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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korea has mastered the technology to miniaturize nuclear warheads and mount them on a wide range of ballistic missiles, a South Korean military expert and a think tank run by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said recently.
Speaking at a seminar entitled “evaluation of North Korean nuclear weapons and weapon of mass destruction (WMD) in 2016” held in Seoul on Tuesday, a South Korean expert said North Korea is able to manufacture a miniaturized nuclear warhead measuring 70cm in diameter using 10-15 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU).
The minituarized warhead shown on North state-run media in March was very likely genuine, Kim Chul-woo, Military Research Fellow at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) said at the conference. The warhead in the photos has a diameter of between 60 and 70 cm and weighs less than 1 ton, he added.
Kim argued the North proved its capabilities when it claimed it had tested a “standardized” nuclear weapon to be mounted on ballistic rockets on September 9.
“When considering the (available) space for nuclear warheads on Scud, Rodong, Musudan, Pukkugsung (KN-11) and Hwasong 13 (KN-14) missiles, they are considered able to carry nuclear warheads that are 70cm in diameter.”
“[The North’s warheads currently] can be loaded onto ‘Musudan and Rodong’ missiles,” Kim added.
The Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), also known as the BM-25 or Hwasong-10, has an estimated range of between 2,500-4,000 kilometers and an estimated payload capacity of 1,000-1,250 kilograms. The North test-fired Musudan missiles eight times from April 15 until October 20, though only had one success.
Musudan-type missiles can theoretically reach Guam – a U.S. territory – whereas medium-range Rodong-type missiles could hit targets as far as Japan.
But the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), an NIS run institution, argued North Korea is now able to mount nuclear warheads on Rodong-type missiles, adding 200 have already been deployed.
“Due to the advances in miniaturization technology … the North is presumed to have secured a technology to load [warheads] onto Scud and Rodong missiles with the aim of attacking South Korea,” INSS said in a report entitled “Status Assessment of 2016 and Forecast for 2017” released on December 25.
The South’s INSS and Kim argued the North achieved “the standardization and the miniaturization of nuclear warheads” after the fourth and fifth nuclear tests. But both cast doubt on whether the warheads can endure the heat and vibration associated with a launch.
The government-backed research institute also claimed North Korea has succeeded in developing a missile warhead that was “at least” as powerful as a boosted nuclear fission bomb.
But South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) did not agree with the assessments, refuting parts of the claims on Monday.
“We don’t evaluate that [North Korea] has completed technology to miniaturize [warheads] that can be mounted on ballistic missiles,” Moon Sang-gyun, an MND spokesperson told reporters during a regular news briefing.
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun