo released by North Korean media is larger than previously observed versions. Launching the missile from a mobile platform makes locating it prior to launch more difficult, a problem that was underscored during the first U.S./Iraq war when a significant amount of resources were devoted to finding the mobile Scud missile launchers in the Iraqi desert that were targeting Israel and Saudi Arabia.

North Korean Hwasong-15 in launch position of mobile launcher. (Photo: North Korean Media)

Military intelligence source Global Security.org reported that South Korean military officials said the maximum range projections for the Hwasong-15 could only be achieved if two key technologies of a nuclear-armed ICBM have been secured: the technology for the warhead and guidance system to survive an atmospheric re-entry and the technology to miniaturize the warhead and guidance payload. It has not been confirmed if North Korea has achieved those technological milestones.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellow Zhao Tong, an expert in the Nuclear Policy Program at Carnegie’s Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, China, told Global Security.org that this latest successful launch test of North Korea’s Hwasong-15, “could mean that the DPRK thinks it has achieved all the basic technical capabilities of a credible nuclear force and therefore no major missile tests are needed anymore. If this is the case, this could potentially open a window to de-escalate tension in the near-term future and may increase the chances of diplomatic engagement with North Korea.”

Claimed range of the new North Korean Hwasong-15 ICBM. (Photo: Union of Concerned Scientists)

 

North Korea Conducts First Missile Test in Two Months

Missile Test Reported to have Landed in East Sea Between Korea and Japan.

Defense sources and the Japanese Prime Minister’s office have confirmed the launch of a new North Korean ballistic missile test. The test, which took place within the last several hours from South Pyongan Province early Wednesday Nov. 29 local time, is now being reported across international media.

“We confirm that we have detected a North Korean ballistic missile launch. The missile is still travelling towards the direction to the East Sea, as we are monitoring right now,” a South Korean military official told media in South Korea several hours ago. Other unconfirmed sources indicate the missile has since landed in the sea.

Sometime after the first mentions began to appear in Asian media the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office tweeted, “A missile was launched from North Korea which appears to have landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone. As soon as new information comes in, we will let you know.”

The Pentagon tweeted, “We detected a probable missile launch from North Korea. We are in the process of assessing the situation and will provide details when available.”

Several U.S. intelligence gathering aircraft were airborne during the test, including an RC-135S Cobra Ball.

The last North Korean ballistic missile test took place in September 2017. That missile was identified as a Hwasong-12, referred to in the U.S. as the KN-17. The Hwasong-12 has an estimated range of between 2,300 and 3,700 miles (3,700-6000 kilometers).

The type of missile in today’s test has not yet been reported.

Reports from earlier this week from U.S. intelligence sources to Reuters news agency suggested North Korea intended a missile launch test “within days”.

Today’s test is the first North Korean missile test since September 15, 2017. (Photo: Phoenix777)

This latest reported missile test is significant since it follows a brief period of relative calm in the region since the September 15, 2017 test that may have provided the opportunity for new back-channel communication via China in the interest of maintaining stability in the region.

Top image: File photo of previous North Korean missile test from 2017. (Yonhap)

Here Are Some Interesting Details About The Way U.S. B-2 Bombers Trained Over The U.S. To Strike North Korea

Some unusual activity took place in the skies over Missouri a couple of weeks ago. Including B-2s referring to air strikes on DPKR target on the radio. Just routine stuff or a message to Pyongyang?

What appears to be a medium size exercise, involving several different assets, took place over CONUS (Continental U.S.) in the night on Oct. 19 and Oct. 18, 2017.

Tons of military traffic, including B-2s and B-52s bombers, E-3 Sentry AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft supported by KC-10 and KC-135 tankers were involved in a series of simulated air strikes on little airports all over Missouri. Radio comms over unencrypted UHF frequencies as well as the use of Mode-S and ADS-B transponders allowed milair airband listeners in the area to monitor the operations and to catch some interesting details. Besides the rather unusual amount of traffic (at least according to people who have been monitoring military air traffic through radio scanner for the last 15 years), what is really interesting is the fact that, during one night, one of the aircraft radioed a message about a “possible DPRK leadership relocation site” whose coordinates pointed to a hangar located at the Jefferson City airport.

This is what one of our readers wrote to us:

On the evening of Oct. 17, my wife and I where sitting outside by a fire enjoying the evening.

Around 8pm we saw three B-2s and what appeared to be a KC-135 fly over on a heading of roughly 080 and an altitude of 25,000 or below. It was after dark but at that altitude B-2s are easily identifiable if they have navigation lights and strobes on from directly underneath. We get quite a few military aircraft in eastern Kansas and this was nothing unusual.

I have been monitoring military air-air communications as a side hobby for a number of years so B-2s as well so the overflight prompted me to run and grab a handheld scanner. Shortly after turning on the scanner I heard the B-2s working Kansas City center using “BATT” [a previous version of this article referred to the c/s as “Bat”, however, Spirit pilots pointed out the right c/s is “Batt”] callsigns (most of the time they tend to use REAPER or DEATH).

After about 30min had passed, I picked up the B-2s and other aircraft on another frequency where they where using military brevity. It was clear they where simulating some kind of battle. They where talking to another callsign MOJO getting tasking to drop GBUs on different targets. They read some target Lat/Lon over the radio: quickly plugging one into Google Maps I found they where dropping bombs on a hanger at Jefferson City, MO, airport going as far as discussing the fusing time for best effect on target.

The next evening I was ready if the exercise continued with more receivers in place and proper recording software. About the same time (roughly 8pm) they started up dropping bombs on targets with tasking from MOJO and WOLVERINE. One of the targets, consisting of several Lat/Lon sets, was the runway and hangers at Osage Beach, MO airport. At one point they called friendlies in contact and proceeded with a danger close 150m airdrop at the same hangar at Jefferson City airport as the night before.

This is the first time I have heard a exercise of this magnitude over this area.

The first night they tried to use HAVE QUICK frequency hopping and I heard several timing pulses but they couldn’t seem to get all of the members of the net setup properly (that could have been planed to practice contingency plans). They also didn’t employ any encryption that I could hear so the whole exercise was broadcast for the world to hear in plain old analog UHF AM. The most interesting part was when they radioed “a command post possible DPRK leadership relocation site” but when this was said I had not started recording it yet.

My opinion is that the Missouri Ozarks look a lot like North Korea, but we have no way of telling if something is planend or they are just preparing in case things go south.

The amount of money spent and the number of national assets involved sets this far above anything I have heard around here.”

Here below you can hear what this reader has recorded during the above drills. It’s just a 5-min audio file cut from a longer +30min version. However it gives pretty much an idea of what was happening on Oct. 18.

Was the exercise aimed at simulating a raid on a North Korean “VIP”?

Most probably yes. This is something that is being planned for months. Night missions of three-ship B-2 flights (using the very same callsign “Batt”) are standard practice as our recent story of three Spirit stealth bombers refueling over southwest Missouri few days before the above exercise was monitored proves.

What is weird is the fact that radio comms included a clear reference to a DPKR target. Indeed, it’s no secret that thousand radiohams, aviation geeks, aircraft spotters etc. use radio transmission to track military air traffic. For this reason, real ops are always conducted with a strict radio discipline, so that no detail is leaked to the “enemy” (or anyone who should not have the right to listen) and encrypted radio frequencies or frequency hopping techniques are used. However, the whole exercise was carried out on very well known unencrypted frequencies. This could have happened because of a mistake (usually names of enemy nations are never specified during radio comms) or on purpose, to let the word spread that the B-2 are preparing to attack North Korean targets. A sort of subliminal message such as the one sent with a video that showed, for the very first time, a Spirit bomber drop a 30,000-pound MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) “Bunker Buster” bomb or one of the various show of force missions flown from the U.S. (or Guam) to the Korean peninsula.

Dealing with Mode-S transponders, these made some of the aircraft involved in the ops, visibile on flight tracking websites. However, this is far from being unusual: despite the risk of breaking OPSEC with an inaccurate use of ADS-B transponders many aircraft, including RC-135s, Global Hawks and other strategic ISR platforms operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them.

Okie 33 was a KC-135 supporting the B-2s during their simulated air strikes.

An E-3 Sentry also supported the Spirit bombers during their simulated air strikes.


Top image: Todd Miller

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U.S. B-1 Lancer Bombers Escorted By F-15 Jets Fly East Of North Korea, North Of The DMZ: Four Reasons Why This Time It Is Interesting.

This is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.

On Sept. 23, hours after the latest threats from Kim Jong Un who said that Pyongyang will soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam, along with U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan, flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea.

This time, the show of force is a bit more interesting than usual, for four reasons:

1) it is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century;

2) unlike all the previous ones, the latest sortie was flown at night, hence it was not a show of force staged to take some cool photographs;

3) no allied aircraft is known to have taken part in the mission at the time of writing, whereas most of the previous B-1 missions near the Korean Peninsula involved also ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) and/or JASDF (Japan’s Air Self Defense Force) jets;

4) it was a U.S. Air Force job: no U.S. Marine Corps F-35B stealth jet took part in the show of force this time, even though the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter has taken part in all the most recent formations sent over Korea to flex muscles against Pyongyang. The photo here below shows the “package” assembled for Sept. 14’s show of force.

Munitions from a U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) bilateral mission explode at the Pilsung Range, South Korea, Sept 17, 2017. The U.S. and ROKAF aircraft flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced attack capabilities by releasing live weapons at the training area before returning to their respective home stations. This mission was conducted in direct response to North Korea’s intermediate range ballistic missile launch, which flew directly over northern Japan on September 14 amid rising tension over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development programs. (U.S. Army photo by SSgt. Steven Schneider)

According to the U.S. Pacific Command, today’s mission is” a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the President has many military options to defeat any threat. North Korea’s weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community. We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies.”

Top image shows a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, receives fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker Sep. 23, 2017. This mission was flown as part of the continuing demonstration of the ironclad U.S. commitment to the defense of its homeland and in support of its allies and partners. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberger)