October 14, 2022 11:51
North Korea's firing of two long-range cruise missiles early Wednesday morning shows how keen the regime is to diversify its delivery systems for nuclear warheads.
Cruise missiles are capable of carrying a 200 to 300 ㎏ payload, which is lighter than those of ballistic missiles. If a North Korean cruise missile can carry a nuclear warhead, it means that the North's technology to miniaturize nuclear warheads is making great strides.
"We assume that the North already obtained the technology to make 500-㎏ nuclear warheads around 2017," a military source here said. "It's therefore reasonable to speculate that it has developed the technology further by now."
The South Korean military has not made its estimate public. The Defense White Paper published last year simply says that the North's technology seems to have reached a "considerable level."
The consensus seems to be that a small 500-㎏ nuclear warhead can be mounted on short-range ballistic missiles that are capable of striking anywhere in South Korea. These include Iskander missiles that can avoid interception, as well as missiles from multiple rocket launchers. Intercontinental ballistic missiles carry warheads weighing 1 ton or more.
There is speculation that the regime will test a tactical nuclear bomb or small nuclear warhead with a low yield in an upcoming nuclear test. The ability to mount a small nuclear warhead on a missile means that the North has the ability to use tactical nuclear weapons at will.
Major facilities of the South Korean military, U.S. bases in Japan and even in Guam would come under threat from such attacks.
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