Experts are casting doubt on North Korea’s claims that it has miniaturized nuclear warheads to fit onto ballistic missiles, particularly labeling it unlikely that the country has developed a miniaturized thermonuclear weapon, also known as a hydrogen bomb.
Experts at IHS Jane’s, an organization specializing in defense and security intelligence analysis, do not believe that the object North Korea has identified as a miniaturized thermonuclear weapon is a nuclear device, according to a release circulated Wednesday. North Korean state media recently reported that the country had miniaturized nuclear warheads, circulating photographs of leader Kim Jong Un visiting a facility where the weapons technology is said to have been developed.
"North Korea’s claims to have developed miniaturized weapons are probably best separated into their two components: claims of miniaturization and claims of a miniaturized thermonuclear weapon," Karl Dewey, a senior analyst at IHS Jane’s, said in the release. "‘Miniaturization’ is a term which essentially means ‘make small enough to put on a missile.’"
"The photos certainly indicate that North Korea has made something to fit into the KN-08 [ballistic missile], and it is possible that the silver sphere is a simple implosion weapon or a ‘boosted weapon,’ although the country has a history of displaying mockups as well outright disinformation," Dewey said.
"It is unlikely that the object in the photo is a thermonuclear bomb (also referred to as a hydrogen bomb). Thermonuclear weapons are multistage devices and in modern weapons, the need to place two separate stages together would result in a more oblong-like structure. As such, the device on the table is unlikely to be a thermonuclear device."
North Korea’s claims of miniaturizing nuclear weapons came weeks after the country reported having successfully conducted a hydrogen bomb test and later a long-range missile test, inviting condemnation from the U.N. Security Council and new sanctions.
In the face of North Korean aggression, U.S. and South Korean troops have been engaging in joint military exercises on the Korean Peninsula. Omar Hamid, the head of Asia Analysis at IHS Country Risk, said that North Korea "is likely to calculate that its claimed nuclear deterrent gives it more freedom to use conventional weapons in incidents designed to exert political pressure on South Korea and the United States."
"The risk of conventional weapons incidents around the Korean peninsula, specifically near the DMZ and Northern Limit Line (NLL) de facto maritime border, is now high," Hamid stated.