(CNN) North Korea warns US to prepare for ‘Christmas gift,’

(CNN) North Korea warns US to prepare for ‘Christmas gift,’ but no one’s sure what to expect.

The available data is spare:

This is enough for speculation. What follows is compatible with the observations:

  • Launch of an ICBM from a mobile launcher, but carried out at a prepared location, Sohae. This explains minimal activity at Sohae.
  • The missile, mounted on a mobile launcher, is to be transported in an unfueled state. It will be fueled from the facilities at Sohae. This avoids the transport of dangerous chemicals over a primitive road system.
  • The payload is a low yield nuke, probably just a naked boosted core.  While a low altitude detonation avoids a  large EMP event, it is not otherwise a requirement. An actual EMP attack requires a detonation in space. Hence a functional reentry vehicle, which has not been observed, is also not required.
  • Although an exclusion zone will be announced, marine traffic immediately beneath the detonation will not be affected.

In the recent past, the North Korean nuclear program has exhibited jumps in capability without intermediate steps.  Expertise and designs were bought. This scenario exhibits a jump, without the cost of actual development.

For propellant, North Korea uses UDMH; the oxidizer is nitrogen tetroxide. Although this propellant combination is storable in a fueled missile, transport accentuates the hazard, particularly over North Korea’s primitive road system. Dispersal of fuel supplies could be part of an operational strategy as well.

With  noted small compromises,  the prepositioning of fuel and limited yield, the intent is a visceral demonstration of EMP attack capability.

This is not a prediction. It is a hypothesis compatible with the lack of large scale resumption of North Korea’s nuclear program, with DoD “no comment”, and Kim’s desire for maximum shock value.

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