The North Koreans have said that they have successfully miniaturized a nuclear device, one potentially small enough to used in some of their most capable ballistic missiles. This claim has been widely disregarded by the international community. But now, after saying that they are deploying their nuclear warheads for quick use, and posting the image above, it may be time to reevaluate the North Koreans nuclear capabilities.

That big metallic soccer ball of doom that you see in front of the “Young General” appears to be a compact nuclear implosion device, which is a more complicated alternative than the much more cumbersome gun assembly style nuclear devices, and larger implosion devices, that were thought to have been the limit of North Korea’s technical know-how.

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On the left, a “gun-type” device like the one dropped on Hiroshima. On the right, an implosion device, like the one dropped on Nagasaki.

And while it is possible that North Korea is just posting photos with mockups, or fake bombs, experts are saying that it looks like the real deal to them (via AFP):

“Obviously we only have the picture to go on, but it looks as you would expect for a compact nuclear warhead,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) in California.

North Korea has also claimed that it tested a much more powerful hydrogen bomb in January, although based on all available data this is almost totally untrue. It is possible, however that they tested a so called “boosted fission device,” which compresses tritium and deuterium gas during detonation. This enhances the yield considerably of a fission weapon, but it does not come anywhere close to the potential output of a true fusion weapon, also known as a hydrogen bomb.

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North Korea may have made it to the point in their nuclear weapons program where easily deployable nuclear warheads are within their capability. Still, their supposedly most capable missile, the KN-08, has never been test launched to our knowledge, meaning that even with miniaturized nuclear devices, their ballistic missile threat still largely remains a regional one at best.

Even if North Korea lacks the ability successfully marry a warhead to a ballistic missile delivery system, there are other forms of delivery for compact nuclear weapons. As such, if that orb is the real deal and it has been tested, the nuclear equation on the Korean Peninsula—and the wider region—has changed for the worse.

Photos credit: Rodong Sinmun, FastFission/Howard Morland, FastFission/Ausis