The International Monitoring System based at Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia (comprising 5 primary and 13 auxiliary seismic stations, 4 infrasound stations, 8 radionuclide stations, 1 radionuclide laboratory), downwind from the North Korean Hanggyong mountain test site, has detected tritium. It confirms that the test Pyongyang was preparing for, and which the North Korean supremo Kim Jong Eun today confirmed, was of a hydrogen device, as warned in my blog on the subject three days ago. The seismic reading of 5.1 on the Richter Scale, in that rock hard substratum, translates to yield in the 50-100 kiloton range.
What experts believe is that given the relatively small yield for a fusion design but an apparently nearly flawless performance of the critical radiation channel that directs the fission energy from an atomic explosion into the tritium fuel package (that is the two stage system) in order to set off a full thermonuclear burn, the very good possibility is that the Pakistani designers have achieved something even more challenging — a successful tailored yield device and that too in miniaturized form!
This is a remarkable technical achievement even with Chinese weapons experts assisting and helping in configuring the design and vetting it before final engineering, for Pakistan to get right at the first shot — something India failed to do, whatever R. Chidambaram may say by way of obfuscatory explanations about the S-1 test in May, 1998.
But this is not the end. There is a certain method here. The 2013 test carried out in North Korea was of an FBF (fusion-assisted fission) device. The present one was “the lower-bound test of a dial-a yield TN weapon.” Far from being the terminus, there’s likely to be still another test in the series which will be full-fledged thermonuclear, and this new test could be conducted as early as July (or thereabouts) 2016 — i.e., just some six-odd months from now.
The strategic implications of Pakistan going fully thermonuclear with tested and proven weapons, courtesy the North Koreans and their making their test site available to the Pak Army’s SPD (Strategic Plans Division)-run nuclear weapons programme and hence providing Islamabad with plausible deniability — a brilliant working of the ‘rogue triad’ of China, Pakistan and North Korea, are too daunting to consider. For starters, it nullifies the official Indian doctrine’s misplaced reliance on “massive retaliation” as credible deterrence.
When an adversary confronts you with a proven and tested high yield weapon and you have only a notional fusion weapon that may or may not work — thanks to the lack of open-ended testing owing to the test moratorium persisted with by now four successive govts (including, so far the Modi regime) since the Shakti series of tests 17 years ago, then we have a problem.
The crucial difference is an incomprehensibly contented India habituated to thinking and acting small and minimal, sat still, thinking it had accomplished every thing, and is now where it was in May 1998 in terms of a noncredible thermonuclear arsenal. On the other hand, an unsatisfied Pakistan, displaying the sort of strategic verve and imagination absent in GOI, sought out other means of getting the weapons inventory it desired, and found a way out from under the US sanctions overhang in cahoots with its willing partners — China and North Korea.
Delhi sought Washington’s suffocating embrace and now finds itself inferior strategic weapons-wise to a rump state carved out of India some 70 years ago but one with a far stronger will, a formidable sense of its national self, and an infinitely greater flair for playing the international power game.
Guess where that leaves India?