North Korea Unveils a Miniaturized Nuclear Warhead for KN08 Missiles

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a miniaturized nuclear warhead designed for ballistic missiles. Un stands in front of a KN08 ballistic missile, that is likely to carry the new, thermo-nuclear warhead, The undated photo was released today by the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The tip of the KN-08 missile carries a tri-conical reentry vehicle, containing the warhead. This section weighing 700-1000 kg is likely to carry a miniaturized nuclear device,
The tip of the KN-08 missile carries a tri-conical reentry vehicle, containing the warhead. This section weighing 700-1000 kg is likely to carry a miniaturized nuclear device. The diameter of the nose cone, estimated to be 1.25 meters in its base (4 ft) fits well with the diameter of the warhead, likely to be less than one meter in diameter.

North Korea claims it has the know how and capability to develop a nuclear warhead to equip ballistic missiles. This claim has been substantiated today, by the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong-Un, presenting a complex spherical object claimed to be the country’s miniaturized thermonuclear warhead.“The nuclear warheads have been standardised to be fit for ballistic missiles by miniaturising them,” Kim noted during a visit with nuclear technicians that was reported by the DPRK state media today.

It is possible that the new warhead is designed for the Korean KN08 intermediate range ballistic missile that has yet to be tested in flight. Once proven, the missile is expected to boast the range and payload capacity to deliver attacks on US targets in the Pacific and west coast. Kim also stressed that the miniaturised warheads were “thermo-nuclear” devices, echoing the North’s claim that the nuclear test it conducted in January was of a more powerful hydrogen bomb.

This is the first time Kim has directly claimed the breakthrough that experts see as a game-changing step towards a credible North Korean nuclear threat to the US mainland.

His comments came a day after the North’s powerful National Defence Commission threatened pre-emptive nuclear attacks on South Korea and the US mainland, as Seoul and Washington kicked off large-scale joint military exercises.

Military tensions have surged in the region since the North carried out its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch last month.

Schematic view of a nuclear fission device.
Schematic view of a nuclear fission weapon.
“His comments and the photos are making the message very explicit: ‘We have a nuclear weapon and you have to respect us’,” Melissa Hanham, another expert on North Korea’s weapons program at MIIS, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) in California.

North Korea’s claim to have successfully tested an H-bomb in January was greeted with scepticism at the time as the estimated yield was seen as far too low for a full-fledged thermo-nuclear device.

However, weapons experts have suggested it may have been a “boosted” fission device, which makes more efficient use of nuclear material and can be made smaller without sacrificing yield.

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North Korean nuclear fission warhead displayed to leader Kim Jong Un.  Photo: KCNA.
North Korean nuclear fission warhead displayed to leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: KCNA.