On Saturday North Korea state news agency KCNA released reports of Kim providing “field guidance” at a number of factories and cities, without specifying when the visits occurred.
The factories have innocuous names, but analysts say several ostensibly civilian facilities visited by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently may also be used to build ballistic missile launchers and other weapons.
While the reports only mentioned economic elements, the sites help form the core of North Korea’s arms industry, and have played a significant role in developing its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology, based on analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) in California.
“This is the heart of North Korea’s defense 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, Kim visited was the February 8 General Machine Factory, which has been used to build ballistic missile launchers.
N.Korea Leader Visit Factory that Built Tires for Vehicle Used in Latest Missile Test.
The machine factory was the site in the July 28, 2017, launch on the Hwasong-14 ICBM, which Kim personally observed.
“North Korea has usually tried to hide this facility by not naming it,” Lewis told Reuters. “Sometimes it is unnamed; in other cases only the name of the plant manager was given.”
KCNA reported that Kim called for a “higher modernization plan” for the factory, while he watched “varieties of daily necessity goods” being produced.
In January Lewis authored a written report listing the Feb 8 plant as one of many sites that North Korea’s leaders had visited previously without fully disclosing the location or full purpose.
In many cases the visits seemed to be associated with efforts to reduce North Korea’s dependence on imported chassis because of the missile launching vehicles, the report said.
Kim also visited the Kanggye General Tractor Plant and the Kanggye General Precision Machine Plant, according to KCNA.
Both of those factories are linked to the defense industry and may have played a role in the missile program, the CNS analysts said.
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, 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 Kim oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon – a relatively small, fast missile experts believe will be easier to hide, launch, and maneuver in flight.