Kim Jong-un demands ‘exponential’ boost in nuke production as he officially declares North Korea a nuclear power
NNorth Korea has enshrined its status as a nuclear power in its constitution, with leader Kim Jong Un calling for larger, more modern nuclear weapons.
The move follows Kim’s declaration last year that North Korea is an “irreversible” nuclear power.
Here’s a look at North Korea’s arsenal:
Cruise missiles are typically jet-propelled and fly at a lower altitude than more advanced ballistic missiles, making them more difficult to detect and intercept.
North Korea has a range of short-, medium- and long-range cruise missiles.
Unlike their ballistic counterparts, cruise missiles are not allowed to be tested under current UN sanctions against Pyongyang.
In March, two cruise missiles launched from a submarine flew 1,500 kilometers (930 miles), Pyongyang said, putting South Korea and much of Japan within range.
Medium-range ballistic missiles
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), which are rocket-propelled in the first phase of flight, have a range of approximately 3,000 to 5,500 km.
North Korea’s main IRBM, the Hwasong-12, is capable of hitting the US territory of Guam.
Pyongyang first successfully tested the Hwasong-12 in May 2017 and has since fired three variants of the missile over Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
North Korea is barred from testing ballistic missiles under current UN Security Council sanctions.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) have a minimum range of 5,500 kilometers and are primarily designed to deliver nuclear warheads.
North Korea first claimed to have successfully tested the Hwasong-15 – a missile capable of reaching Alaska – on July 4, 2017, as a gift to “American bastards” on America’s Independence Day.
Three years later, an even larger and more powerful Hwasong-17 was displayed during a huge military parade.
North Korea fired this ‘monster missile’ in November 2022. Analysts believe that this is the first successful full flight test of the Hwasong-17.
This year, Kim oversaw the successful test of North Korea’s newest ICBM, the solid-fuel Hwasong-18.
But all North Korean ICBMs have been tested at a higher trajectory — up and not out, to avoid flying over Japan — raising questions about their performance, including surviving reentry and accuracy over longer distances.
Submarine-launched ballistic missile
A submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) can be launched from beneath the ocean, making them extremely mobile and harder to detect.
Proven SLBM capabilities would take North Korea’s arsenal to a new level, allowing deployment well beyond the Korean Peninsula and a second-strike capability in the event of an attack.
North Korea’s operational SLBM is called the Pukguksong-3, with an estimated range of 1,900 km. In October 2021, it announced a successful test of a new version of the rocket.
Pyongyang’s exact naval launch capabilities remain unclear.
Previous tests were conducted from older ships, including from a submerged platform, rather than an actual submarine.
North Korea said it fired two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine in March 2023, but analysts said they appeared to have been launched from above water level, negating the weapon’s stealth advantage.
North Korea has also conducted so-called simulations with its “first tactical nuclear attack submarine.”
Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of at least Mach 5 – five times the speed of sound – and can maneuver in mid-flight, making them harder to track and intercept.
Depending on their design, analysts say these missiles could carry both conventional and nuclear warheads.
After three tests — one in September 2021 and two in 2022 — North Korea said it had completed final verification of its first hypersonic missile.
North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, and the sixth and most powerful in September 2017.
Estimates of that device’s explosive power or yield ranged from 100 to 370 kilotons, far more than the 15 kilotons of the American bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
A report published this year by the US Congressional Research Service cited outside estimates that North Korea had enough material for “20 to 60 nuclear warheads”.
North Korea is also seeking to develop smaller nuclear warheads that can fit in different delivery systems, the report said.
In March this year, Kim called for expanding production of “weapon-grade nuclear materials” as North Korea unveiled a new, smaller tactical nuclear warhead.