North Korea said on Friday that its last two rounds of weapons tests this week were successful and vowed to strengthen its nuclear “war deterrent” and accelerate the development of more powerful warheads.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un apparently did not attend the tests on Tuesday and Thursday, which were detected by the militaries of neighboring South Korea and Japan. But Kim inspected a munitions factory where workers pledged allegiance to his leader, who “crushes with her daring blow the challenges of the US imperialists and their vassal forces,” state media said.
North Korea has been ramping up its test activity in recent months, including six rounds of weapons launches so far in 2022, flexing its military might amid pandemic-related difficulties and a prolonged freeze on nuclear diplomacy with U.S.
As he aggressively expands his military capabilities despite limited resources, Kim is also reviving Pyongyang’s old brinkmanship playbook to extract concessions from Washington, which is leading international sanctions on the North’s nuclear program.
North Korea’s Central News Agency described the two ballistic missiles launched from a coastal area on Thursday as “tactical surface-to-surface guided missiles” armed with a conventional warhead and said they accurately hit a target in the sea.
Photos released by state media suggest the weapons being tested were a short-range solid fuel missile that it apparently designed after Russia’s Iskander ballistic system.
The missile, which North Korea has tested since 2019, could be launched from trucks and launch trains and is designed for maneuverability and low-altitude flight. It is seen as a key cog in the country’s expanding arsenal of short-range weapons ostensibly aimed at overwhelming missile defenses in the region.
KCNA said Tuesday’s launches were of a suspected long-range cruise missile that the North first tested in September. The two missiles flew for more than 2 hours and 35 minutes and demonstrated the ability to hit targets 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) away, a performance that underscored their value in “boosting the country’s war deterrence,” the agency said.
North Korea has described this weapon as “strategic,” implying that it is being developed to deliver nuclear weapons.
Kim had attended a Jan. 11 test launch of a purported hypersonic missile that he described as the most important part of a five-year plan to build the North’s military strength. His wish list also includes multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, long-range solid-fuel missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
KCNA, in its separate report on Kim’s visit to a munitions factory, said the facility was producing a “major weapons system.” He did not say when he visited.
Touring the facility with top officials, including his increasingly powerful sister Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un “greatly appreciated” the workers’ efforts to modernize the country’s military and their devotion to championing the revolutionary cause of the ruling Workers’ Party. Workers with “powerful breakthrough advances.” weapons,” the KCNA said.
North Korea has described its weapons tests as a legitimate exercise in self-defense and threatened to crack down after the Biden administration imposed new sanctions following this month’s hypersonic tests.
At a meeting of the ruling party chaired by Kim last week, senior party members made a veiled threat to resume tests of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles against the US territory, which Kim suspended in 2018 as he began diplomacy with the United States. .
Kim’s summit with then-President Donald Trump derailed in 2019 after the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Some experts say North Korea could sharply step up weapons demonstrations after the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 4 in China, the North’s main ally and economic lifeline.
They say Pyongyang’s leadership likely feels it could use dramatic provocation to move the needle with the Biden administration, which has been preoccupied with larger adversaries including China and Russia. The Biden administration has offered open talks but has shown no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to abandon nuclear weapons and missiles.