North Korea's Kim Jong Un visits factories linked to missile launches

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly provided "field guidance" at a number of factories and cities at an unspecified date.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly provided "field guidance" at a number of factories and cities at an unspecified date.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - The factories have innocuous names, but analysts say several ostensibly civilian facilities visited by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently are also used to build ballistic missile launchers and other weapons.

On Saturday (June 1), North Korea state news agency KCNA released reports of Mr Kim providing "field guidance" at a number of factories and cities, without specifying when the visits occurred.

While the reports only mentioned economic elements, the sites help form the core of North Korea's arms industry, and have played a major role in developing its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology, according to analysts at the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies (CNS) in California.

"This is the heart of North Korea's defence industry," CNS researcher Jeffrey Lewis told Reuters. "These are the kind of visits we saw in 2016 and 2017 as North Korea moved toward ICBM testing."

Among the sites Mr Kim visited was the Feb 8 General Machine Factory, which has been used to construct ballistic missile launchers.

The machine factory was the site of the July 28, 2017, launch of a Hwasong-14 ICBM, which Mr Kim personally observed.

"North Korea has usually tried to hide this facility by not naming it," Mr Lewis told Reuters. "Sometimes it is unnamed; in other cases only the name of the plant manager was given."

 
 
 
 

KCNA reported that Mr Kim called for a "higher modernisation plan" for the factory, while he watched "varieties of daily necessity goods" being produced.

In January, Mr Lewis authored a report listing the Feb 8 plant as one of several sites that North Korea's leaders had visited in the past without fully disclosing the location or full purpose.

In many cases, the visits appeared to be linked to efforts to reduce North Korea's reliance on imported chassis for its missile launching vehicles, the report said.

Mr Kim also visited the Kanggye General Tractor Plant and the Kanggye General Precision Machine Plant, according to KCNA.

Photos from the tractor plant released by KCNA show Mr Kim standing next to a "flow-forming machine" that highlights the potential dual use nature of the factories, said Mr Joshua Pollack, another CNS researcher.

"Things you might use it for: high-end aluminium cookware, car wheels, flagpoles," he added. "But also rocket nozzles, artillery shell casings, gas centrifuge rotors for uranium enrichment, and solid rocket motor cases."

Mr Kim has declared his nuclear force "complete" and announced an end to tests of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.

At the same time, however, Mr Kim called for more operational weapons. Negotiations with the United States aimed at convincing North Korea to surrender its existing nuclear weapons and missiles have stalled.

In May, Mr Kim oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon - a relatively small, fast missile experts believe will be easier to hide, launch, and manoeuvre in flight.

North Korea "remains an extraordinary threat," acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan told regional defence chiefs in a wide-ranging speech at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday.