Hidden nuclear-capable missiles that can be launched from trains along any railway line. A new cruise missile that looks similar to the U.S. Tomahawk, which can potentially be topped with nuclear warheads. The apparent resumption in fuel production for possible nuclear bombs.
They are likely an attempt to win concessions from Washington in the event that long-stalled diplomatic negotiations on Kim's nuclear program resume. The message may be part of a domestic effort to strengthen internal unity in North Korea as they deal with greater hardships in an economy that has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
This is then a look at Kim’s latest weapons tests in six months. It also explains what these may mean for efforts against North's nuclear ambitions.
North Korea declared its first train-launched missile test successful. The weapons were launched Wednesday and struck a target 800 km (500 miles) offshore.
This puts South Korea and all U.S. military bases within range. Experts believe the missiles can be used to launch nuclear weapons.
Firing from trains adds another platform to missile launches, in addition mobile trucks, ground pads, and a submarine method that are still being tested. The train-based platform uses North Korea's rail network, which allows secret movement and launch. Experts note that rail networks can be vulnerable in an emergency.
South Korea is facing a new headache when it comes to North Korean missile attacks, according to Lee Choon Geun, a South Korean missile expert and member of the Science and Technology Policy Institute.
North Korea tested a new cruise missile last weekend. It flew approximately 1,500 km (930 miles) and was capable of reaching Japan. Japan is home to 50,000 U.S. soldiers.
It is being designed to be nuclear-capable and can fly at low altitudes, making it difficult to detect. It's a sign of North Korea's desire to break through enemy defense lines and diversify its weapons arsenal that is heavy on ballistic missiles.
Satellite photos also show that North Korea has restarted production at its main plant for weapons-grade plutonium. This is a crucial ingredient in nuclear weapons.
WHAT KIM WANTS
Kim's resumption of testing activities are primarily intended "for developing military capability, but could also be attempts to bolster up domestic unity," stated Leif-Eric Easley (associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University, Seoul). "Pyongyang could make a provocation when it is in dire economic need, because it wants to conceal its weaknesses and get external concessions."
Kim could also be returning to an old-and-true method of pressuring the world using missile launches and other outrageous threats, before offering negotiations at last minute to obtain aid.
Park Wongon, a professor at Ewha Womans University, said that while it is important to keep an eye on the situation, "it's possible that (North Korean) brinkmanship may be in its next phase."
Recent tests by North Korea could be low-key responses to U.S.-South Korean military drills continuing and South Korean efforts to increase its arms program.
Kim's ultimate goal may be to get relief from the crippling international economic sanctions. He will also gain U.S. nuclear state recognition, which will allow him to keep his nuclear weapons as his only guarantee of survival.
North Korea could continue to increase its pressure campaign until China begins pushing for calm before the Beijing Olympics in early next year. It could still hold off on testing more provocative weapons, as it seeks less coercive diplomacy.
Park, an analyst, stated that the North will have until November to continue its weapon development and testing. It could damage relations with China after that.
North Korea could also test another weapon around an important state anniversary like the Workers' Party foundation day Oct. 10.
Easley stated that the next step in upgrading weapon capabilities is not a nuclear device, ICBM or a submarine-based system.
Despite recent weapon tests, North Korea has kept a self-imposed moratorium for nuclear and long-range missile testing for more than 3 years. This suggests that North Korea still hopes to maintain future diplomatic relations with Washington.
It is possible that Pyongyang is taking careful note of its actions and looking for a way back to diplomacy.
"It wouldn’t surprise if the North attempts to reach out soon to Washington or Seoul, even if it was just to measure their intent," Hong Min, an analyst from Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification, said.