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Welcome to the H-Bomb Club, North Korea

Published by War on the Rocks

By Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang

After months of anticipation, it finally happened. On Sunday morning, September 3, at precisely noon local time, North Korea detonated its sixth nuclear device ever to test a presumably new thermonuclear bomb design. The explosion generated an earthquake that was felt across the border in China and suggested a total explosive yield on the order of hundreds of kilotons, or ten times greater than the weapon the United States dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 — and likely similarly an order of magnitude greater than North Korea’s fifth nuclear test almost exactly a year ago.

What exactly did North Korea achieve with this test? In its state media, North Korea claimed the new device was an advanced nuclear bomb design ready for use with its Hwasong-14/KN20 intercontinental-range ballistic missile — the missile it first tested on July 4 this year — which can likely reach parts of, if not most of, the continental United States. If North Korea’s new bomb design appears as capable as initial impressions suggest, and its claim of missile-readiness are unexaggerated, North Korea has unquestionably attained what it sees as the capabilities necessary to deter the United States from a military attack against its leadership and territory.

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