North Korea on Tuesday unveiled new, smaller nuclear warheads as its leader Kim Jong-un called for the use of the weapons of mass destruction “anytime and anywhere”.
Photos of Kim inspecting multiple warheads at a visit to the Nuclear Weapons Institute were released by the official KCNA newswire, which reported his call to scale up the production of weapons-grade nuclear material to achieve an “exponential increase in the nuclear arsenal” of the isolated regime.
Experts have warned the reports could indicate progress in miniaturising warheads that are powerful yet small enough to mount on short-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking both targets in neighbouring South Korea and as far afield as the United States.
“It has something more powerful in a smaller space. … That’s worrisome,” Kune Y.Suh, professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University, told Reuters.
The revelation of the warheads, dubbed Hwasan-31, follows an array of weapons tests over the past week as Pyongyang continues to lash out over extensive joint military drills by US and South Korean forces.
The nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier is set to arrive in the southeastern port of Busan on Tuesday after its strike group trained with the South Korean Navy in international waters near the island of Jeju on Monday.
Both allies maintain their drills are defensive in nature, but Pyongyang has repeatedly accused them of conducting a rehearsal for war.
On Tuesday, KCNA also reported a simulation of a “nuclear air explosion” by two ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missiles some 500 metres above the ground and said it had continued with tests of the “Haeil-1” underwater nuclear attack drone, which had travelled 372 miles over 41 hours and 27 minutes.
Reports about the nuclear-capable Haeil unmanned underwater vehicle, which first emerged last week, appear to have similarities with Russian claims about the creation of the submarine-launched Poseidon nuclear torpedo, say weapons experts.
However, analysts have urged caution about the veracity of such assertions, citing a lack of proof and lack of details about its operability.
South Korea’s military on Monday said the North’s state media reports about the weapon’s capability to generate a “radioactive tsunami” were “exaggerated and manipulated”.
But there is rising concern about the overall nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
Last week, Lee Jong-sup, the South Korean defence minister, confirmed to the national parliament that four cruise missiles had been fired on Wednesday, acknowledging that Pyongyang had made “considerable” progress towards its goal of mounting miniature nuclear warheads onto tactical weapons.