North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has inspected key munitions factories, including a tactical missile production plant, and ordered a “drastic” boost in the manufacturing of missiles, rocket-launcher shells and other weapons, according to state media.
The inspections, reported on Monday, are the latest in a string of visits by Kim to defence facilities, where he has emphasised the mass production of weapons.
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It comes as South Korea and the United States prepare for annual military drills that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal. It also comes as officials in the US said they believe Russia is seeking North Korean weapons for its war with Ukraine.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim visited factories producing tactical missiles, mobile launch platforms, armoured vehicles and artillery shells on Friday and Saturday.
During a stop at the missile factory, Kim set a goal to “drastically boost” production capacity so the facility can mass produce missiles to meet the needs of front-line military units, KCNA said.
“The qualitative level of war preparations depends on the development of the munitions industry and the factory bears a very important responsibility in speeding up the war preparations of the Korean People’s Army,” Kim said, according to the report.
Visiting other factories, Kim called for building more modern missile launch trucks and said there is an urgent need to boost production of large-calibre multiple rocket launcher shells “at an exponential rate,” the report said.
Kim also drove a new utility combat armoured vehicle, KCNA said.
Kim has been focusing on enlarging his nuclear and missile arsenals since his high-stakes diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019. Since the start of 2022, Kim’s military has conducted more than 100 missile tests, many of them in the name of warning the US and South Korea over their expansion of joint military training exercises.
North Korea could perform more weapons tests soon as the US and South Korea are set to start their summer military exercises later this month. North Korea calls the US-South Korean training a practice for an invasion. The allies say they have no intentions of attacking North Korea.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying North Korea must have “an overwhelming military force and get fully prepared for coping with any war” with the power to “surely annihilate” its enemies.
Many experts say Kim eventually aims to use his modernised weapons arsenals to wrest concessions from the US, such as sanctions relief, whenever diplomacy resumes with Washington.
Earlier this month, the White House said US intelligence officials had determined that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to North Korean officials during a visit to Pyongyang last month about increasing the sale of munitions to Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
North Korea has denied Washington’s claims that it shipped artillery shells and ammunition to Russia. But it has publicly supported Russia over the war and hinted at sending workers to help rebuild Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine.
Kim has been trying to beef up ties with China and Russia in the face of US-led pressure campaigns over its nuclear programme and pandemic-related economic difficulties.