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Here’s what the experts think are the true capabilities of the North Korean military
Experts assess the strengths and weaknesses of the North Korean military in a potential conflict.
In his New Year’s address, the leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un cautioned the United States yet again that his country is ready for a nuclear war. “The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat,” said Kim. He added a New Year’s resolution of sorts that in 2018, North Korea will be mass-producing more nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, to “be used only if our society is threatened.”
While bellicose rhetoric is nothing new in the relations between the two countries, there are credible warnings from observers of the situation that a war with North Korea could actually break out. So what do the experts think are the rogue nation’s true military capabilities?
Although it tested 18 missiles, including what seemed like an ICBM, as well as conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in 2017, there are some questions about the extent of North Korea's achievements. It's not certain, for example, what kind of nuclear payload the ICMB can carry or if it can survive reentry. Still the country’s military might should not be underestimated, says Dr. Koh Yu Whan, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
“Even though the ICBM technology may be somewhat incomplete, Kim is asserting that because he has a nuclear deterrent, the U.S. should not make military threats but engage with North Korea towards peaceful co-existence," said Dr. Whan.
This December 12, 2017 picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 13, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (2nd L) awarding scientists in the field of national defence for their success in the Hwasong-15 ICBM test launch, in Pyongyang.
Eleanor Albert from the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in her assessment of the North Korean military that the country’s nuclear weaponry includes somewhere between 15 and 60 bombs, depending on whom you ask. The U.S. intelligence believes in the higher number.
North Korea’s most formidable threat to America could consist of a nuclear warhead carried by its new Hwasong-15 ICBM. In a November 2017 test, the missile hit an altitude of 4,475 kilometers (2,780 miles) and flew 1,000 kilometers (590 miles), as was reported by North Korea. The Hwasong-15’s potential range is 13,000 kilometers (8,100 miles), according to estimates by analysts. That means it could reach anywhere on the U.S. mainland.
This photo taken on November 29, 2017 and released on November 30, 2017 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows people in Pyongyang celebrating the test of a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The only major questions remaining about these missiles, say observers is that they may have older and unreliable navigation, still from the Soviet Union days. There have been recent defectors, however, who reported that the country has started to use a newer GPS guidance system, so it’s possible the missiles are getting more accurate as well.
The nuclear test carried out by the regime in September 2017 was possibly its largest yet, with the yield of the bomb put at up to 100 kilotons. This can also indicate the country developed a hydrogen bomb. By comparison, the bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima had a yield of 16 kilotons.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with North Korea’s ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies.
Other formidable military capabilities by North Korea may include an an arsenal of 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons that include sarin, mustard gas and nerve agents. These can be fired from shells, rockets or missiles and the Korean People Army conducts training to prepare for fighting in a contaminated area.
The country might also have some biological weaponry, able to produce anthrax and smallpox.
As far as its manpower, North Korea has the world’s fourth largest military in the world with more 1.1. million active personnel and another 600,000 in reserve. All citizens are required to serve in its army.
The U.S. has about 1.3 million active troops, with 865,000 in reserve.
A 2016 report by the South Korean Ministry of National Defense estimated that the North Korean air force consists of 1,300 aircraft. It also has about 5,500 multiple-rocket launchers, 4,300 tanks, 2,500 armored vehicle, 430 combatant vessels, 250 amphibious vessels and 70 submarines.
By comparison, accordion to the Global Firepower index for 2017, the U.S. has about 6,000 tanks and 13,000 aircraft.
Korean People's Army (KPA) tanks are displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. (Photo credit: ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korea also has strong cyberattack capabilities, known to have made bold attacks on South Korean banks, Sony Pictures, and even stealing $81 million from a Bangladeshi bank account at the Federal Reserve in 2016.
Another, perhaps more fantastical, military threat from North Korea may include a nuclear EMP attack - a warning voiced recently by military intelligence experts before a Congressional panel.
No overview of North Korean military might would be complete without mentioning its guiding principles of juche (self-reliance) and songun (politics that places the military first), writes Eleanor Albert. The military plays a major role in politics and the country’s leader Kim Jong-un sees nuclear weapons as essential to the survival of his regime.
While it appears that North Korea is truly a country built for war, most analysts would not dare say that the United States cannot soundly and quickly defeat it. America has the world’s most powerful and most modern military. But the costs could be unbearable. It is estimated a war with North korea would claim the lives of 20,000 per day in South Korea, even before the use of nuclear weapons, which are likely to be turned towards the U.S.
People watch a television news screen showing pictures of US President Donald Trump (C) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) at a railway station in Seoul on November 29, 2017. (Photo credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
And how quickly will they reach for nuclear weapons? Daniel Pinkston, a defense strategy expert in South Korea, thinks since North Korea would not be able to sustain a protracted conventional war against the U.S., it would opt for the nuclear option early.
Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.
Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?
Some scientists have studied near death experiences (NDEs) to try to gain insights into how death overcomes the brain. What they've found is remarkable, a surge of electricity enters the brain moments before brain death. One 2013 study out of the University of Michigan, which examined electrical signals inside the heads of rats, found they entered a hyper-alert state just before death.
Scientists are beginning to think an NDE is caused by reduced blood flow, coupled with abnormal electrical behavior inside the brain. So the stereotypical tunnel of white light might derive from a surge in neural activity. Dr. Sam Parnia is the director of critical care and resuscitation research, at NYU Langone School of Medicine, in New York City. He and colleagues are investigating exactly how the brain dies.
Our cerebral cortex is likely active 2–20 seconds after cardiac arrest. Credit: Getty Images.
In previous work, he's conducted animal studies looking at the moments before and after death. He's also investigated near death experiences. “Many times, those who have had such experiences talk about floating around the room and being aware of the medical team working on their body," Dr. Parnia told Live Science. “They'll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they'll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them."
Medical staff confirm this, he said. So how could those who were technically dead be cognizant of what's happening around them? Even after our breathing and heartbeat stops, we're conscious for about 2–20 seconds, Dr. Parnia says. That's how long the cerebral cortex is thought to last without oxygen. This is the thinking and decision-making part of the brain. It's also responsible for deciphering the information gathered from our senses.
According to Parnia during this period, "You lose all your brain stem reflexes — your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone." Brain waves from the cerebral cortex soon become undetectable. Even so, it can take hours for our thinking organ to fully shut down.
Usually, when the heart stops beating, someone performs CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This will provide about 15% of the oxygen needed to perform normal brain function. "If you manage to restart the heart, which is what CPR attempts to do, you'll gradually start to get the brain functioning again," Parnia said. “The longer you're doing CPR, those brain cell death pathways are still happening — they're just happening at a slightly slower rate."
CPR may help retain some brain function for longer. Credit: Getty Images.
Dr. Parnia's latest, ongoing study looks at large numbers of Europeans and Americans who have experienced cardiac arrest and survived. "In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of 'love,'" he said, "we're trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we're all going to have when we die."
One of the objectives is to observe how the brain acts and reacts during cardiac arrest, through the process of death, and during revival. How much oxygen exactly does it take to reboot the brain? How is the brain affected after revival? Learning where the lines are drawn might improve resuscitation techniques, which could save countless lives per year.
"At the same time, we also study the human mind and consciousness in the context of death," Parnia said, “to understand whether consciousness becomes annihilated or whether it continues after you've died for some period of time — and how that relates to what's happening inside the brain in real time."
For more on the scientific perspective on a near death experience, click here:
That's as fast as a bullet train in Japan.
The way an elephant manipulates its trunk to eat and drink could lead to better robots, researchers say.
Elephants dilate their nostrils to create more space in their trunks, allowing them to store up to 5.5 liters (1.45 gallons) of water, according to their new study.
They can also suck up three liters (0.79 gallons) per second—a speed 30 times faster than a human sneeze (150 meters per second/330 mph), the researchers found.
The researchers wanted to better understand the physics of how elephants use their trunks to move and manipulate air, water, food, and other objects. They also wanted to learn if the mechanics could inspire the creation of more efficient robots that use air motion to hold and move things.
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
While octopuses use jets of water to propel themselves and archer fish shoot water above the surface to catch insects, elephants are the only animals able to use suction both on land and underwater.
"An elephant eats about 400 pounds of food a day, but very little is known about how they use their trunks to pick up lightweight food and water for 18 hours, every day," says lead author Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineering PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "It turns out their trunks act like suitcases, capable of expanding when necessary."
Sucking up tortilla chips without breaking them
Schulz and his colleagues worked with veterinarians at Zoo Atlanta, studying elephants as they ate various foods. For large rutabaga cubes, for example, the animal grabbed and collected them. It sucked up smaller cubes and made a loud vacuuming sound, like the sound of a person slurping noodles, before transferring the vegetables to its mouth.
To learn more about suction, the researchers gave elephants a tortilla chip and measured the applied force. Sometimes the animal pressed down on the chip and breathed in, suspending the chip on the tip of its trunk without breaking it, similar to a person inhaling a piece of paper onto their mouth. Other times the elephant applied suction from a distance, drawing the chip to the edge of its trunk.
Elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300 mph bullet trains.
"An elephant uses its trunk like a Swiss Army knife," says David Hu, Schulz's advisor and a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Mechanical Engineering. "It can detect scents and grab things. Other times it blows objects away like a leaf blower or sniffs them in like a vacuum."
By watching elephants inhale liquid from an aquarium, the team was able to time the durations and measure volume. In just 1.5 seconds, the trunk sucked up 3.7 liters (just shy of 1 gallon), the equivalent of 20 toilets flushing simultaneously.
Soft robots and elephant conservation
The researchers used an ultrasonic probe to take trunk wall measurements and see how the trunk's inner muscles work. By contracting those muscles, the animal dilates its nostrils up to 30%. This decreases the thickness of the walls and expands nasal volume by 64%.
"At first it didn't make sense: an elephant's nasal passage is relatively small and it was inhaling more water than it should," Schulz says. "It wasn't until we saw the ultrasonographic images and watched the nostrils expand that we realized how they did it. Air makes the walls open, and the animal can store far more water than we originally estimated."
Based on the pressures applied, Schulz and the team suggest that elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300-mph bullet trains.
"By investigating the mechanics and physics behind trunk muscle movements, we can apply the physical mechanisms—combinations of suction and grasping—to find new ways to build robots," Schulz says.
"In the meantime, the African elephant is now listed as endangered because of poaching and loss of habitat. Its trunk makes it a unique species to study. By learning more about them, we can learn how to better conserve elephants in the wild."
The paper appears in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The US Army Research Laboratory and the US Army Research Oﬃce 294 Mechanical Sciences Division, Complex Dynamics and Systems Program, funded the work. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the sponsoring agency.
Source: Georgia Tech
Original Study DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0215
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century, but where's the science behind it?
At the age of 16, when Tony Kofi was an apprentice builder living in Nottingham, he fell from the third story of a building. Time seemed to slow down massively, and he saw a complex series of images flash before his eyes.
As he described it, “In my mind's eye I saw many, many things: children that I hadn't even had yet, friends that I had never seen but are now my friends. The thing that really stuck in my mind was playing an instrument". Then Tony landed on his head and lost consciousness.
When he came to at the hospital, he felt like a different person and didn't want to return to his previous life. Over the following weeks, the images kept flashing back into his mind. He felt that he was “being shown something" and that the images represented his future.
Later, Tony saw a picture of a saxophone and recognized it as the instrument he'd seen himself playing. He used his compensation money from the accident to buy one. Now, Tony Kofi is one of the UK's most successful jazz musicians, having won the BBC Jazz awards twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Though Tony's belief that he saw into his future is uncommon, it's by no means uncommon for people to report witnessing multiple scenes from their past during split-second emergency situations. After all, this is where the phrase “my life flashed before my eyes" comes from.
But what explains this phenomenon? Psychologists have proposed a number of explanations, but I'd argue the key to understanding Tony's experience lies in a different interpretation of time itself.
When life flashes before our eyes
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century. In 1892, a Swiss geologist named Albert Heim fell from a precipice while mountain climbing. In his account of the fall, he wrote is was “as if on a distant stage, my whole past life [was] playing itself out in numerous scenes".
More recently, in July 2005, a young woman called Gill Hicks was sitting near one of the bombs that exploded on the London Underground. In the minutes after the accident, she hovered on the brink of death where, as she describes it: “my life was flashing before my eyes, flickering through every scene, every happy and sad moment, everything I have ever done, said, experienced".
In some cases, people don't see a review of their whole lives, but a series of past experiences and events that have special significance to them.
Explaining life reviews
Perhaps surprisingly, given how common it is, the “life review experience" has been studied very little. A handful of theories have been put forward, but they're understandably tentative and rather vague.
For example, a group of Israeli researchers suggested in 2017 that our life events may exist as a continuum in our minds, and may come to the forefront in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.
Another theory is that, when we're close to death, our memories suddenly “unload" themselves, like the contents of a skip being dumped. This could be related to “cortical disinhibition" – a breaking down of the normal regulatory processes of the brain – in highly stressful or dangerous situations, causing a “cascade" of mental impressions.
But the life review is usually reported as a serene and ordered experience, completely unlike the kind of chaotic cascade of experiences associated with cortical disinhibition. And none of these theories explain how it's possible for such a vast amount of information – in many cases, all the events of a person's life – to manifest themselves in a period of a few seconds, and often far less.
Thinking in 'spatial' time
An alternative explanation is to think of time in a “spatial" sense. Our commonsense view of time is as an arrow that moves from the past through the present towards the future, in which we only have direct access to the present. But modern physics has cast doubt on this simple linear view of time.
Indeed, since Einstein's theory of relativity, some physicists have adopted a “spatial" view of time. They argue we live in a static “block universe" in which time is spread out in a kind of panorama where the past, the present and the future co-exist simultaneously.
The modern physicist Carlo Rovelli – author of the best-selling The Order of Time – also holds the view that linear time doesn't exist as a universal fact. This idea reflects the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that time is not an objectively real phenomenon, but a construct of the human mind.
This could explain why some people are able to review the events of their whole lives in an instant. A good deal of previous research – including my own – has suggested that our normal perception of time is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness.
In many altered states of consciousness, time slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch out into minutes. This is a common feature of emergency situations, as well as states of deep meditation, experiences on psychedelic drugs and when athletes are “in the zone".
The limits of understanding
But what about Tony Kofi's apparent visions of his future? Did he really glimpse scenes from his future life? Did he see himself playing the saxophone because somehow his future as a musician was already established?
There are obviously some mundane interpretations of Tony's experience. Perhaps, for instance, he became a saxophone player simply because he saw himself playing it in his vision. But I don't think it's impossible that Tony did glimpse future events.
If time really does exist in a spatial sense – and if it's true that time is a construct of the human mind – then perhaps in some way future events may already be present, just as past events are still present.
Admittedly, this is very difficult to make sense of. But why should everything make sense to us? As I have suggested in a recent book, there must be some aspects of reality that are beyond our comprehension. After all, we're just animals, with a limited awareness of reality. And perhaps more than any other phenomenon, this is especially true of time.