North has nuke missiles: sourceNorth Korea is developing new missiles capable of carrying tactical nuclear warheads, South Korean intelligence authorities told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.
The North has performed a series of test-firings of new short-range missiles since Aug. 14. Designated as KN-10, the new ground-to-ground missiles are believed to be designed to carry nuclear payloads.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that the rockets test-fired three times since last month are new missiles based on their speeds and altitudes,” a senior South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo.
“Based on our analysis and other intelligence, we concluded that they are intended to carry tactical nuclear weapons.”
As opposed to strategic nuclear weapons that are designed to be used to destroy large targets such as cities and factories, tactical nuclear weapons are intended to be used on a battlefield. They are developed by placing a relatively smaller nuclear payload on a short-range missile to destroy a military target.
It was the first time the government detected Pyongyang developing a tactical nuclear missile.
“The new missiles have a range of about 200 kilometers [124 miles], which is similar to their existing 300-milimeter-caliber multiple rocket launcher systems,” the source said. “They are developing the new missiles, although they already have artilleries with similar ranges, because they want a more powerful weapon.”
The 300-milimeter artillery rockets are already capable of hitting major military installations in the South, including Pyeongtaek, where the U.S. military’s main base will be relocated in 2016. The North, however, is going after a more powerful weapon.
Another source told the JoongAng Ilbo that the perennial economic crisis of the North, ironically, is the reason behind the new weapons system.
“Because the North has no possibility to win a conventional arms race due to its economic hardships, it is using all its resources to develop nuclear capability, which is an asymmetrical weapon,” the official said. “We believe the North is developing a tactical short-range missile because it has reached the final stage of miniaturization of a nuclear warhead.”
KN-10 missiles are modified versions of the Soviet Union’s SS-21 ground-to-ground missiles, and the South will fall into the nuclear range of the North if the Communist country manages to succeed in the miniaturization of nuclear weapons.
The new missiles are also fired from transporter erector launchers, or mobile launching pads, and use solid fuel. Those characteristics make it hard for the system to be detected in advance, posing a new threat to South Korea.
“Even without tactical nuclear warheads, the new missiles will have destructive power that is far stronger than the multiple rocket launcher systems,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum. “The South Korean military must change its strategy to counter them.”
The intelligence community believes the North has been developing the new tactical missiles since early 2010. The new system is believed to have a range of about 200 kilometers and is capable of carrying a warhead of up to 500 kilograms.
The 300-milimeter artillery rockets, developed in the late 2000s, have a similar range, but they are only capable of carrying up to 100 kilograms of payload. Nuclear warheads are far heavier.
While the 300-milimeter multiple rocket launcher system is guided by a Russian satellite, the method of guidance for the new tactical missile is unknown, the sources said.
The new missiles are built by using Russian technologies, sources said. In addition to their nuclear capabilities, the new missiles can carry a massive amount of explosives.
In contrast, the North built the multiple rocket launcher system based on Chinese technologies. It is capable of launching multiple rockets simultaneously, while it carries relatively lighter payloads of explosives.
The North unveiled its new multiple rocket launcher system in May 2013. The new tactical missile was made public last Aug. 14.
The key for the North to complete the new missile program is the miniaturization of nuclear weapons. The United States assessed that the North possesses plutonium warheads and has the technology capable of building uranium warheads.
Blue House National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin told the National Assembly last November that the North has the technology to build a nuclear weapon.
“Through three nuclear tests since 2006, the North managed to take steps closer to miniaturization to a certain degree,” said Shin In-kyun, head of the Korea Defense Network. “We have to be prepared that they will be operationally deployed within a short period of time.”
Amid the North’s stepped-up efforts to develop the new missiles, signs were also seen that Pyongyang is trying to expand its production of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SER MYO-JA [email@example.com]