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North Korea’s Hwasong-14: a ‘made in Ukraine’ propaganda missile?

Report in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ suggests capabilities of missile have been exaggerated and that it may have been built from parts made in Ukraine

Alexander Mercouris

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Almost unnoticed amidst the tidal wave of publicity around the events in Charlottesville, Virginia a fascinating report on the North Korean missile programme by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has gone by practically unnoticed.

The report’s conclusions differ sharply from those made public recently in the US, and which have been attributed to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

They dispute the effectiveness of the North Korean ballistic missile programme and the extent to which the newly launched Hwasong-14 missile truly is an ICBM capable of launching nuclear missile strikes on the continental US.

They also make a circumstantial case that the Hwasong-14 missile has been created with rocket engines and technical expertise obtained from Ukraine, though it should be stressed that there is no definite proof of this and that this is not a claim that the report itself actually makes.

Something should first be said about the authors of the report.  They are described in this way in an article about the report in Newsweek

Massachusetts Institute of Technology rocket expert Ted Postol and two German experts, Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker of Schmucker Technologie, published their findings Friday in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a paper they titled “North Korea’s ‘Not Quite’ ICBM Can’t Hit the Lower 48 States.”….

Postol is professor of science, technology and national security policy at MIT who has advised the Pentagon and Congress on missile-related defense projects. Schiller and Schmucker are missile engineers with the Munich-based company who have previously analyzed North Korean missiles, and in 2012 determined that the country’s supposed ICBMs were “fakes.” Schiller has worked on missile analyses for NATO, the EU, the German and Austrian armed forces and other institutions in Europe. Schmucker has worked at NASA and served as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq.

Professor Theodore Postol is a top US rocket scientist who has in recent years emerged as a trenchant critic of some of the claims made in the US and elsewhere of certain chemical weapons incidents, especially during the war in Syria, notably the chemical weapons attack on east Ghouta in Syria in August 2013 and the alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria in April 2017.

I have discussed Professor Postol’s criticisms of the scenario claimed by the US government for the Khan Sheikhoun attack at length here.

In discussing the North Korean missile programme Postol as a rocket scientist is in his element as are his two co-authors, Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker.  This report should therefore be treated as more authoritative than any other report or comment which has appeared in public about the North Korean missile programme to date.

Postol and his two co-authors say that the Hwasong-14 missile does not have the range to reach the continental US carrying the sort of nuclear warhead the North Koreans are likely to have.  They also say that the way the two launches of the Hwasong-14 were carried out was deliberately intended to convey a misleading impression that the missile has a greater range with a nuclear warhead than it actually does.

Postol and his two co-authors also describe the Hwasong-14 not as an entirely indigenous North Korean product, but rather as a skilful and very well worked out lash-up of former Soviet rocket engines that the North Koreans have somehow managed to get hold of after the USSR broke up.

The source of the most important and powerful of these rocket engines is identified as a manufacturing plant in Ukraine, though Postol and his co-authors do not say that it was Ukraine which supplied North Korea with these rocket engines.

Turning first to the capabilities and specifically the range of the Hwasong-14, this is what Postol and his co-authors have to say about it

On July 3, 2017, while Americans were preparing for the 241st celebration of the Declaration of Independence, a lone rocket rose from North Korea on a near-vertical trajectory. After five to six minutes of powered flight, the second stage of the missile shut down and coasted to an altitude of about 2,720 kilometers. It then fell back to Earth, reentering the atmosphere above the Sea of Japan some 900 kilometers to the east of where it had launched. The rocket’s upper stage coasted in freefall for about 32 minutes, and the overall time-of-flight, from launch to atmospheric reentry, was about 37 minutes. The launch occurred at 8:39 p.m., United States’ Eastern time. Within hours, the news of the launch was trumpeted by the US mainstream press: North Korea had flown an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a missile that could carry nuclear warheads to Anchorage, Alaska, and to the continental United States as well!

But the Western press apparently did not know one crucial fact: The rocket carried a reduced payload and, therefore, was able to reach a much higher altitude than would have been possible if it had instead carried the weight associated with the type of first-generation atomic bomb North Korea might possess. Experts quoted by the press apparently assumed that the rocket had carried a payload large enough to simulate the weight of such an atomic bomb, in the process incorrectly assigning a near-ICBM status to a rocket that was in reality far less capable.

Only three and a half weeks later, on July 28, there was a second launch of the same type of missile, this time at night, Korean time. The rocket flew approximately the same powered flight trajectory that it had on July 3 (or July 4 in North Korea), this time, however, reaching a higher altitude—a reported 3,725 kilometers. This longer flight path led to yet more unwarranted conclusions that the continental United States was now directly under threat of nuclear attack by North Korea. Actually, however, in this second case, by our calculations, the second stage of the so-called ICBM carried an even smaller payload and tumbled into the atmosphere at night over the Sea of Japan. The spectacular night-reentry of the rocket—what was almost certainly the heavy front-end of the nearly empty upper stage—created an impressive meteoric display that some experts mistook for the breakup of a failed warhead reentry vehicle.

From the point of view of North Korean political leadership, the general reaction to the July 4 and July 28 launches could not have been better. The world suddenly believed that the North Koreans had an ICBM that could reach the West Coast of the United States and beyond. But calculations we have made—based on detailed study of the type and size of the rocket motors used, the flight times of the stages of the rockets, the propellant likely used, and other technical factors—indicate that these rockets actually carried very small payloads that were nowhere near the weight of a nuclear warhead of the type North Korea could have, or could eventually have. These small payloads allowed the rockets to be lofted to far higher altitudes than they would have if loaded with a much-heavier warhead, creating the impression that North Korea was on the cusp of achieving ICBM capability.

In reality, the North Korean rocket fired twice last month—the Hwasong-14—is a “sub-level” ICBM that will not be able to deliver nuclear warheads to the continental United States. Our analysis shows that the current variant of the Hwasong-14 may not even be capable of delivering a first-generation nuclear warhead to Anchorage, Alaska, although such a possibility cannot be categorically ruled out. But even if North Korea is now capable of fabricating a relatively light-weight, “miniaturized” atomic bomb that can survive the extreme reentry environments of long-range rocket delivery, it will, with certainty, not be able to deliver such an atomic bomb to the lower 48 states of the United States with the rocket tested on July 3 and July 28.

The report is able to arrive at the firm conclusion that the missile carried during both its launches a very light payload by comparing the known parameters of the missile drawn from open sources (specifically its size and layout) and from what is known of the rocket engines which it uses – which it turns out is substantial – with the missile’s actual performance during the two tests.

Here is what the report says about the size, layout and performance of the Hwasong-14 missile

Like any missile system, the actual lifting and range capability of the Hwasong-14 depends on many technical details. Among these are the type of fuel burned by the missile, the efficiency of its rocket motors, the total amount of propellant carried in each stage, the weight of the missile’s airframe, and the weight of different components, including rocket motors, plumbing, guidance and control systems, and the like.

In the case of the Hwasong-14, almost all of the critical parameters that ultimately determine the rocket’s ability to carry a payload-weight to a given range can be deduced from photographs, videos of its initial powered flight, engineering knowledge of rocket systems, and specific other engineering information that can be determined by other observations of the missile and its motor components.

For example, the performance characteristics of the main rocket motor that powers the first stage are well known. This is in part because the rocket motor has been unambiguously identified as derived from components of a well-known family of Russian rocket motors. The type of propellant used by this family of motors is also known—unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (NTO), a highly energetic propellant combination used extensively in Russian rocket systems.

The dimensions of the Hwasong-14 are readily determined from photographs of the missile and its length, as measured relative to the known length of the Chinese-made vehicle that carries it. Since the density of the propellant is known, and the dimensions of the rocket stages and the functions of the different sections of the rocket stages are easily identified, very good estimates of the weights of the stages, airframes and rocket motors can be deduced from simple volumetric analysis and knowledge of design features. Although many of the refined details of the rocket may not be known, the general information of the type described above provides quite good estimates of how well the rocket will perform.

These data lead to an overall weight estimate of roughly 37 metric tons for the Hwasong-14. The known characteristics of the main first-stage rocket motor, and the observed rate of acceleration of the rocket at launch, result in a highly constrained check on the missile model we created to estimate its overall range and payload performance.

One critical parameter of the Hwasong-14 is not yet known with certainty: the exact powered flight time of the second stage. This parameter is an important factor in determining the overall performance of the Hwasong-14, due to a phenomenon known among rocket engineers as “gravitational losses” during powered flight. To perhaps oversimplify the physics involved, the longer the rocket motor burns against the gravitational pull of the Earth, the less efficiently it accelerates its payload to a final speed. But two articles in The Diplomat magazine have included flight times for the second stages of the rockets that North Korea launched in July. Two independent sources have confirmed those times to us as accurate.

And here is what the report says about the performance of the missile during the two tests and the conclusions which can be drawn from this based on what is known about its dimensions, layout and engines

In each of the two North Korean tests in July, the rockets were fired on a trajectory that sent them to high altitudes; on these trajectories, the rockets travelled relatively short horizontal distances. But after the tests, analysts projected the maximum range the rockets could have traveled by assuming that they could have been placed on trajectories that would result in a maximum achievable range, rather than a maximum achievable altitude. For example, the 2,720-kilometer altitude achieved by the July 3 rocket was determined by its burnout speed. If it is assumed that the rocket could achieve roughly the same burnout speed on a trajectory that is shaped for maximum range, it would be sufficient to carry the payload to Anchorage, Alaska.

In the case of the July 28 test, the same rocket achieved a higher burnout speed and a higher altitude—about 3,725 kilometers. If it were again assumed that the rocket’s trajectory is shaped for maximum range instead of maximum altitude, the new higher burnout speed would be able to carry the payload to Seattle, Washington.

Figure 1 below shows the trajectories flown on July 4 and July 28 that were misinterpreted as tests of a North Korean rocket capable of delivering atomic bombs to the continental United States.

Figure 1. The highly lofted rocket trajectories for the burnout speeds achieved in the July 4 and the July 28 tests are shown on the left side of the figure. The center and right side of the figure show alternative rocket trajectories that could instead have been flown with loft angles optimized for maximum range instead of for maximum altitude.

One question is not answered by this basic kinematic study of the July 4 and July 28 tests: How did the rocket achieve its burnout speed? That’s to say, what kind of rocket motors did it need to achieve the resulting burnout speed, what was the rocket’s launch weight, and most, important, what was the payload-weight carried by the rocket?

Figure 2 shows a summary of our estimates of the range versus the weight of atomic bomb that might be carried by a Hwasong-14 missile, derived from our technical analysis of the Hwasong-14’s weight and propulsive capabilities and the likely weight of a North Korean nuclear warhead.

Figure 2.

The analysis results summarized in the graph are for two different “designs” of the Hwasong-14.

The first design uses published information about the powered flight time of the second stages of the rockets and is reflected by the red curves in Figure 2. Those two curves correspond to reported second-stage flight times of 224 and 233 seconds for the two rocket tests. We have received two independent confirmations of these published flight times from sources that we believe to be reliable. As those curves show, if the North Koreans have achieved the capability of creating a missile warhead as light-weight as those used by the Chinese and Pakistani militaries—no small feat for a country with means as limited as North Korea’s—the two missiles fired in July could carry that missile roughly 6,000 kilometers, approximately the distance to Anchorage, Alaska. The missiles simply could not carry such a warhead to the lower 48 states.

The second design—reflected by the blue curves in Figure 2—assumes that the North Koreans actually use more efficient rocket motors than are indicated by the information published in major media about the powered flight trajectory of the second upper stage. In this second design, we assumed that the rocket’s upper stage would be powered by rocket motors similar to those with characteristics demonstrated in the top stages of the North Korean Unha-3 and the Iranian Safir Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). We believe North Korea is capable of building such a variant of the Hwasong-14, and that variant could have the capability to deliver a first-generation weaponized North Korean atomic bomb to Anchorage, Alaska, and slightly beyond.

But neither variant of the Hwasong-14 we have studied could carry a first-generation weaponized North Korean atomic bomb to any part of the continental United States beyond Alaska.

The report engages in an extensive discussion of the likely weight of the sort of nuclear warhead that North Korea might be likely to have.

Its conclusion based on information drawn from the Chinese and Pakistani nuclear programmes and from information provided by the North Koreans themselves are that a current North Korean nuclear warhead is unlikely to weigh less than 500 kg.

On that assumption the authors conclude that the Hwasong-14 cannot reach the continental US with a nuclear warhead of the weight North Korea is likely to have, and would not be able to reach most of the continental US even if North Korea were to develop a nuclear warhead with a lighter weight, which however they think unlikely in the short term.

In passing I should say that this assessment of the limited range of the Hwasong-14 missile accords with what the Russians are saying about the missile.  They dispute some of the claims made about the alleged performance of the missile during its two test flights.  They say that the Hwasong-14 is an intermediate range missile, not an intercontinental ballistic missile.

It is possible that one reason why the Russians have been able to come to a more accurate assessment of the Hwasong-14’s capabilities than have other observers is because the Russians are very familiar with its engines.

It turns out that these are not engines designed and built in North Korea but old Soviet rocket engines which the North Koreans have managed to get hold and have skilfully modified to build the Hwasong-14.

This leads into what is perhaps the most interesting part the report, which identifies the Soviet rocket engines the Hwasong-14 uses, and which discusses its capabilities.

Careful examination shows that the first stage of the Hwasong-14 is powered by a large single rocket motor supported by 4 small “vernier” motors that are used to change the direction of the rocket during powered flight and to maintain its vertical stability during its initial lift-off and vertical acceleration. North Korea has also released videos of tests of the Hwasong-14 rocket motor (shown firing on a test stand in Figure 4).

Figure 3.

We have identified this rocket motor as a being derived from a family of Russian rocket motors known as the RD-250 or RD-251. The original motors used six thrust chambers fed by three turbo pumps to together generate roughly about 240 tons (about 530,000 pounds) of lift.

The North Koreans probably obtained this motor and many others as part of a vast shipment of rocket components to North Korea that occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the simultaneous disintegration of the national economy and political system of the Soviet Union. Until recently, almost all of the liquid-propellant motors seen in North Korea’s rockets could be traced back to the Makayev Institute, a vast and highly capable organization that was responsible for the design of all types of Soviet ballistic missiles. Because of the prominent role of Makayev in Soviet ballistic missile production, this institute would have had large numbers of rocket motors in storage that were used to build various models of SCUDs and the SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile (aka R-27) used on Russian Yankee class submarines.

The newest Russian rocket motor we have identified in the North Korean arsenal, derived from the RD-250/251 and used in the Hwasong-14, is not from the Makayev Institute, but from an entirely different major rocket motor manufacturer, NPO Energomash, which supported the OKB-456 Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. This rocket motor was associated with rocket and space launch vehicles produced in Ukraine. The presence of RD-250/251 rocket components in a new North Korean rocket raises new and potentially ominous questions about the variety and extent to which Soviet rocket motors might have been obtained by North Korea during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Figure 4.

The adaptation that North Korean engineers have worked, using components from the powerful RD 250/251 rocket motor, can be appreciated by examining Figure 5. The original RD 250/251 was a rocket motor that consisted of six thrust chambers, driven by three powerful turbo pumps. This rocket engine can be seen in the image on the left in figure 5.

Each of the three turbo pumps in the original rocket engine was nested between two thrust chambers, at a height below the combustion chamber and above the gas exhaust nozzle of each thrust chamber. This clever design made it possible to shorten the length of the rocket motor compartment and to reduce the overall length of the first stage of a rocket.

The image on the right in figure 5 is an enlargement taken from Figure 4, a photo of the Hwasong-14 rocket motor firing on a test stand. The outline of the motor’s thrust chamber is shown in a silhouette overlay and the location of the turbopump next to the single thrust chamber is shown to be exactly at the height of the turbopump in the RD 250/251 motor complex. It is clear that the final rocket motor mounted in the Hwasong-14 has this single powerful turbopump feeding propellant to both the main rocket motor and the four smaller vernier motors used to control the direction of the missile.

(bold italics added)

In other words media reports that North Korea is using imported Ukrainian rocket engines are almost certainly true.  The real question is not whether North Korea is using rocket engines that were built in Ukraine; it is when and how it got hold of these engines.

Postol and his co-authors wisely limit themselves to saying that this would have been after the USSR broke up, which is of course true.  They do not say that the North Koreans obtained rocket engines from Ukraine recently.  However that possibility cannot be excluded.

It seems North Korea did obtain old Soviet rocket engines from Egypt and the former USSR in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, and that these have been used in North Korean missiles for some time.

However some at least of the engines which are being used by the Hwasong-14 appear to be of a more powerful and more advanced design than the Soviet rocket engines the North Koreans have used previously, which may be a sign that they were obtained more recently.

It is important to stress that at the moment this is surmise.  The Russian government has said it cannot confirm that North Korean obtained rocket engines recently from Ukraine.  It is important not to jump conclusions, but the facts certainly suggest that an investigation is in order (see below).

Before discussing this, I would add that on the strength of what Professor Postol and his co-authors say in their report, it may not just have been just rocket engines that North Korea imported, but design skills as well

The design indicates a well-thought-out approach to a completely new missile that was not seen in public until the launch of the Hwasong-12, which was essentially a test aimed at proving the functionality of the first stage of the two-stage Hwasong-14. It is a remarkable achievement in itself that North Korea has been able to master the use of these components well enough to be able to adapt them to their special purposes.

To me this comment looks like a hint that the North Koreans have not only imported the rocket engines they used in the Hwasong-14, but that they have obtained help from scientists and engineers familiar with these engines.

If so then that once again points to Ukraine, though let me reiterate again that this is surmise not proof.

The report of Professor Postol and his co-authors explains some of the mysteries behind the sudden and unexpected appearance of the Hwasong-14.

Russian and Chinese rocket specialists had previously estimated that North Korea would not have a workable ICBM before 2040.

It seems that this assessment, which was based on the pace of North Korea’s indigenous ballistic missile programme, was factually true.

However the North Koreans have managed to shorten the time frame radically by somehow managing to import Soviet rocket engines and expertise from abroad, enabling them to produce far sooner than anyone expected the missile known as the Hwasong-14.

That presumably explains the truly remarkable fact that both Hwasong-14 launches were successful, something which is almost unprecedented in new rocket designs.

The reason for that is that in reality the Hwasong-14 is not properly speaking a new rocket design.  Rather it is an extrapolation of already mature and reliable rocket technology, put together with the help of a team of engineers and designers who may have been already fully familiar with the technology.

In a separate article Markus Schiller, one of the co-authors of the report, sets out the implications

The North Korean Missile Threat Is Largely a Bluff

  • North Korea has likely launched Soviet/Russian-made missiles (that are old but proven designs) to maximize the appearance of performance.
  • North Korea may never have tested missiles from its own production, and any such indigenous missiles cannot have noteworthy reliability or accuracy.
  • It cannot be ruled out that North Korea has nuclear warhead designs for its missiles, but without actual testing, the reliability of these warheads has to be assumed to be low.
  • The main purpose of the program seems to be political — to create the impression of a serious missile threat and thereby gain strategic leverage, fortify the North Korean regime’s domestic power, and deter other countries, particularly the Republic of Korea and the United States, from military action.

Recommendations

  • North Korea should be considered to possess no real long-range missile threat, but steps should be taken to defend against a conventional short-range threat.
  • Concerns about North Korea’s missile launches are overblown: Every launch further depletes the limited North Korean arsenals, and North Korea gains no real experience from these events. Since the purpose of the launches seems to be political, the United States and other nations should downplay or even ignore them.
  • A variety of avenues of investigation should be pursued to gain more information about the North Korean missile program

(bold italics added)

The overall conclusion of these studies can therefore be summed up by saying that the Hwasong-14 is not the culmination of a longstanding ballistic missile programme embarked on and pursued by North Korea over many years and as such represents only a limited threat to the US.

Rather the Hwasong-14 is essentially a propaganda weapon created by North Korea in order to convey the impression that it is now a major nuclear power.  In effect it is a demonstration missile using a finite number of ex-Soviet rocket engines North Korea has somehow managed to acquire, and which North Korea launches from time to time for demonstration effect.

However with every launch the stock of imported rocket engines used by the Hwasong-14 is depleted, so that North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile arsenal, far from getting bigger, is actually getting smaller.

This conclusion is not just surmise.  The co-authors of the report – Professor Postol, Markus Schiller and Robert Schmuker – are top experts in this field and they must be presumed to know what they are talking about.  Their study of the Hwasong-14 and their identification of the Soviet rocket engines it uses should be treated as definitive.

It is not in fact difficult to create a plausible scenario to explain all of this.

Whilst Kim Jong-il was North Korea’s Great Leader North Korea had a genuine ballistic missile programme albeit one which was initially based on reverse engineering of Soviet Scud missile technology imported in the 1980s from Egypt.

It was this programme which led to the Taepodong -2 missile and the Unha-3 space rocket, and whose steady incremental advance led Russian, Chinese and US scientists to assess that North Korea would not have a working ICBM capable of reaching the continental US before 2040.

However Kim Jong-il died in 2011 and was replaced by the young and impatient Kim Jong-un, who was not satisfied with the slow pace of this programme.

Possibly following the failure of the second Unha-3 launch test in April 2012, a decision was therefore made to put together in the shortest time possible a useable long range missile – if not an ICBM something which could be plausibly passed off as one – by importing expertise and rocket engines from abroad.

In April 2017 this bore fruit with the appearance of the Hwasong-12 during the “Day of the Sun” Parade in Pyongyang, and subsequently with the launches in July of the closely related Hwasong-14.

Meanwhile the main line of North Korean rocket development focused on the Taepodong-2 and the Unha-3 continues, albeit at a much slower and more incremental pace, with a fourth successful test launch of the Unha-3 in February 2016.

That it is Kim Jong-un who is the driving force behind the Hwasong-14 programme, and that it is his impatience and determination which has led to it, is strongly suggested by the extent to which he has publicly associated himself with it.

Here he is for example, clearly visible pacing impatiently near the Hwasong-14 and its associated Chinese built launch vehicle, in this video the North Koreans have published of the Hwasong-14’s first launch on 4th July 2017

Kim Jong-un can also be clearly seen closely examining the Hwasong-14 and its associated launch vehicle just before its first launch in the picture which accompanies this article.

This begs the question of the extent to which Kim Jong-un himself understands the nature of what the Hwasong-14 is – that it is a clever lash-up made up of old Soviet components rather than a fully indigenous North Korean design – and that contrary to North Korean boasts North Korea is not yet a fully capable nuclear power.

A plausible scenario might be that faced with urgent demands for an ICBM from their new young and hot-tempered Great Leader, the managers of the North Korean ballistic missile programme were too frightened to tell him that creating such an ICBM is beyond North Korea’s capabilities, and that they set out to appease him by cobbling together what they could pass off to him as an ICBM by getting foreign expertise and components to help them do it.

In that case the Hwasong-14 is first and foremost a bluff aimed at Kim Jong-un as it is a bluff aimed at the US.

The alternative scenario is that Kim Jong-un is fully informed about all aspects of the Hwasong-14 programme but nonetheless ordered the building of the Hwasong-14 using foreign expertise and technology even though doing so contradicts his grandfather’s Juche ideology, because he feels he needs to convey at least the impression that he has an ICBM so as to gain leverage over China and the US.

The extent to which Kim Jong-un knows the true position is crucial, since it largely determines what will happen next.  If he does not know the limitations of the Hwasong-14 but genuinely believes that he has an actual ICBM capability greater than the one he has, than there is a greater risk that he might overplay his hand, in much the same way that Saddam Hussein did in 1990 when he invaded Kuwait under the impression that his nuclear weapons programme was far more advanced than it actually was.

Unfortunately we simply do not have the information necessary to answer this question, but for what it’s worth my opinion is that Kim Jong-un – who has proved very surefooted over the last few months – knows exactly what is going on and what he is doing, and that points to his understanding fully what the Hwasong-14 is.

The second big question is from where North Korea could have obtained the rocket engines and possibly the expertise needed to build the Hwasong-14?

There is a strong circumstantial case that it was Ukraine because it is not obvious what other source it could have been.

If the North Koreans had been in possession of the more powerful rocket engines used in the Hwasong-14 earlier, then presumably they would have used them previously in some way.  That suggests that they acquired these rocket engines recently and not at the time the USSR broke up.

In that case, since it is hardly conceivable that they could have obtained these rocket engines from Russia – which not only does not build these rocket engines, but which carefully monitors what rocket technology it exports – the only plausible source for these engines does appear to be Ukraine.

Again it is possible to suggest a plausible scenario in which staff and engineers at Yuzhmash – the factory that builds rocket engines in Ukraine – becoming increasingly desperate as the factory’s orders dried up because of the conflict with Russia (Yuzhmash’s only serious customer), chose to sell their rocket engines and expertise to whatever other customers turned up without asking too many questions in order to stay in business.  Probably they did not realise that the North Koreans were the ultimate customers, because the North Koreans probably acted through a chain of middlemen and cutouts to conceal their identity.

Again it should be stressed that this is supposition rather than fact, though it is supposition which is based on fact given that the Hwasong-14 missile uses Ukrainian made rocket engines.

Certainly there is a case to look into.  Despite heated denials the Ukrainian authorities have apparently ordered an investigation, though given the political realities in Ukraine today one has to be skeptical how far that will go.

As previously reported by The Duran, US Defense Secretary General Mattis is due to visit Ukraine on 24th August 2017 in what looks like a hurriedly arranged visit for which no real explanation has been provided.

Could it be that the real reason for General Mattis going to Ukraine is that he intends to ask there some hard questions about the origin of the Ukrainian made engines used by the Hwasong-14?

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Simon
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Simon

Excellent article.
Worth repeating that on both launches Russia almost immediately announced they were intermediate range missiles not ICBMs. No one in the West paid any attention (as usual).
Russia has also stated, at a senior level, that NK has not miniaturised its nuclear weapons for delivery on missiles. No one is paying any attention to that either.

PS Loved the clip from North Korea and the music.

mikhas
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mikhas

What is totally ignored and omitted by the geniuses Mercouris and Postol is that N.K has submarines capable of reaching the US and the Pukkuksong-1 which is a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

richardstevenhack
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richardstevenhack

The probability that an NK sub can launch a nuclear missile is even less likely than the land-launched missiles, for obvious technical reasons. Even if they could, the target would necessarily be US carrier groups, not the US mainland, which would be suicidal for NK, especially if it were not already under attack by the US. I live in San Francisco. I’m not worried at all. The only possible threat is an NK sub planting a nuke off the coast of the US and creating a fall of radioactive water on a US city such as San Francisco. Even that… Read more »

John Mason
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John Mason

NK could strike your governments and command centres, if that will happen then all of the strike groups at see will be neutralized. Another possibility is if NK does strike US mainland then that would be an open invitation for rebel groups/governments throughout the planet where US bases are positions to be simultaneously attacked. Bingo! Death of the US.

John Mason
Guest
John Mason

Don’t see how they came to those cnclusions based on assumptions. Best is to leave NK alone.

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Here’s Where America’s Imported Oil Comes from: Venezuela Is Currently the 4th-Largest

Saudi Arabia used to be the top foreign source of oil imported into the US, but now it’s only a very weak second-place to Canada.

Eric Zuesse

Published

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Originally posted at strategic-culture.org:


At the present time, the latest month for which the US Department of Energy publishes the number of barrels per day (bpd) of oil that’s exported to the US is November 2018. Here are the rankings:

1. Canada        142,206 bpd

2. Saudi Arabia  30,028

3. Mexico        18,020

4. Venezuela     16,889

5. Iraq          11,767

6. Colombia      7,769

7. Russia        7,611

8. Ecuador       5,866

9. Nigeria       5,392

10. Algeria      4,848

11. UK           4,653

12. Norway       4,073

13. Kuwait       3,027

14. Brazil       2,777

15. Belgium      2,075

16. S. Korea     1,927

17. Netherlands  1,462

18. Egypt        1,405

19. UAE          1,771

20. China        1.268

21. France       1,239

22. Singapore    1,232

23. Indonesia    1,204

24. Argentina    1,101

25. Peru         1,061

26. Denmark      1,000

27. Brunei       961

28. Spain        846

29. Angola       833

Here were the top 10 for the entire year of 2015 as reported by Bloomberg Finance at Forbes. For comparison to today, the country’s sales and rank in November 2018 is also indicated [between brackets]”

1. Canada        3.2 million bpd  [1. Canada 142,206]

2. Saudi Arabia  1,1 [2. Saudi Arabia 30,028]

3. Venezuela     780,000 bpd [4. Venezuela 16,889]

4. Mexico        690,000 [3. Mexico 18,020]

5. Colombia      370,000 [6. Colombia 7,769]

6. Iraq          230,000 [5. Iraq 11,767]

7. Ecuador       225,000 [8. Ecuador 5,866]

8. Kuwait        210,000 [13. Kuwait 3,027]

9. Brazil        190,000 [14. Brazil 2,777]

10. Angola       190,000 [29. Angola, 833]

Clearly, the figures change over time. Whereas Angola was #10 in 2015, it’s #29 now; and whereas Russia, Nigeria, and Algeria, weren’t in the top 10 in 2015, they now are.

US President Donald Trump is bringing down the latest Venezuelan monthly number from 16,889 to close to zero. On 25 August 2017, Reuters headlined two stories, “Trump slaps sanctions on Venezuela; Maduro sees effort to force default” and “Venezuela says US sanctions designed to push Venezuela to default”. The first of those reported that, “US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that prohibits dealings in new debt from the Venezuelan government or its state oil company on Friday in an effort to halt financing that the White House said fuels President Nicolas Maduro’s ‘dictatorship’.” The second reported that Venezuela’s Government daid that Trump’s action “essentially forces the closure of its US refining unit Citgo,” which means bringing an end to Venezuela’s oil exports to the US

Venezuela’s socialized oil company, PDVSA, of which Citgo is the US distributor, had never prepared for the measures that Trump is now imposing, and Reuters’s report said, “As a result, it will be it tricky for PDVSA to refinance its heavy debt burden.” The Reuters report continued:

“Maduro may no longer take advantage of the American financial system to facilitate the wholesale looting of the Venezuelan economy at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday.

PDVSA, the financial engine of Maduro’s government, is already struggling due to low global oil prices, mismanagement, allegations of corruption and a brain drain.

However, the likely failure of Venzuela’s oil company is due not only to the lowered price of oil, but to the fact that Venezuela’s oil is among the two costliest in the world to produce, because it’s from the dirtiest source, tar sands, much like Canada’s oil is. The difference between Canada and Venezuela is twofold: first, that whereas Canada is a vassal-state of the US empire and so its aristocracy is allied with America’s aristocracy (which controls America’s Government), Venezuela isn’t. And, second, that whereas Venezuela has a monoeconomy that’s based on oil (which accounts for around 95% of Venezuela’s exports), Canada does not.

Saudi Arabia used to be the top foreign source of oil imported into the US, but now it’s only a very weak second-place to Canada in this, exporting only 21% as much oil to the US as does Canada. This is a huge decline for the Sauds.

Whereas Saudi oil is the world’s most “light” or cleanest and least-costly to produce and therefore has the lowest “carbon footprint” of any oil, Canada and Venezuela have the most “heavy” or dirtiest and most-costly to produce and therefore have the highest “carbon footprint” of all the world’s oils.

(NOTE: There are many different ranking-systems for the ‘average’ cost per barrel of oil produced, such as this and this and these, but all tend to vastly underestimate in order to continue the case for fossil fuels. The BBC once noted that its calculation-system “only covers the cost of production, not the cost of exploration and development.” And it also ignored the cost of transit. It also ignored environmental costs. It also ignored the costs to taxpayers for the many subsidies they pay in order for the fossil-fuels investors to continue investing in those companies. The environmental site “The Energy Mix” headlined in April 2018, “Ditched Bitumen Desperately Seeks True Commitment” and reported that fewer and fewer investors were continuing to trust the industry’s reported numbers regarding the costs of tar-sands oils. Also, on 11 February 2019, they headlined “Trans Mountain’s Fee Plan for Fossil Customers Represents $2-Billion Taxpayer Subsidy”. But, mostly, the heavy taxpayer subsidizations to the fossil-fuels industries are ignored, both by consumers and by investors. Realistically, the tar-sands oils in both Canada and Venezuela are costing far more than any per-barrel oil price that’s below $100. They are money-losers, but bring lots of money to the ‘right’ people.)

So: the US is replacing the world’s cleanest oil with the world’s filthiest oil, and that’s not only from Canada but also from Venezuela. However, because the US aristocracy want to take over Venezuela, the US Government now is set to zero-out oil imports from Venezuela, so as to increase the pressure on Venezuela’s Government to place in charge there a leader who will do America’s bidding. Canada has been working right alongside the US to achieve that objective, and will probably be supplying to the US much (if not all) of the 16,889 bpd oil that currently has been supplied by the other producer of very dirty oil: Venezuela. The US produces fracked oil, which is dirty but not as dirty as that from Canada and Venezuela. The US, Canada, and Venezuela, have been committed to ignoring the global warming problem. To the extent that the problem becomes globally recognized, the oil-production in all three of those countries will decline in its marketable price even more than will the oil-production in other countries (especially than Saudi Arabia’s oil-production, since that’s the cleanest); and, so, the profits from those dirty oils will quickly (especially for Canada and Venezuela, where it has already happened) turn into losses. All three governments — Venezuela, Canada, and US — are trying to postpone that, till as late a time as possible.

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While Pompeo Pouts In Poland, Putin Pushes Peace In Syria

In the end, the Neocons in D.C. and Tel Aviv are showing real desperation in summoning everyone to Poland while having almost no support for the intended policy, war with Iran.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


If there was ever a Valentine’s Day which highlight the stark differences to diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia it is this one.

In Warsaw, the U.S. cajoled some sixty countries, many of them Arab, to send representatives only to be scolded like schoolchildren by Vice President Mike Pence for undermining the drive for war with Iran.

Mike Pompeo, for his part, showed no signs of shame or remorse after his public rebuke by Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

Szijjarto retorted to Pompeo’s lecturing that “the world is not going to be a better place if some countries spend their time intervening in the internal political affairs of other countries.” He insisted that Budapest can have transparent relations with Moscow and Beijing and the West, and said it was an “enormous hypocrisy” that Hungary is singled out for its ties with Moscow.

He then went to Poland with the intention of whipping up support for a war with Iran. But not to actually call it that. Until Benjamin Netanyahu arrived with fever dreams on his lips.

As Moon of Alabama pointed out, this was a huge slap for Pompeo, whose staff kept trying to downplay the anti-Iran nature of the Poland fiasco to make it more palatable for media consumption.

By claiming that the conference is about waging war on Iran Netanyahoo is not only embarrassing the State Department and Secretary Mike Pompeo. He also makes it extremely difficult for other attendees to justify their presence. The Arabs will be especially furious that they are shown in such an open alliance with Israel and its hostility against Iran. Scheming with Israel in the dark is fine. But being publicly associated with a war mongering Israel is difficult to sell to their people. It would be unsurprising to see some of them leave.

The entire Warsaw meeting was designed to impress upon everyone how seriously they should take U.S. and Israeli desires for regime change in Iran. And how committed they are to keeping everyone in the fold on all matters pertaining to the Trump administration’s hostility towards Iran, Russia, and China.

This is part of a wider set of actions, taken broadly, designed to hit the headlines all at the same time:

  • U.S. is openly pushing for regime change in Venezuela and drumming up international support for it.
  • It is also urging EU Parliamentarians to push through new pipeline rules as part of changes to the EU’s Third Energy Package to try and stop the Nordstream 2 pipeline from being completed.
  • New sanctions were placed on Russia a few days after Moody’s had to accede to reality and upgrade Russian government debt to investment grade, which will only accelerate foreign capital inflows into Russia.

Pompeo and Netanyahu were putting the world on notice that they are not only 1) insane but 2) committed to their path to braying for war While, as Elijah Magnier points out, the entire dog and pony show in Warsawa was for Netanyahu’s re-election bid amidst cabinet resignations and corruption scandals.

At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts in Sochi to discuss the next phase of bringing peace to Syria.

These three countries continue moving the ball forward pragmatically and diplomatically to resolve the issues left by the U.S.’s insistence on staying in Syria.

Putin, with the iron fist firmly in his velvet glove, said two things that are important in his post-meeting remarks .

The first will give the frothing red-baiting, Trump-hating buffoons in the U.S. media and foreign policy establishments a fit of the vapors.

“President Trump is quite actively working on fulfilling his election campaign promises, which in practice rarely happens in the US political life. The withdrawal of the American troops from Syria was one of those promises,” Putin said.

Think of the thirteen different ways Rachel Maddow will spin this simple statement of truth by Putin. He’s got the goods on Trump. Putin wouldn’t say this if Trump were working for the U.S. Yadda Yadda Yadda.

This type of naked stupidity used to be frowned upon now it is openly encouraged at every level of the U.S. and European narrative machines.

But regardless of that, Putin is right to encourage Trump to fulfill that campaign promise because that is the quickest path to peace in Syria, a U.S. troop withdrawal.

Putin continued, “If that happens the only right decision in terms of security would be handing over those territories under the control of the Syrian armed forces.”

And that is his way of saying that he has control of Turkish President Erdogan and will not let the Syrian Kurds be attacked. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not make reconciliation between his government and the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Council easy. But it will be better than anything Erdogan would offer them.

But, then again, they lost their gambit for independence the day Barzani’s Peshmerga forces were destroyed in Erbil, Iraq last year by the Iraqi militia known as the Popular Mobilization Unit.

Erdogan’s biggest worry is the U.S. leaving the Kurds weapons after leaving to be a constant annoyance on Turkey’s border. That’s the Bolton way of doing things.

Putin also stressed that Erdogan’s pet terrorists in Idlib province are to be wiped out as part of the plan to stabilize Syria. These are all wins for Syria diplomatically, establishing Turkey as Russia’s subordinate in the power structure to reshape the Middle East.

The fact that Erdogan was not in Warsaw with his NATO allies but rather at a high level summit with the Russian and Iranian presidents tells you all you need to know about where he feels his future lies.

Then again, I’ve taken for granted that Erdogan is still a NATO member in name only for a couple of years now, so I wasn’t surprised by this.

Lastly, don’t overlook the Saudi’s offer to Putin recently about creating a new OPEC+ cartel with Russia and Saudi Arabia leading it. Trump’s own plans for Middle East peace rest on the Saudis keeping the rest of the Gulf States in line, which is why there was nothing on the agenda about ending the conflict in Yemen.

In the end, the Neocons in D.C. and Tel Aviv are showing real desperation in summoning everyone to Poland while having almost no support for the intended policy, war with Iran.

You can only hold onto people for so long through fear of retribution. Eventually, they realize you can’t attack everyone at once all the time, though Trump and company are certainly willing to give it the old college try.

As each instance of disobedience occurs and punishment is ineffective – Erdogan is still in power despite a coup attempt and a currency attack, for example – the bolder allies will become in their own defiance.


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Deep State coup d’état against Trump confirmed by Andrew McCabe

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 84.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at Andrew McCabe’s 60 minute interview, where the disgraced FBI Deputy Director admitted that DOJ officials were considering the removal of President-elect Donald Trump from office in a brazen coup attempt, by invoking the 25th amendment.

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Via RT


President Trump has lashed out at former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, after McCabe said he investigated Trump out of concern the case might “vanish.” McCabe also revealed Justice Department plans to remove Trump from office.

“Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Trump savaged McCabe for his handling of the ‘Russiagate’ investigation, branded a “witch hunt” by the president. A report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General last year found that the FBI acted improperly during the investigation. McCabe, according to text messages examined by the IG, discussed developing an “insurance policy” against Trump with two other FBI employees in 2016.

Trump described the message at the time as “treason,” and said it laid bare an FBI plot to work against him once elected.

The president also accused McCabe of giving “Hillary a pass,” after the agency cleared Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing in its investigation into her email misuse, overseen by McCabe.

In her 2015 campaign for Virginia’s state Senate, McCabe’s wife Jill had taken donations from Terry McAuliffe, a prominent Virginia Democrat “with long-standing ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton.” McCabe allegedly leaked information to the press about an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation, to deflect attention from his own ties with the Clinton family and push back against the narrative that he was therefore impartial.

Although referencing old events, Trump’s latest attack on McCabe comes as the former FBI #2 embarks on a tour to promote his new book. Titled ‘The Threat,’ the book is a passionate paean to the three-letter agency and a diatribe against Trump.

In an interview with CBS, McCabe said Trump’s firing of then-FBI Director James Comey in 2017 prompted McCabe to open an investigation into Trump as quickly as possible.

“I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion,” McCabe told CBS’ Scott Pelley, in an interview due to air on Sunday. “That were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.”

McCabe did not explain the agency’s rationale for opening the investigation, beyond unsubstantiated rumors of “collusion.” He did not present any new evidence to back up the oft-repeated but still-unproven accusation.

Wearing a wire
Instead, Trump himself seemed to be the problem. Pelley said that McCabe described panic at FBI headquarters after Comey’s firing, as “the highest levels of American law enforcement were trying to figure out what to do with the president.”

Among the ideas circulated was that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would wear a wire to surreptitiously record the president, gathering evidence that he was unfit for office, and triggering his eventual removal under the 25th Amendment. The New York Times reported this plan last year, citing an anonymous cabinet member, but Rosenstein dismissed the story as false.

Now, McCabe told Pelley that the plan was real. Rosenstein came up with the idea himself, and “it was so serious that he took it to the lawyers at the FBI to discuss it,” Pelley said.

McCabe’s investigation was handed over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller eight days after Comey’s firing and has been ongoing since. Over a year later, the investigation has not found any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and is reportedly close to wrapping up.

McCabe himself was fired by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions last March, after the Inspector General’s report concluded he lied to FBI agents about his disclosures to the press regarding the Clinton Foundation investigation.

 

 

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