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.
“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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[ismember]The newly unveiled warhead could possibly fit into this nose cone section, seated in a Reentry Vehicle (RV) that protects the sensitive and complex fission device complex from the pressures and heat loads associated with re-entry into the atmosphere. Such complex (RV plus warhead) would weigh about 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) and, therefore, fits only missiles that can lift such payloads to a low earth orbit. North Korean long range missiles have yet to achieve the capability to lift such payloads. While the short range missiles (1,300 – 2,000km) can lift one tonn class warheads, their larger missiles, such as the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite launcher used in the February 2016 test launch could carry a mass of 200 kilograms (440 lb).[/ismember]