Concerns are rising that North Korea may be planning more missile provocations over reports Pyongyang has ordered the production of intercontinental ballistic missile components to be increased.
According to Pyongyang’s state media, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un placed more orders for solid-fuel rocket engines and warhead tips for ICBMs during his visit to a state chemicals institute.
“(Kim Jong-un) instructed the institute to produce more solid-fuel rocket engines and rocket warhead tips by further expanding engine production process and the production capacity of rocket warhead tips and engine jets by carbon and carbon compound material,” the (North) Korean Central News Agency reported.
The “field survey” to the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defense Science also offered a peek into the development of a new ballistic missile named Pukguksong-3. Photos featuring a poster of the project were released via the state’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper Wednesday. The new missile is thought to be an upgraded version of the land-based solid-fuel Pukguksong-2, which Pyongyang test-fired in February.
The news comes just as Seoul and Washington have kicked off their annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill, which Pyongyang has long condemned as a direct threat to the regime, referring to the drills as “the most explicit expression of hostility.”
Kim had stayed under the radar since Aug. 14, when he met with the North Korean Strategic Force, which oversees its missile launches.
In recent years, North Korea has displayed military provocations around the joint exercise period. Pyongyang fired a submarine-based ballistic missile last year and attacked an anti-North Korea propaganda loudspeaker unit with antiaircraft guns near the inter-Korean border in 2015.
Despite North Korea’s recent threats to fire missiles on the US military hub of Guam, experts are saying the reclusive state has not yet equipped a stable ICBM atmosphere re-entry system.
Lee Sang-min, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, recently told The Korea Herald that the Hwasong-14, which Pyongyang test-fired on July 28, lacks technological capabilities to keep the warhead intact during the re-entry process and cause massive damage on the ground.
“North Korea was ambitious about delivering its weapon to the US continent and convincing the international community it has such capabilities. Their re-entry technology is still in its infancy,” Lee said.
The New York Times on Wednesday, published an article suggesting the North has succeeded in miniaturizing its nuclear arms, so they can “fit inside the cramped space of the missile nose cone.”
This backs analyst reports stating the strike range of Hwasong-14 covers US mainland areas like the US West Coast, Chicago and possibly even New York, since the size of the miniaturized bomb determines the range.
Meanwhile, the US has slapped fresh sanctions on North Korea’s trading partners including Chinese and Russian firms Tuesday in a further attempt to cut off resources for nuclear and missile development.
US President Donald Trump said the North Korean regime is starting to “respect” the US and thinks “maybe something positive can come about.”
South Korea is currently carrying out its annual national crisis management drill, which simulates wartime situations to prepare civilians for various disasters.
By Jung Min-kyung (email@example.com