SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has asked his nuclear scientists to produce weapons-grade materials for making bombs to expand his growing arsenal of weapons.
North Korean photos of the talks also showed what appeared to be small new tactical warheads that may have been designed to fit into various delivery systems developed in recent years to overwhelm South Korea’s defenses.
State media reports on Tuesday followed a series of missile launches — his seven launch events this month alone — and growing threats of using weapons against enemies. North Korea’s weapons tests and U.S.-South Korean military exercises are intensifying in a two-way cycle, underscoring rising tensions in the region.
Officials said North Korea could make more provocative portrayals of its military nuclear program in the coming weeks or months, including its first nuclear test explosion since September 2017.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim, during a meeting on Monday with officials and scientists at a state nuclear weapons institute, stressed the need to ramp up bomb fuel production to meet his goals to expand his nuclear arsenal “exponentially,” and issued unspecified “important tasks” for his nuclear industry.
Kim also examined the country’s established plans for nuclear counterattacks as scientists briefed him on the North’s latest nuclear-capable weapons systems and progress in technologies for mounting nuclear warheads on missiles, the agency said.
The agency’s photos showed Kim talking with officials inside a hall that displayed what appeared to be various types of warheads, including around 10 khaki-green capsules with red tips. Other weapons included devices that looked like a black-and-white cone with fins or a large torpedo.
A wall poster near one of the green devices described a warhead called “Hwasan-31,” based on the Korean word for volcano. Artwork on the poster suggests that the weapon may fit North Korea’s short-range ballistic system, cruise missiles, and some of the nuclear-capable underwater drones North Korea allegedly unveiled last week. It was implied. State media did not identify the device in the photo.
Volcano-31’s size and shape, estimated by some experts to be about 50 centimeters (19 inches) wide and about 90 centimeters (35 inches) long, would allow North Korea to develop a miniature warhead that could be used in its delivery. Kim Dong-yeob, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul who has shown progress in the effort, said the system could fit.
Chung Sung-chan, an analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the report suggested North Korea was close to conducting its next nuclear test.
Hours before North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in 2017, state media reported that Kim Jong Un was observing a silver peanut-shaped device. North Korea likely has dozens of nuclear warheads that can be mounted on some of its older systems such as Scud and Rodong missiles.
Lee Seong-jun, a spokesman for the Seoul Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the South’s military had analyzed the warheads revealed in North Korea’s photos but did not make a specific assessment.