(CNN)North Korea just intimated that it may test a nuclear weapon somewhere above the Pacific Ocean.
Can they do it?
How would they do it?
Will they do it?
What if they do it?
Where in the Pacific would North Korea test a hydrogen bomb?
The rhetoric has taken a sharp turn in recent days between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.
Countries in the Pacific region near to North Korea are on high alert after Pyongyang warned it was considering a huge nuclear test somewhere in the area.
After a fierce war of words between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, the hermit nation brushed off any threat of sanctions and military action with the announcement they are considering testing “an unprecedented scale hydrogen bomb”.
It is unknown if North Korea possesses the technology to back up their threats, but recent missile and nuclear tests suggest they are moving closer to being able to successfully place an atomic weapon onboard an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the British Armed Forces Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment, told IBTimes UK Pyongyang’s latest plans are the “logical next step” for a regime intent on flexing its military muscle.
For many years the North Koreans oversaw unreliable missile tests. The country’s sudden recent successes have caught the world off-guard. “The worrying thing is that they seem to be a couple years ahead of where we thought they were,” Bretton-Gordon said.
Kim Jong-un, in a rare personal statement on Friday 22 September, said: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire. Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wanted to say.”
This came just days after Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued with its nuclear weapons development.
If an H-bomb is tested in the Pacific, a nervous world will be watching very closely. “If it works, and it is reasonable to assume that they can place an atomic bomb onto a missile, then a red line will have to be drawn, particularly if it is a hydrogen bomb,” Bretton-Gordon said.
Any test would be illegal under international law. If a test was carried out, it would almost certainly be happen over a patch of international waters and at little or short notice.
It would give North Korea’s opponents little opportunity to intercept or prevent the ICBM, unless the missile was aimed at waters or land around Japan, Guam or the mainland US, all stated targets of the regime.
Asked what Pyongyang crossing the red line could mean, Bretton-Gordon said the most likely response from the Trump administration would be a “full military option”.
But he warned the consequences of this would be “horrific” and must be “avoided at all costs”. Crucially, North Korea, with its history of unreliable military tests, would have to prove that the doomsday technology it possesses actually works.
“If it goes wrong, then the world will be able to see where he is in terms of his nuclear capabilities,” he said.
All you need to know about North Korea’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal
Recent missile launches and nuclear tests from North Korea have put the world on edge.
But as always there are more questions than answers from about this pariah state, creating an unknown threat to the planet.
The H14 or Hwasong-14 is North Korea’s most powerful inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).
After a test in July, state media in Pyongyang reported the missile had flown 580 miles and reached a peak altitude of 1,741 miles.
Some experts believe this missile could easily reach the US mainland, placing cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles at risk.
The ICBM is made up of various components. The base includes the engine, which helps boost it into the atmosphere. The tip, protected by a shroud, is where the warhead is housed.
North Korea’s capabilities took many nations by shock, but questions have been raised over their reliability.
How does it compare to previous nuclear attacks?
The reliability issues have often come down to whether North Korea can successfully miniaturise a nuclear warhead into an ICBM and launch it.
But with the country claiming to have got over those hurdles, concerns have been raised about the power of their nuclear warheads.
The most recent test is estimated to have been around 120 kilotons (kt).
To put that into scale, the nuclear bombs that were dropped onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki measured in at 15kt and 20kt respectively.
How long has North Korea been developing weapons for?
The military in North Korea has developed their weapons over the past 30 years.
Their very first missile test came in 1984. Since then, dozens of missiles have been launched from North Korea.
The bulk of these have been tested in the past 12 months, showing a sharp escalation in their development programme.
Their nuclear weapons development, which began in 2006, has seen a similar increase in power. When the testing began, their nuclear weapons power reached just 0.5KT, significantly lower than the 120KT that was revealed last week.
How far can their missiles go?
The range of the North Korean military has often been questioned. Early missile tests had a range that was no further than a few hundred miles, barely leaving the Korean peninsula.
But the most recent tests had rapidly expanded their target range.
The H14 has a range of up to 6,200 miles, which would enable it to reach the US mainland, Canada and all of the Australasian continental region.
The H08 has a greater range of 7,200 miles and could in theory reach the east of the United States.
However, the reliability and technical difficulties that have dogged Pyongyang means that the further the missiles can go has an impact on the power that is packed inside it.
What about the rest of their military?
Overall, the full arsenal that North Korea has is unknown. But it is thought many parts of their armed forced have weapons and machinery is from the Soviet era.
These outdated weapons, tanks and missiles are the reason it has taken so long for North Korea to reach its current stage.
The US spends around $600bn every year on the military, compared to the $6bn budget Pyongyang has.