North Korea is training up to 140 suicide bomber pilots to plunge into key South Korean targets if war breaks out on the divided peninsula, a South Korean government source said Saturday.

The new unit appears to be fashioned after the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II, the high-ranking official said on condition of anonymity.North Korea set up the suicide squads earlier this year to use its outdated Soviet-designed MiG-15 and MiG-17 jets, the official said.

The new air unit appears to be under the direct command of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, said the official, who is involved in South Korea's civil defense programs.

Kim heads North Korea's 1.1 million-strong military, the world's fifth largest and the backbone of the communist regime.

Officials at South Korea's Defense Ministry and the government's main spy agency were unable to confirm the reports of the kamikaze unit.

Defense Ministry officials, however, said North Korea typically calls its soldiers "human bombs," ready to sacrifice their lives.