North Korea says Kim oversaw cruise missile testing

SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw tests of long-range cruise missiles, which he described as a successful demonstration of his military’s growing nuclear strike capabilities and its readiness for “actual war,” state media said on Thursday.

Wednesday’s tests extended a record number of gun demonstrations this year by North Korea, which has suspended testing activities with threats to pre-emptively use nuclear weapons against South Korea and the United States if its leaders deem threatened.

Analysts say Kim is exploiting the distraction created by Russia’s war on Ukraine and using it as a window to accelerate weapons development while pursuing a full-fledged nuclear arsenal that could seriously threaten regional US allies and the American homeland.

South Korean officials say Kim could also conduct a nuclear test in the coming weeks or months, escalating a pressure campaign aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of ​​North Korea as a nuclear power capable of negotiating economic and security concessions based on its strength.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the two missiles flew for nearly three hours during tests on Wednesday, drawing oval and figure-eight patterns over western seas and showing they can hit targets 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) away. The tests demonstrated the accuracy and warfare effectiveness of the weapon system, which has already been deployed by army units using “tactical” nuclear weapons on the battlefield, the agency said.

Following the tests, Kim commended the readiness of his nuclear combat troops, who he said were fully prepared for “actual warfare to take control of enemies in one fell swoop,” with various weapons systems that were “mobile, accurate and… powerful,” according to the report.

He said the tests send “another clear warning to the enemy” and vowed to continue expanding the operational envelope of his nuclear forces to “determinedly deter at all times and take full initiative in any crucial military crisis and crisis of war.”

The flight details and characteristics of the missiles described in state media are similar to those reported by North Korea in January following the previous demonstration of its long-range cruise missile system, first unveiled in September last year.

State media photos from Wednesday’s test showed a missile trailing orange flames as it erupted from a launch vehicle. Kim smiles and claps from an observation post located in a domed building that looks like a freeway tunnel. Experts say the North may intend to use such structures to conceal its weapons before launch.

The South Korean military did not immediately comment on the latest tests.

The tests were North Korea’s first known weapons demonstrations after it fired 12 ballistic missiles over a two-week period ending Oct. 9 in what it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets. Those weapons included a new medium-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan while demonstrating the potential range to reach Guam, a key US military center in the Pacific, and a short-range missile that was launched from an unspecified platform in an inland reservoir .

North Korea said the exercises were intended as a warning to Seoul and Washington for conducting “dangerous” joint naval exercises with the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan over the past few weeks, which were intended as a show of force by the allies in the face of growing North Korean threats.

Concerns about Kim’s expanding nuclear arsenal have grown since his legislature last month passed new legislation allowing preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a variety of scenarios, including non-war situations, where it might perceive its leadership as threatened. The South Korean military has since warned North Korea that it would “destruct itself” if it used its bombs, prompting an “overwhelming” response from allies.

While Kim’s ICBMs targeting the American homeland have attracted much international attention, he has also expanded his arsenal of shorter-range weapons aimed at overpowering South Korea’s missile defenses. The North describes some of these weapons as “tactical,” which experts say convey a threat to arm them with small nuclear weapons on the battlefield and use them proactively during conflicts to counter the more powerful conventional forces of South Korea and the United States, which station about 28,500 troops , to blunt in the south.

North Korea has launched more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles in more than 20 launch events this year, taking advantage of a split in the UN Security Council that has deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine. The council’s permanent members, Moscow and Beijing, have rejected US-led proposals to impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang over its intensified testing activities. Experts say the North’s next nuclear test, which would be the seventh overall since 2006, will likely be the first without the Security Council meeting new sanctions.

Washington-Pyongyang nuclear talks have stalled since early 2019 over disagreements over swapping crippling US-led sanctions on the North and North’s denuclearization moves.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. North Korea says Kim oversaw cruise missile testing

Sarah Y. Kim

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