North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for an “exponential increase” in his country’s nuclear arsenal in response to threats from South Korea and the United States, according to Pyongyang’s state media on Sunday.
Kim’s remarks come after North Korea claimed to have tested twice over the weekend a large, nuclear-capable, multiple-launch rocket system capable of reaching all of South Korea, according to a Korean Central News Agency report (KCNA).
On New Year’s Eve, on the final day of a six-day plenary session reviewing 2022, Kim stated that South Korea has become an “undoubted enemy” and that the North’s main ally, the United States, has escalated the amount of pressure on the North to the “maximum” level over the past year by repeatedly sending military assets to the Korean Peninsula. ally, China, has also increased the level of pressure on the North.
In response, Kim stated that Pyongyang must mass produce tactical nuclear weapons while developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that will provide the North with “quick counterstrike capability” in the coming year, according to the KCNA report.
Kim’s remarks come at the end of a year in which his regime tested more missiles than at any other time in North Korean history, including an ICBM capable of striking the US mainland.
According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, North Korea fired at least three short-range ballistic missiles from a site south of Pyongyang on Saturday, the 37th day of missile tests in 2022.
That was followed by another test on Sunday morning. North Korea said that the rocket system that was tested on Saturday and Sunday was a 600mm multiple-launch rocket system (MRL). The majority of multiple-rocket launch systems in use around the world are around 300mm in diameter.
The 600mm MRL has first introduced three years ago, and production has been increased for deployment since late October 2022, according to Kim’s speech to the plenary session on Saturday, according to KCNA. He later added that an additional 30 600mm MRLs will be deployed to the military at the same time.
According to the KCNA report, Kim stated that the weapon can overcome high landforms, strike repeatedly with precision, cover all of South Korea, and be loaded with tactical nuclear warheads.
Expert: North Korea’s capabilities are expanding
Pyongyang has used the past year to demonstrate its ability to carry out a variety of military strikes, according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
Recent missile tests conducted by the country have not been scientifically outstanding. Instead, the high volume of tests at unusual times and from unusual locations show that North Korea is capable of launching various types of attacks at any time and from any direction,” Easley said.
Easley also pointed out that North Korea is not only using missiles to increase military pressure on the South. Pyongyang launched five drones into South Korean airspace last week, prompting Seoul to scramble fighter jets and helicopters to track them and later launch its drones into North Korean airspace.
According to Easley, this all leads to an increase in tensions.
Such provocations, particularly drone violations, appear over the top for deterrence and might be intended to frighten South Korea into adopting a more cooperative position. However, with Kim rejecting diplomacy and threatening to mass-produce nuclear weapons, the Yoon administration is likely to boost South Korea’s defense capabilities and readiness,” Easley said.
South Korea is also beefing up its forces.
Last month, Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced that it will spend more than $2.7 billion over ten years to improve the mission capabilities and survivability of its fleet of F-15K fighters, which would play a key role in any potential strikes on North Korea.
Washington, too, is not standing still. In addition to sending in assets such as F-22 aircraft and B-1 bombers to participate in exercises near the Korean Peninsula, the United States military has just formed its first Space Force command on foreign soil in South Korea, with the unit’s new commander stating that he is prepared to face any threat in the region.
“tasked with coordinating space missions and services such as missile warning, position positioning and timing, and satellite communications throughout the region,” US Forces Korea says of the new unit.
Even before Kim’s latest remarks, experts had noted Pyongyang’s significant progress in missile forces over the previous year.
In mid-December, Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN that Pyongyang has emerged as a missile power.
Panda says “North Korea is becoming a large-scale missile operator.” The term “test” no longer applies to most North Korean missile launches.
“Most missiles launched this year were for military exercises. Hey, are practicing nuclear war?
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