North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has ordered top scientists to build the country’s largest rocket yet, according to a defector.
The defector told a Japanese newspaper that the country has already started production on its largest missile to date, planning for a launch on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the communist republic.
The unnamed defector told Japan’s Mainichi newspaper that Kim told North Korean scientists in mid-December to construct the missile during a two-day meeting of senior military leaders and scientists in the country’s capital of Pyongyang.
According to the Telegraph, the defector was described as someone who was previously involved in the regime’s missile program—and has retained links to former colleagues in the North.
The missile has been designated the Unha-4, and is planned as a larger version of the Unha-3.
Two Unha-3 missiles have been successfully launched, the latest in February 2016 from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the northwest of the communist country.
The latest launch successfully carried a satellite, according to the regime, reported CNN. The first launch in 2012 had failed to accomplish that.
“Many nations, such as the United States and South Korea, consider the launch to be a cover for testing ballistic missile technology,” the broadcaster reported. “The nuclear-armed North has insisted its aim was to place a scientific satellite in space.”
The satellite that North Korea claimed had been put into orbit has not been identified by experts, casting doubt on the claim of success.
The Unha-3 was 98-feet long and based on Soviet technology. The North Korean defector told the Japanese newspaper that the Unha-4 is essentially ready but needs to undergo multiple rounds of testing.
“The defector said there were likely two major objectives in launching a new long-range missile. One would be the use of a satellite for guidance and observation of future missile launches,” according to the Asahi Shimbun. “The other could be to use the pro forma launch of a satellite into space to test whether the missile was capable of re-entry into the atmosphere.”
The latest missile news comes just a few days after Kim claimed in his New Year’s speech that he has a “nuclear button” on his desk to use at any time.
“The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, and a nuclear button is always on my desk,” Kim said in his speech.
“No matter how much America wants to attack us with their military might and nuclear power, they know that now we possess such great nuclear power and therefore they will not dare.”
While much of the regime’s true capability is shrouded in secret, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in October 2017 that the regime appeared to be just months away from perfecting its nuclear capabilities.
First, this is a very big missile. Quite a bit larger than the Hwasong-14 from earlier this year. pic.twitter.com/vObmjdpYoH
— Michael Duitsman (@DuitsyWasHere) November 29, 2017
And in late November 2017, experts indicated that a video showed evidence that the regime is closer than ever to that goal.
“This is a very big missile,” Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, said in an analysis posted to Twitter. “And I don’t mean ‘Big for North Korea.’ Only a few countries can produce missiles of this size, and North Korea just joined the club.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has said multiple times over the past several months that the United States would meet force with force were Jong Un ever to make good on his threats of launching one or more nuclear missiles at the United States.