North Korea makes significant progress on nuke capability
By Yeo Jun-suk
11 January 2017

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - A defence white paper by South Korea states that Pyongyang has increased its stock of weapons-grade plutonium to an estimated 50 kilograms sufficient enough to manufacture 10 nuclear weapons.

North Korea has made significant progress in its nuclear capability while increasing its conventional force over the past years, according to South Korea’s 2016 defence white paper released on Wednesday, 

The biennial report also underscored the reclusive regime’s ever-increasing missile threat, describing for the first time that Pyongyang is developing intercontinental ballistic missile and has deployed Scud-ER missile with a range of 1,000 kilometres.

The paper was published at a time when North Korea ratcheted up its threat to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the US mainland. On Sunday, Pyongyang vowed to fire the missile “anytime at anyplace”, and its leader Kim Jung-un has said the regime has reached the final stage of ICMB development. 

According to the report, the Ministry of National Defence estimated that North Korea has some 50 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, sufficient to manufacture 10 nuclear weapons. In 2014, the biennial report estimated the North‘s stockpile of plutonium at about 40 kilograms.

"We have come up with this number based on when its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon began operation (and) how much plutonium it has obtained after using it for nuclear tests,” a defence ministry official said on the condition of customary anonymity. 

The defence ministry also noted that Pyongyang has made “considerable” progress in producing highly enriched uranium, another type of fuel for nuclear bombs. In the 2014 white paper, the ministry simply stated that North Korea was working on its highly enriched uranium (HEU) programme. 

The ministry, however, did not provide specific amounts of weapon-grade HEU -- a material produced by a centrifuge plant usually run in a secretive environment. Instead, officials said its assessment of North Korea’s HEU programme was based on time and effort spent by the regime to obtain the material.  

The white paper stated that North Korea has increased the number of cyberwarfare troops to 6,800 from 6,000 in 2014, reflecting mounting concern over the growing threat of North Korea’s cyberattacks targeting South Korea’s social and economic infrastructure. 

“Recently, the North Korea military has reshuffled its organisation,” said the paper, adding that Pyongyang’s General Staff Department, equivalent to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, has created a new organisation dealing with intelligence operation and increased military personnel. 

Meanwhile, North Korea has continued to focus on enhancing conventional military power despite its decreasing population and shrinking economy, the paper said. Pyongyang increased the number of troops to 1.28 million in 2016 from 1.2 million two years earlier.

Specifically, the army boasted 1.1 million troops, 80,000 higher than two years earlier. Among them, 100,000 were assigned to “strategic forces” dedicated for nuclear and missile warfare. The air force shrank from 120,000 to 110,000. The navy remained unchanged at 60,000.

North Korea’s army has increased the number of corps-level units to 17 from 15, and division-level units by one to 82, the paper said. The newly established units are dedicated to massive construction missions such as building highways and monuments idolising Kim Jung-un, it added. 

“North Korea believes that it will need a more unified command and control system for construction missions glorifying Kim’s legacy,” said the official. “They think the military is more suitable for doing such missions than civilian organisations.”

North Korea's warfare development in a nutshell:

- developing intercontinental ballistic missile and has deployed Scud-ER missile with a range of 1,000 kilometres.
- increased the number of cyberwarfare troops to 6,800 from 6,000 in 2014.

- increased the number of troops to 1.28 million in 2016.

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