Category Archives: Nuclear Arms & Arms Control

Many LLNL Atmospheric Nuclear Test Videos Declassified

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has posted 64 declassified videos of nuclear weapons tests on YouTube. LLNL reports:

“The U.S. conducted 210 atmospheric nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, with multiple cameras capturing each event at around 2,400 frames per second. But in the decades since, around 10,000 of these films sat idle, scattered across the country in high-security vaults. Not only were they gathering dust, the film material itself was slowly decomposing, bringing the data they contained to the brink of being lost forever.

For the past five years, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and a crack team of film experts, archivists and software developers have been on a mission to hunt down, scan, reanalyze and declassify these decomposing films. The goals are to preserve the films’ content before it’s lost forever, and provide better data to the post-testing-era scientists who use computer codes to help certify that the aging U.S. nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.”

Operation Hardtack-1 – Nutmeg 51538. Source: LLNL

Here’s the link:


Doomsday Clock Reset

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, which the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists describes as follows:

“The Doomsday Clock is a design that warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.”

You’ll find an overview on the Doomsday Clock here:

The Clock was last changed in 2015 from five to three minutes to midnight. In January 2016, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand did not change.

On 26 January 2017, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates, decided to reset the Doomsday Clock to 2-1/2 minutes to midnight. This is the closest it has been to midnight in 64 years, since the early days of above ground nuclear device testing.

Two and a half minutes to midnight

The Science and Security Board warned:

“In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater (than in 2015 and 2016), the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”

You can read the Science and Security Board’s complete statement at the following link:

Their rationale for resetting the clock is not based on a single issue, but rather, the aggregate effects of the following issues, as described in their statement:

A dangerous nuclear situation on multiple fronts

  • Stockpile modernization by current nuclear powers, particularly the U.S. and Russia, has the potential to grow rather than reduce worldwide nuclear arsenals
  • Stagnation in nuclear arms control
  • Continuing tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan
  • North Korea’s continuing nuclear development
  • The Iran nuclear deal has been successful in accomplishing its goals in its first year, but its future is in doubt under the new U.S. administration
  • Careless rhetoric about nuclear weapons is destabilizing; for example, the U.S. administration’s suggestion that South Korea and Japan acquire their own nuclear weapons to counter North Korea

The clear need for climate action

  • The Paris Agreement went into effect in 2016
  • Continued warming of the world was measured in 2016
  • S. administration needs to make a clear, unequivocal statement that it accepts climate change, caused by human activity, as a scientific reality

Nuclear power: An option worth careful consideration

  • Nuclear power a tempting part of the solution to the climate change problem
  • The scale of new nuclear power plant construction does not match the need for clean energy
  • In the short to medium term, governments should discourage the premature closure of existing reactors that are safe and economically viable
  • In the longer term, deploy new types of reactors that can be built quickly and are at least as safe as the commercial nuclear plants now operating
  • Deal responsibly with safety issues and with the commercial nuclear waste problem

Potential threats from emerging technologies

  • Technology continues to outpace humanity’s capacity to control it
  • Cyber attacks can undermining belief in representative government and thereby endangering humanity as a whole
  • Autonomous machine systems open up a new set of risks that require thoughtful management
  • Advances in synthetic biology, including the Crispr gene-editing tool, have great positive potential, but also can be misused to create bioweapons and other dangerous manipulations of genetic material
  • Potentially existential threats posed by a host of rapidly emerging technologies need to be monitored, and to the extent possible anticipated and managed.

Reducing risk: Expert advice

  • The Board is extremely concerned about the willingness of governments around the world— including the incoming U.S. administration—to ignore or discount sound science and considered expertise during their decision-making processes

Prior to the formal decision on the 2017 setting of the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin took a poll to determine public sentiment on what the setting should be. Here are the results of this public pole.

Results of The Bulletin Public Poll

How would you have voted?

Visualize the Effects of a Nuclear Explosion in Your Neighborhood

The Restricted Data blog, run by Alex Wellerstein, is a very interesting website that focuses on nuclear weapons history and nuclear secrecy issues. Alex Wellerstein explains the origin of the blog:

“For me, ‘Restricted Data’ represents all of the historical strangeness of nuclear secrecy, where the shock of the bomb led scientists, policymakers, and military men to construct a baroque and often contradictory system of knowledge control in the (somewhat vain) hope that they could control the spread and use of nuclear technology.”

You can access the home page of this blog at the following link:

From there, navigation to recent posts and blog categories is simple. Among the features of this blog is a visualization tool called NUKEMAP. With this visualization tool, you can examine the effects of a nuclear explosion on a target of your choice, with results presented on a Google map. The setup for an analysis is simple, requiring only the following basic parameters:

  • Target (move the marker on the Google map)
  • Yield (in kilotons)
  • Set for airburst or surface burst

You can select “other effects” if you wish to calculate casualties and/or display the fallout pattern. Advanced options let you set additional parameters, including details of an airburst.

To illustrate the use of this visualization tool, consider the following scenario: A 10 kiloton nuclear device is being smuggled into the U.S. on a container ship and is detonated before docking in San Diego Bay. The problem setup and results are shown in the following screenshots from the NUKEMAP visualization tool.


Among the “Advanced options” are selectable settings for the effects you want to display on the map. The effects radii increase considerably when you select lower effects limits.

So, there you have it. NUKEMAP is a sobering visualization tool for a world where the possibility of an isolated act of nuclear terrorism cannot be ruled out. If these results bother you, I suggest that you don’t re-do the analysis with military-scale (hundreds of kilotons to megatons) airburst warheads.


CIA’s 1950 Nuclear Security Assessments After the Soviet’s First Nuclear Test

The first Soviet test of a nuclear device occurred on 29 August 1949 at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in what today is Kazakhstan. In the Soviet Union, this first device was known as RDS-1, Izdeliye 501 (device 501) and First Lightning. In the U.S., it was named Joe-1. This was an implosion type device with a yield of about 22 kilotons that, thanks to highly effective Soviet nuclear espionage during World War II, may have been very similar to the U.S. Fat Man bomb that was dropped on the Japanese city Nagasaki.

Casing_for_the_first_Soviet_atomic_bomb,_RDS-1Joe-1 casing. Source: Wikipedia / Minatom Archives

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was tasked with assessing the impact of the Soviet Union having a demonstrated nuclear capability. In mid-1950, the CIA issued two Top Secret reports providing their assessment. These reports have been declassified and now are in the public domain. I think you’ll find that they make interesting reading, even 66 years later.

The first report, ORE 91-49, is entitled, “Estimate of the Effects of the Soviet Possession of the Atomic Bomb upon the Security of the United States and upon the Probabilities of Direct Soviet Military Action,” dated 6 April 1950.

ORE 91-49 cover page

You can download this report as a pdf file at the following link:

The second, shorter summary report, ORE 32-50, is entitled, “The Effect of the Soviet Possession of Atomic Bombs on the Security of the United States,” dated 9 June 1950.

ORE_32-50 cover page

You can download this report as a pdf file at the following link:

The next Soviet nuclear tests didn’t occur until 1951. The RDS-2 (Joe-2) and RDS-3 (Joe-3) tests were conducted on 24 September 1951 and 18 October 1951, respectively.

India and Pakistan’s Asymmetrical Nuclear Weapons Doctrines Raise the Risk of a Regional Nuclear War With Global Consequences

The nuclear weapons doctrines of India and Pakistan are different. This means that these two countries are not in sync on the matters of how and when they might use nuclear weapons in a regional military conflict. I’d like to think that cooler heads would prevail during a crisis and use of nuclear weapons would be averted. In light of current events, there may not be enough “cooler heads” on both sides in the region to prevail every time there is a crisis.

Case in point: In late September 2016, India announced it had carried out “surgical strikes” (inside Pakistan) on suspected militants preparing to infiltrate from the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir into the Indian-held part of that state. Responding to India’s latest strikes, Pakistan’s Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, has been reported widely to have made the following very provocative statement, which provides unsettling insights into Pakistan’s current nuclear weapons doctrine:

“Tactical weapons, our programs that we have developed, they have been developed for our protection. We haven’t kept the devices that we have just as showpieces. But if our safety is threatened, we will annihilate them (India).”

You can see a short Indian news video on this matter at the following link:

 1. Asymmetry in nuclear weapons doctrines

There are two recent papers that discuss in detail the nuclear weapons doctrines of India and Pakistan. Both papers address the issue of asymmetry and its operational implication. However, the papers differ a bit on the details of the nuclear weapons doctrines themselves. I’ll start by briefly summarizing these papers and using them to synthesize a short list of the key points in the respective nuclear weapons doctrines.

The first paper, entitled “India and Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrines and Posture: A Comparative Analysis,” by Air Commodore (Retired) Khalid Iqbal, former Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force was published in Criterion Quarterly (Islamabad), Volume 11, Number 3, Jul-Sept 2016. The author’s key points are:

“Having preponderance in conventional arms, India subscribed to ‘No First Use’ concept but, soon after, started diluting it by attaching conditionalities to it; and having un-matching conventional capability, Pakistan retained the options of ‘First Use.’. Ever since 1998, doctrines of both the countries are going through the pangs of evolution. Doctrines of the two countries are mismatched. India intends to deter nuclear use by Pakistan while Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are meant to compensate for conventional arms asymmetry.”

You will read Khalid Iqbal’s complete paper at the following link:

The second paper, entitled “A Comparative Study of Nuclear Doctrines of India and Pakistan,” by Amir Latif appeared in the June 2014, Vol. 2, No. 1 issue of Journal of Global Peace and Conflict. The author provides the following summary (quoted from a 2005 paper by R. Hussain):

“There are three main attributes of the Pakistan’s undeclared nuclear doctrine. It has three distinct policy objectives: a) deter a first nuclear use by India; b) enable Pakistan to deter Indian conventional attack; c) allow Islamabad to “internationalize the crisis and invite outside intervention in the unfavorable circumstance.”

You can read Amir Latif’s complete paper at the following link

Synopsis of India’s nuclear weapons doctrine

India published its official nuclear doctrine on 4 January 2003. The main points related to nuclear weapons use are the following.

  1. India’s nuclear deterrent is directed toward Pakistan and China.
  2. India’s will build and maintain a credible minimum deterrent against those nations.
  3. India’s adopted a “No First Use” policy, subject to the following caveats:
    • India may use nuclear weapons in retaliation after a nuclear attack on its territory or on its military forces (wherever they may be).
    • In the event of a major biological or chemical attack, India reserves the option to use nuclear weapons.
  4. Only the civil political leadership (the Nuclear Command Authority) can authorize nuclear retaliatory attacks.
  5. Nuclear weapons will not be used against non-nuclear states (see caveat above regarding chemical or bio weapon attack).

Synopsis of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons doctrine

Pakistan does not have an officially declared nuclear doctrine. Their doctrine appears to be based on the following points:

  1. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent is directed toward India.
  2. Pakistan will build and maintain a credible minimum deterrent.
    • The sole aim of having these weapons is to deter India from aggression that might threaten Pakistan’s territorial integrity or national independence / sovereignty.
    • Size of the deterrent force is enough inflict unacceptable damage on India with strikes on counter-value targets.
  3. Pakistan has not adopted a “No First Use” policy.
    • Nuclear weapons are essential to counter India’s conventional weapons superiority.
    • Nuclear weapons reestablish an overall Balance of Power, given the unbalanced conventional force ratios between the two sides (favoring India).
  4. National Command Authority (NCA), comprising the Employment Control Committee, Development Control Committee and Strategic Plans Division, is the center point of all decision-making on nuclear issues.
  5. Nuclear assets are considered to be safe, secure and almost free from risks of improper or accidental use.

The nuclear weapons doctrine asymmetry between India and Pakistan really boils down to this:

 India’s No First Use policy (with some caveats) vs. Pakistan’s policy of possible first use to compensate for conventional weapons asymmetry.

2. Nuclear tests and current nuclear arsenals


India tested its first nuclear device on 18 May 1974. Twenty-four years later, in mid-1998, tests of three devices were conducted, followed two days later by two more tests. All of these tests were low-yield, but multiple weapons configurations were tested in 1998.

India’s current nuclear arsenal is described in a paper by Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris entitled, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2015,” which was published online on 27 November 2015 in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Volume 71 at the following link:

In this paper, authors Kristensen and Norris make the following points regarding India’s nuclear arsenal.

  • India is estimated to have produced approximately 540 kg of weapon-grade plutonium, enough for 135 to 180 nuclear warheads, though not all of that material is being used.
  • India has produced between 110 and 120 nuclear warheads.
  • The country’s fighter-bombers are the backbone of its operational nuclear strike force.
  • India also has made considerable progress in developing land-based ballistic missile and cruise missile delivery systems.
  • India is developing a nuclear-powered missile submarine and is developing sea-based ballistic missile (and cruise missile) delivery systems.


Pakistan is reported to have conducted many “cold” (non-fission) tests in March 1983. Shortly after the last Indian nuclear tests, Pakistan conducted six low-yield nuclear tests in rapid succession in late May 1998.

On 1 August 2016, the Congressional Research Service published the report, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons,” which provides an overview of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. You can download this report at the following link:

An important source for this CRS report was another paper by Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris entitled, “Pakistani Nuclear Forces, 2015,” which was published online on 27 November 2015 in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Volume 71 at the following link:

In this paper, authors Kristensen and Norris make the following points regarding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

  • Pakistan has a nuclear weapons stockpile of 110 to 130 warheads.
  • As of late 2014, the International Panel on Fissile Materials estimated that Pakistan had an inventory of approximately 3,100 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and roughly 170kg of weapon-grade plutonium.
  • The weapons stockpile realistically could grow to 220 – 250 warheads by 2025.
  • Pakistan has several types of operational nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, with at least two more under development.

3. Impact on global climate and famine of a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan

On their website, the organization NuclearDarkness presents the results of analyses that attempt to quantify the effects on global climate of a nuclear war, based largely on the quantity of smoke lofted into the atmosphere by the nuclear weapons exchange. Results are presented for three cases: 5, 50 and 150 million metric tons (5, 50 and 150 Teragrams, Tg). The lowest case, 5 million tons, represents a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, with both sides using low-yield nuclear weapons. A summary of the assessment is as follows:

“Following a war between India and Pakistan, in which 100 Hiroshima-size (15 kiloton) nuclear weapons are detonated in the large cities of these nations, 5 million tons of smoke is lofted high into the stratosphere and is quickly spread around the world. A smoke layer forms around both hemispheres which will remain in place for many years to block sunlight from reaching the surface of the Earth. One year after the smoke injection there would be temperature drops of several degrees C within the grain-growing interiors of Eurasia and North America. There would be a corresponding shortening of growing seasons by up to 30 days and a 10% reduction in average global precipitation.”

You will find more details, including a day-to-day animation of the global distribution of the dust cloud for a two-month period after the start of the war, at the following link:

In the following screenshots from the animation at the above link, you can see how rapidly the smoke distributes worldwide in the upper atmosphere after the initial regional nuclear exchange.

Regional war cloud dispersion 1

Regional war cloud dispersion 2

Regional war cloud dispersion 3

This consequence assessment on the website is based largely on the following two papers by Robock, A. et al., which were published in 2007:

The first paper, entitled, “Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences,” was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 112. The authors offer the following comments on the climate model they used.

“We use a modern climate model to reexamine the climate response to a range of nuclear wars, producing 50 and 150 Tg of smoke, using moderate and large portions of the current global arsenal, and find that there would be significant climatic responses to all the scenarios. This is the first time that an atmosphere-ocean general circulation model has been used for such a simulation and the first time that 10-year simulations have been conducted.”

You can read this paper at the following link:

The second paper, entitled, “Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts”, was published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 7, pp. 2003 – 2012. This paper provides the analysis for the 5 Tg case.

“We use a modern climate model and new estimates of smoke generated by fires in contemporary cities to calculate the response of the climate system to a regional nuclear war between emerging third world nuclear powers using 100 Hiroshima-size bombs.”

You can read this paper at the following link:

Building on the work of Roblock, Ira Helhand authored the paper, “An Assessment of the Extent of Projected Global Famine Resulting From Limited, Regional Nuclear War.” His main points with regard to a post-war famine are:

“The recent study by Robock et al on the climatic consequences of regional nuclear war shows that even a “limited” nuclear conflict, involving as few as 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs, would have global implications with significant cooling of the earth’s surface and decreased precipitation in many parts of the world. A conflict of this magnitude could arise between emerging nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan. Past episodes of abrupt global cooling, due to volcanic activity, caused major crop failures and famine; the predicted climate effects of a regional nuclear war would be expected to cause similar shortfalls in agricultural production. In addition large quantities of food might need to be destroyed and significant areas of cropland might need to be taken out of production because of radioactive contamination. Even a modest, sudden decline in agricultural production could trigger significant increases in the prices for basic foods and hoarding on a global scale, both of which would make food inaccessible to poor people in much of the world. While it is not possible to estimate the precise extent of the global famine that would follow a regional nuclear war, it seems reasonable to postulate a total global death toll in the range of one billion from starvation alone. Famine on this scale would also lead to major epidemics of infectious diseases, and would create immense potential for war and civil conflict.”

You can download this paper at the following link:

 4. Conclusions

The nuclear weapons doctrines of India and Pakistan are not in sync on the matters of how and when they might use nuclear weapons in a regional military conflict. The highly sensitive region of Kashmir repeatedly has served as a flashpoint for conflicts between India and Pakistan and again is the site of a current conflict. If the very provocative recent statements by Pakistan’s Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, are to be believed, then there are credible scenarios in which Pakistan makes first use of low-yield nuclear weapons against India’s superior conventional forces.

The consequences to global climate from this regional nuclear conflict can be quite significant and lasting, with severe impacts on global food production and distribution. With a bit of imagination, I’m sure you can piece together a disturbing picture of how an India – Pakistan regional nuclear conflict can evolve into a global disaster.

Let’s hope that cooler heads in that region always prevail.



Deadline – Espionage or Innocent Coincidence?

The March 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine contained a short story by Cleve Cartmill entitled, Deadline, that may, or may not have revealed secrets related to the Manhattan Project. This short story was edited by MIT-educated John W. Campbell Jr.

ASF_March 1944 cover                             Source: Astounding Science Fiction

Cleve Cartmill’s notoriety after the publication of Deadline is described in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (

“He is best remembered in the field for one famous (but untypical) story, “Deadline” (March 1944 Astounding),which described the atomic bomb a year before it was dropped: in this near-future fable, the evil Sixa (i.e., Axis) forces are prevented from dropping the Bomb, and the Seilla (Allies) decline to do so, justly fearing its dread potential. US Security subsequently descended on Astounding, but was persuaded (truthfully) by John W.Campbell Jr that Cartmill had used for his research only material available in public libraries. Cartmill’s prediction made sf fans enormously proud, and the story was made a prime exhibit in the arguments about prediction in sf.”

I’ve been unable to find an online source for the full-text of Deadline, but here’s a sample of the March 1944 text:

“U-235 has been separated in quantity sufficient for preliminary atomic-power research and the like. They get it out of uranium ores by new atomic isotope separation methods; they now have quantities measured in pounds….But they have not brought it together, or any major portion of it. Because they are not at all sure that, once started, it would stop before all of it had been consumed….They could end the war overnight with controlled U-235 bombs……So far, they haven’t worked out any way to control the explosion.”

The status of the Manhattan Project’s nuclear weapons infrastructure at the time that Deadline was published in March 1944 is outlined below.

  • The initial criticality at the world’s first nuclear reactor, the CP-1 pile in Chicago, occurred on 2 December 1942.
  • The initial criticality at the world’s second nuclear reactor, the X-10 Graphite Reactor in Oak Ridge (also known as the Clinton pile and the X-10-pile), and the first reactor designed for continuous operation, occurred 4 November 1943. X-10 produced its first plutonium in early 1944.
  • The initial criticality of the first large-scale production reactor, Hanford B, occurred in September 1944. This was followed by Hanford D in December 1944, and Hanford F in February 1945.
  • Initial operation of the first production-scale thermal diffusion plant (S-50 at Oak Ridge) began in January 1945, delivering 0.8 – 1.4% enriched uranium initially to the Y-12 calutrons, and later to the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant.
  • Initial operation of the first production-scale gaseous diffusion plant (K-25 at Oak Ridge) began operation in February 1945, delivering uranium enriched up to about 23% to the Y-12 calutrons
  • The Y-12 calutrons began operation in February 1945 with feed from S-50, and later from K-25. The calutrons provided uranium at the enrichment needed for the first atomic bombs.
  • The Trinity nuclear test occurred on 16 July 1945
  • The Little Boy uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945
  • The Fat Man plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945

You can read more about of Deadline, including reaction at Los Alamos to this short story, on Wikipedia at the following link:

You also can download, “The Astounding Investigation: The Manhattan Project’s Confrontation With Science Fiction,” by Albert Berger at the following link:

This investigation report, prepared by Astounding Science Fiction, identifies a number of sci-fi stories from 1934 to 1944 that included references to atomic weapons in their story lines, so Deadline was not the first to do so. Regarding the source of the technical information used in Deadline, the investigation report notes:

“However, when questioned as to the source of the technical material in “Deadline,” the references to U-235 separation, and to bomb and fuse design, Cartmill ‘explained that he took the major portion of it directly from letters sent to him by John Campbell…and a minor portion of it from his own general knowledge.’”

While Deadline may have angered many Manhattan Project Military Intelligence senior security officers, neither Cartmill nor Campbell were ever charged with a crime. The investigation noted that stories like Deadline could cause unwanted public speculation about actual classified projects. In addition, such stories might help people working in compartmented classified programs to get a better understanding of the broader context of their work.

I don’t think there was any espionage involved, but, for its time, Deadline provided very interesting insights into a fictional nuclear weapons project. What do you think?

Update on North Korea’s Sinpo (Gorae) Submarine and KN-11 SLBM

In the presentation files from my 5 August 2015 talk, 60 Years of Marine Nuclear Power, I noted that, while North Korea has a program to develop nuclear-armed submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), it appears that their current focus is on installing these missiles on conventionally-powered submarines. The particular conventional missile-launching submarines (SSBs) identified were a refurbished Russian-designed Golf II-class SSB and a new, small indigenous SSB provisionally named Sinpo, for the shipyard where it was observed, or Gorae. Both the refurbished Golf II and the new Sinpo (Gorae) have missile tubes in the sail and are capable of launching missiles while submerged. You will find my presentation files on the Lyncean website under the Past Meetings tab. The direct link to the file containing information on the North Korean program is listed below:

On 24 August 2016, North Korea launched a KN-11 ballistic missile from a submerged launcher, likely a submarine. The KN-11 missile flew 500 km (310 miles) downrange from the launch point into the Sea of Japan.

KN-11 launchSource: An undated photo from North Korean Central News Agency, “underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile”

Range of the missile actually may be considerably greater because it appears to have been launched on a “lofted trajectory” that achieved a much higher apogee than normally would be associated with a maximum range ballistic flight. A similar higher-than-normal apogee was observed in the 21 July 2016 flight test of North Korea’s BM25 Musudan land-based, mobile, intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), which flew 402 km (250 miles) downrange, but reached an apogee of 1,400 km (870 miles). The extra energy required for the KN-11 and Musudan to reach an unusually high apogee would translate directly into greater downrange distance on a maximum range ballistic flight.

You can see a summary of North Korea’s KN-11 test program on the Wikipedia website at the following link:

For the best analysis of the Sinpo (Gorae) SSB and the KN-11 SLBM, I refer you to H. I. Sutton’s Covert Shores website at the following link:

Sinpo_Gorae SSB_SuttonSource: H. I. Sutton Covert Shores

Sutton comments on the small size of the Sinpo (Gorae) SSB:

“It seems that she is built to the requirement of being the smallest possible boat to carry an NK-11……This reinforces the view that she is only a test boat with limited operational capability at most.”

While North Korea’s SSBs and SLBMs are works in progress, I think we are seeing substantial evidence that significant progress is being made on the submarine and the delivery vehicle. A big unknown is the development status of an operational nuclear warhead for the NK-11 missile. On 6 January 2016, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test. It has been reported that the yield from this test was in the 10-kiloton range. For comparison, the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of about 15 kilotons. You can find a summary of North Korea’s nuclear tests on the Wikipedia website at the following link:

In the 29 Aug – 11 Sep 2016 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association is quoted as saying:

“North Korea’s accelerated pace of ballistic missile testing is definitely worrisome,” Kimball says. “They have not necessarily perfected some of these systems to the point where they are effective military systems. That said, if nothing is done to halt further ballistic missile testing, they’re going to eventually – and I mean within a few years – develop a rudimentary long-range capability to deliver a nuclear warhead.”

For quite some time, there has been speculation of technical collaboration between Iran and North Korea on development of long-range missiles, and perhaps nuclear weapons. North Korea’s credibility as a technology partner has been enhanced by their January 2016 successful nuclear test and the more recent tests of the KN-11 and BM25 delivery vehicles.

The Doomsday Clock, the Iraq War and the War Scare of 1983

The Doomsday Clock

On 26 January 2016, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board announced that the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock will remain at three minutes to midnight in spite of recent progress with the Iran nuclear agreement and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21).

Three minutes to midnight

The Science and Security Board gave the following rationale:

“Last year, the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: ‘The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.’ That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act—immediately.”

You can read their complete announcement at the following link:

Also on this website, you will find a detailed chronology of the changes in the Doomsday Clock since its inception in 1947. The following link will take you directly to this timeline:

From the beginning, the Doomsday Clock has been a measure of the perceived risk to civilization of nuclear annihilation. In 2007, the Science and Security Board added climate change because of its perceived significant risk to civilization.

Another view of the Doomsday Clock timeline is available in Wikipedia at the following link:

Here you will find the following timeline chart and a compact tabulation of the changes over the years.


The Iraq War

On 25 January 2016, Stephen Colbert interviewed former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, focusing on the Iraq War and the state of knowledge leading up to the decision to go to war. Donald Rumsfeld had previously addressed the state of U.S. intelligence on Iraq in terms of “known knowns” (i.e., things on which we believe we have adequate intelligence), “known unknowns” (i.e., things on which we believe we do not have adequate, or any, intelligence), and “unknown unknowns” (i.e., things we don’t even know we should be concerned about). Stephen Colbert then asked about “unknown knowns”, which he defined as, “things we know, but choose not to let other people know.” The implication was that our leaders in the military and the Executive Branch had important information that they knew had a bearing on the decision to go to war with Iraq, but this information was unknown to other stakeholders in that decision; namely, most members of Congress and the American people. Then the U.S. went to war with Iraq on 20 March 2003. The Doomsday Clock remained at 7 minutes before midnight, even though the U.S. had just saved the world from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

You can view Stephen Colbert’s interview with Donald Rumsfeld at the following link:

The War Scare of 1983

I need to expand on Donald Rumsfeld’s and Stephen Colbert’s categories for the state of U.S. intelligence by adding the following: “unknown, should have known better.” I define this as a serious, but avoidable, blunder known only at the highest levels and withheld from the public.

As an example of an “unknown, should have known better,” I present the “War Scare of 1983”. Remember that? I’d be quite surprised if you were even remotely aware of it when it occurred.

NATO forces conducted regular military exercises intended to improve their ability to execute war plans designed to counter a Soviet invasion of Europe. It now appears that only a few high-ranking people in the West knew that some of the Soviet leadership had misinterpreted NATO exercises conducted in the fall of 1983 as a prelude to an actual attack.

To set the stage, note in the timeline chart above that the Doomsday Clock had been reset from 7 minutes to 4 minutes before midnight in early 1981. This was a time of generally heightened tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Perhaps as a consequence, the Soviets appear to have overreacted when they shot down Korean Airlines flight 007 in August 1983 after it strayed into Russian airspace near Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East. Some believe that Soviet air defense forces had mistaken this civilian flight for a USAF RC-135 surveillance aircraft that previously had flown a similar route.

In the fall of 1983, the annual NATO exercise was known as Autumn Forge 83, consisting of at least six exercises. The final exercise, Able Archer 83, was a nuclear command and control exercise intended to simulate an escalating conflict with the Soviet Union leading to the simulated use of nuclear weapons by NATO. Overall, Autumn Forge 83 was a larger exercise than those conducted in previous years and Able Archer 83 was using new nuclear weapons command and control procedures.

In a 21 May 2013 article posted on The National Security Archives website entitled, The 1983 War Scare: “The Last Paroxysm” of the Cold War Part II”, Nate Jones includes the following diagram from an unclassified 9 September 1983 briefing showing the large scale of the Autumn Forge 83 exercise.

Autumn Forge Map

You can read the complete article at the following link:

A declassified After Action Report issued by the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Seventh Air Division Headquarters on 1 December 1983 addressed the NATO activities conducted as part of Able Archer 83, but presented no information on Soviet reactions during or following the exercise. This After Action Report is available at the following link:

I first became aware of the significance of Able Archer 83 via John Prados’ article, “The War Scare of 1983,” in The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Spring 1997 (Vol. 9, Issue 3).

In a 2007 article entitled, “A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare,” author Benjamin Fischer attributed the following statement to Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB colonel who defected to the UK in 1985:

“In the tense atmosphere generated by the crises and rhetoric of the past few months, the KGB concluded that American forces had been placed on alert–and might even have begun the countdown to war…. The world did not quite reach the edge of the nuclear abyss during Operation RYAN. But during ABLE ARCHER 83 it had, without realizing it, come frighteningly close–certainly closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.”

You can read the complete article in the CIA online library at the following link:

A Special National Intelligence Estimate entitled, “Implications of Recent Soviet Military – Political Activities,” dated 18 May 1984 and declassified in 2010, provides insights into the Soviet reactions to Able Archer 83. You can read / download this redacted document at the following link:

A much more readable overview is available in the 21 May 2013 article entitled, “The Able Archer 83 War Scare: ‘NATO requested initial limited use of nuclear weapons,’” by Nate Jones, in which he states that:

“According to a declassified National Security Agency history…. the ‘period 1982-1984 marked the most dangerous Soviet-American confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis.’ The secret history recounts that ‘Cold War hysteria reached its peak’ in the autumn of 1983 with a NATO nuclear-release exercise named Able Archer 83, which…. caused ‘Soviet air units in Germany and Poland [to assume] high alert status with readying of nuclear strike forces.’”

You can read the complete article posted on The National Security Archives website at the following link:

On 24 October 2015, David E. Hoffman, writing for The Washington Post, reported that:

“A nuclear weapons command exercise by NATO in November 1983 prompted fear in the leadership of the Soviet Union that the maneuvers were a cover for a nuclear surprise attack by the United States, triggering a series of unparalleled Soviet military responses…”

The Kremlin, uncertain about U.S. intentions, ordered a series of military measures that appeared to be actual preparations for war. A recently declassified 1990 assessment entitled, “The Soviet ‘War Scare,’” by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board concluded:

“In 1983, we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger…”

The Washington Post obtained a copy of this formerly highly classified (Top Secret – Cover Word – Code Word) assessment, which you can read / download (with modest redactions) at the following link:

Obviously, we all survived the War Scare of 1983. Maybe it was better for the public not to know. The Doomsday Clock was adjusted in January 1984 to three minutes before midnight, but not because of Able Archer 83. You can read the rationale for the clock setting on the editorial page in the January 1984 edition of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which you will find at the following link:

If the Science and Security Board had known the details that have surfaced in the past several years about Able Archer 83, I suspect the clock might have been a tick or two closer to midnight for a brief time.

The Doomsday Clock currently is set at three minutes to midnight.



Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future

Proliferation of nuclear technology has been the subject of many studies for more than a half century.   The latest assessment is provided in the subject document, “Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future,” by Henry D. Sokolsky, published in 2015 by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC).

Underestimated book cover  Source: NPEC

The author describes the scope of this document as follows:

“First, it reviews the key popular views on nuclear proliferation. Second, it considers how much worse matters might get if states continue with relatively loose nuclear constraints on civilian and military nuclear activities. Finally, it offers several policy recommendations.”

 In this report, Henry Sokolsky shows how simple life was in 1962:

1962 nuclear relationships Source: NPEC

By 2001, the relationships had become more complex, as shown by the author in the following figure:

2001 nuclear relationships Source: NPEC

The author also shows how relationships are becoming more complex as nuclear weapons technology has proliferated to North Korea (DPRK) and potentially will proliferate to other nations aspiring to become nuclear powers.

You can download this document for free from the NPEC website at the following link:

With 181 footnotes interspersed with the text, it is not easy reading, but I think you will find that it is worth your time.

Forty years ago, in 1975 (and updated in 1976), a similar assessment was presented in a report entitled, “Moving Toward Life in a Nuclear Armed Crowd?,” by Albert Wohlstetter and a team from Pan Heuristics, a division of Science Applications, Inc. [SAI, later Science Applications Internal Corporation (SAIC)]. This report was prepared for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and was intended to define the then current trends in the spread of nuclear technology and analyze the political, economic and military problems that these trends posed for U.S. and international policy makers.

You can download this report from the NPEC website at following link:

The “Nuclear Armed Crowd” report has extensive data tables and charts that are particularly interesting in hindsight. This report was written before the first nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, but these nations were assessed as proliferation risks in this report. Notably absent in this report is North Korea (DPRK), which used a clandestine nuclear program to develop it’s indigenous (but likely with the help of other nations) nuclear weapons capability.

These two reports are not bedtime reading. You will not sleep better after having read them. However, I think the 40 years between these two reports will provide you with valuable insights to the great difficulties of controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology.

Status Report on Global Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles

The International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) was founded in January 2006 as an independent group of arms-control and nonproliferation experts from both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states. The mission of the IPFM is to analyze the technical basis for practical and achievable policy initiatives to secure, consolidate, and reduce stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium. The home page for IPFM is at the following link:

On the IPFM home page, you will find the following summary information:

 As of January 2013, the global stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is estimated to be about 1390 tonnes. The global stockpile of separated plutonium is about 490 tonnes, of which about 260 tonnes is the material in civilian custody.

IPFM 2013 fissile material inventory crop

Numbers for weapon plutonium for the United States and United Kingdom are based on official data. Most numbers for civilian plutonium are based on declarations submitted to IAEA and reflect the status as of December 31, 2011. Other numbers are non-governmental estimates, often with large uncertainties. HEU amounts are 90% enriched HEU equivalent (with the exception of the number for non-nuclear weapon states). The totals are rounded. See individual country entries for details.

In the above table, a “tonne” is a metric ton, or 2,204.62 pounds. One tonne = 1.10231 (short) tons.

IPFM provides regular assessments of the global nuclear weapon and fissile material stockpiles. Their most recent report, Global Fissile Material Report 2015, was presented at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations on 8 May 2015.

IPFM 2015 Report Cover  Source: IPFM

You can download a copy of the 8 May 2015 IPFM presentation at the following link:

This definitely makes interesting reading.