(LEAD) N. Korean leader urges more production of weapons-grade nuclear materials; photos of tactical nuclear warheads released
(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details; ADDS photos)
By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, March 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has "guided" the country's nuclear weaponization project, calling for expanding the production of weapons-grade nuclear materials for an exponential increase in its nuclear arsenal, Pyongyang's state media said Tuesday.
Kim also inspected what appeared to be tactical nuclear warheads Monday, with South Korea and the United States staging combined naval exercises, involving a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
The North's leader called for "flawless" preparations for the use of nuclear weapons "anytime and anywhere," as he received a briefing by the Nuclear Weapons Institute on the country's nuclear force, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
"We should never be satisfied with the work to consolidate the thoroughgoing response posture of our nuclear force and should continuously strive to strengthen nuclear force steadily," Kim was quoted as saying by the KCNA.
He stressed the need to "expand on a far-sighted way the production of weapon-grade nuclear materials and put spurs to continuing to produce powerful nuclear weapons" to meet the country's goal of an exponential increase in the nuclear arsenal, the KCNA said in an English-language report.
Kim reviewed the nation's nuclear weapon combined management system "Haekbangashoe," meaning a "nuclear trigger" in Korean, and examined plans and written orders for nuclear counterattack operations.
The North's state media released photos of Kim inspecting what looks like tactical nuclear warheads called "Hwasan-31" for the first time.
Photos showed around 10 tactical nuclear warheads lining up, with an apparent intent to show that the country could put such warheads on super-large multiple rocket launchers or cruise missiles targeting South Korea.
The North's nuclear threat came as Seoul and Washington are staging the Ssangyong amphibious landing exercise, which is scheduled to end next Monday.
The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and its strike group held joint drills with South Korea's Navy assets Monday in waters off the southern resort island of Jeju. The carrier is set to make a port call in the southeastern port of Busan later in the day.
The North intensified its weapons tests this month to protest the allies' military exercises, which the secretive nation views as rehearsals for an invasion against it.
In a separate dispatch, the KCNA said a missile unit conducted a demonstration education firing drill simulating tactical nuclear attacks Monday.
The drill involved two ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missiles with a "nuclear air explosion" striking mode, the KCNA said. Mock nuclear warheads were detonated 500 meters above the target island off Kim Chaek, North Hamgyong Province.
South Korea's military said Monday that the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Chunghwa area south of Pyongyang. The missiles flew some 370 kilometers before landing in the East Sea.
North Korea also said it conducted another test of a nuclear-capable underwater weapon system Saturday through Monday.
The "Haeil-1 type underwater nuclear attack drone" cruised along a "jagged and oval" course in the East Sea for 41 hours and 27 minutes, and set off a test warhead underwater, the KCNA said.
The North said Friday it had tested its new underwater nuclear attack drone capable of generating a "radioactive tsunami." Seoul's military raised doubts about the North's claim, saying the test may have been exaggerated and the North's development of such a weapon appears to be in an "early" stage.
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