North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has monitored a series of missile tests simulating the destruction of an enemy airport, as he called on the military to intensify drills to simulate “real war”.
State media also showed Kim’s young daughter sitting on a sofa as she watched the Thursday evening display, which was described as a success.
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NK News, an online outlet that specialises in North Korea, said photos published in the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Friday showed the test involved six short-range ballistic missile launch vehicles, each capable of carrying four missiles. The launchers were lined up along a coastal forested area.
South Korea’s military said it had detected the launch of “multiple rounds of SRBMs fired from the same region” from North Korea’s west coast on Thursday evening at about 6.20pm (09:20 GMT).
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said a unit trained for “strike missions” fired a “powerful volley at the targeted waters” and demonstrated its capability to “counter an actual war”.
“(Kim) stressed that the fire assault sub-units should be strictly prepared for the greatest perfection in carrying out the two strategic missions, that is, first to deter war and second to take the initiative in war, by steadily intensifying various simulated drills for real war …,” KCNA said.
The latest launches come just days before the United States and South Korea are due to start large-scale joint military exercises known as Freedom Shield, which were last held in 2018. Pyongyang has long portrayed any drills involving the two countries’ armed forces as rehearsals for invasion.
Analysts say Pyongyang is likely to intensify testing while the drills continue. Freedom Shield kicks off on March 13 and is expected to last for 10 days.
“This is likely only the beginning of a series of provocative tests by North Korea,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul said in emailed comments.
“Pyongyang is poised to respond aggressively to major U.S.-South Korea defense exercises, as well as to President Yoon’s upcoming summits with Prime Minister Kishida and President Biden. The Kim regime may order missile firings of longer ranges, attempt a spy satellite launch, demonstrate a solid-fuel engine and perhaps even conduct a nuclear test.”
North Korea has stepped up weapons development since 2019 when diplomatic efforts to contain its nuclear and missiles programme collapsed.
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office last year, has taken a more hawkish approach to Pyongyang and moved to boost diplomatic ties and security cooperation with the US and Japan.
Yoon is due to travel to Japan next week and to the US for a state visit on April 26 where he will meet President Joe Biden.
Pyongyang adopted an escalatory nuclear doctrine last year, authorising the use of preemptive nuclear strikes in various situations where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.
Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned earlier this week that any move to shoot down one of its test missiles would be considered a declaration of war.
North Korea conducted a record number of missile tests last year and has continued its activities into 2023 with test launches of an intercontinental ballistic missile, short-range missiles and a purported long-range cruise missile system in recent weeks.
It last carried out a nuclear test in September 2017.