North Korea producing miniaturized nuclear warheads, U.S. says

PUBLISHED Tue, August 08, 2017 - 12:24pm EDT

North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, a key development on its path to become a full-fledged nuclear power, the U.S. has concluded, prompting an angry response from President Donald Trump. (more)

The analysis, which was completed by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), comes just a month after North Korea carried out a successful test of a long-range missile that is capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. A second test followed weeks later.

"The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles," the Defense Intelligence Agency said in a confidential assessment, as reported on Tuesday by the Washington Post.

The report added that North Korea is now believed to have a total of up to 60 nuclear weapons, though independent experts believe that figure to be around 20 to 25. It is unknown how many of those weapons have been miniaturized to fit inside missiles.

Responding to the news, Trump warned North Korea to stop making threats to the United States. "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," he said. "[Kim Jong Un] has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before."

Japan and missile experts have previously indicated that North Korea may have produced a nuclear warhead that is small enough to fit inside its missiles, though a number of key questions remain unanswered, including whether the warhead is light enough to reach the United States.

The miniaturized nuclear warheads have also not yet been tested. North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests over the past decade, the most recent one in September 2016, but foreign governments believe a sixth nuclear tests could be carried out at any time.

Another question is whether North Korea has mastered the technology to shield a nuclear warhead from the rigors of re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Video footage from a long-range missile test on July 28 suggests that North Korea has not yet done so, even though the country claims to have the technology.

"No one outside of North Korea knows the precise status of its nuclear-bomb making capabilities," missile expert Michael Elleman said late last month. "It is reasonable to assume North Korea can construct a bomb that weighs less than one-metric ton, with a diameter of less than one meter. Though to reach the U.S. mainland, a lighter-weight bomb may be required."

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