North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un have said the country is fully prepared for actual war’ after testing two long-range cruise missiles on Wednesday which he said have already been dispatched to tactical nuclear units.
The missiles – which are designed to travel at a lower altitude than ballistic rockets, making them harder to track and shoot down – flew 1,240 miles out over the Yellow Sea Wednesday, drawing oval and figure eight patterns in the skies for almost three hours before slamming into targets, the Korean Central News Agency said.
Kim personally oversaw the tests as images showed him applauding inside a tunnel with his cronies, a cigarette in his right hand. Kim ‘highly appreciated’ the test, state media said afterwards, which showed North Korea‘s nuclear forces are at ‘full preparedness for actual war’ and sent a ‘clear warning to the enemies.’
Wednesday’s missile tests were the latest in a quick-fire string of launches that North Korea has said are dress rehearsals for nuclear strikes on South Korea in the event war breaks out.
Kim appears to be capitalising on the Ukraine war – which has tied up the UN and its sanctioning body – to carry out tests of weapons that would typically have drawn retaliatory measures.
Though North Korea is not technically forbidden from testing cruise missiles, it has also tested a flurry of ballistic rockets in recent weeks which are forbidden.
Kim is also thought to be gearing up for a banned nuclear test at its underground testing site, which would be its first in five years.
Kim said North Korea will ‘focus all efforts on the endless and accelerating development of the national nuclear combat armed forces,’ KCNA reported Thursday.
Kim made acquiring tactical nukes – smaller, shorter-range weapons designed for battlefield use – a top priority at a key party congress in January 2021.
‘The latest test means the North is operating tactical nuclear capability on cruise missiles, which are harder to detect for their low-altitude flight,’ Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification told AFP.
‘It is a testament to Pyongyang’s capability to mount nuclear warheads,’ he said, adding that cruise missiles can also have irregular flight paths making them harder to intercept.
North Korea revised its nuclear laws last month to allow preemptive strikes, with Kim declaring North Korea an ‘irreversible’ nuclear power – effectively ending the possibility of negotiations over its arsenal.
Since then, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have ramped up combined military exercises, including deploying a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier to the area twice, infuriating Pyongyang, which sees such drills as rehearsals for invasion.
In response, North Korea organised drills that it said earlier this week had gamed out hitting South Korea’s ports, airports and military command facilities with tactical nukes.
North Korea has tested ‘strategic’ cruise missiles before but this is the first time it has said they have a nuclear role and are operational – although analysts question Pyongyang’s claims, saying it has not shown it can actually make nuclear warheads small enough.
‘North Korea’s cruise missiles, air force, and tactical nuclear devices are probably much less capable than propaganda suggests,’ said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
‘The Kim regime is sometimes surprisingly transparent about weapons development goals, but it also tends to exaggerate strength and capabilities,’ he added.
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