|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, gestures as he inspects nuclear warheads at an unidentified place in this photo carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency, Tuesday. The chart behind Kim shows that the warhead is named Hwasan-31 and is compatible with multiple delivery systems. Yonhap|
USS Nimitz carrier arrives in Busan in apparent warning against Pyongyang
By Nam Hyun-woo
North Korea released photos, Tuesday, of the "Hwasan-31," which it described as a tactical nuclear warhead, while its leader called for the expanded production of weapons-grade nuclear materials and nuclear weapons, according to its state media.
On the same day, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea's southern port city of Busan, in an apparent show of force against Pyongyang's escalating missile and nuclear threats, keeping tensions high on the Korean Peninsula.
According to the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim inspected the regime's nuclear weapons program, escorted by officials of the Nuclear Weapons Institute and the Missile General Bureau.
The KCNA reported that Kim noted "the field of atomic energy should expand in a prescient manner" to ramp up "the production of weapon-grade nuclear materials" to "increase nuclear arsenals exponentially," and the institute should "put spurs to continuing to produce powerful nuclear weapons."
Kim also said the enemy of the country's nuclear forces is not a specific state or group, but "war and nuclear disaster themselves," and added that "nuclear weapons would not be used forever" if the regime is flawlessly prepared to use them "anytime and anywhere."
Along with Kim's remarks, the KCNA also showed photos of the leader inspecting nuclear warheads at an unidentified place.
|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un talks with his officials as he inspects nuclear warheads at an unidentified location in this photo carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency, Tuesday. Yonhap|
The photos showed a chart containing information of the Hwasan-31 nuclear warhead, and around 10 tactical nuclear warheads lined up, in an apparent intent to show that the country could mount such warheads on 600-millimeter multiple rocket launchers, short-range ballistic missiles or even cruise missiles targeting South Korea.
"The North revealed nuclear warheads named Hwasan-31, and they are seen as miniaturized, light-weight and modular nuclear warheads that can be mounted on not only tactical weapons, but also other missiles," said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
"The chart in the photo shows that the Hwasan-31 is compatible with around eight delivery methods, such as missiles or submersible vehicles."
So far, the South Korean military and intelligence authorities have assumed that Pyongyang has yet to produce miniaturized nuclear warheads that can be mounted on short-range ballistic missiles. If the nuclear warheads revealed in the photos are operational, the North would now be capable of arming its KN-series of missiles with nuclear warheads.
During a press conference, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said it is still evaluating information on the warheads to determine whether they are operational.
|The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier makes a port call at a naval base in Busan, Tuesday. Yonhap|
"You can say the North's nuclear capability has been fully developed only when it has been successfully tested in real-world conditions," a JCS official said. "But we have yet to confirm such things, so we are still evaluating whether the weapons are operational."
While the North was raising tensions with its apparent nuclear warheads, the United States also flexed its military muscle to warn Pyongyang by sending the USS Nimitz to Busan.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 11 comprised of missile cruisers, destroyers and some 70 combat aircraft.
During the port call, Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 11, told reporters that the group plans to stage a trilateral exercise involving South Korea, Japan and the U.S. after leaving Busan, to improve the interoperability of the three countries' naval forces. Reportedly, the carrier will leave the port city as early as next week.
The carrier docked at the fleet command in Busan after the strike group trained with the ROK Navy in international waters below the southern island of Jeju a day earlier.
|A South Korea-U.S. joint news conference takes place on the deck of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier at a naval base in Busan, Tuesday. Joint Press Corps|