North Korea’s Kim test-drives new tank during military drills

Kim Jong Un tells soldiers to complete ‘preparations for war’ during military demonstration as South Korea and US wrap joint drills.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (front C) poses with personnel during a training competition on March 13, 2024, at an undisclosed location in North Korea [KCNA via KNS/AFP]

Leader Kim Jong Un has joined North Korean soldiers training in operating a new battle tank, according to state media, as rivals South Korea and the United States wrapped up joint military exercises.

Sporting a black leather jacket, Kim watched live-fire “training march” exercises from a field command post before mounting the new tank and driving it himself, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday.

Kim expressed “great satisfaction” that the tank – first unveiled during a 2020 military parade – demonstrated its striking power in its inaugural performance display and told his troops to bolster their “fighting spirits” and complete “preparations for war”, KCNA said.

This was the third time Kim, who last week had also ordered heightened readiness for war, was reported to have observed military exercises in the past month. The other two drills he inspected were dedicated to artillery firing and manoeuvring exercises.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides a military demonstration involving tank units
Kim sits inside the tank during the military demonstration [KCNA via Reuters]

North Korea’s Ministry of Defence last week threatened “responsible military activities” in reaction to the South Korea-US training, which the North views as rehearsals for an invasion.

The US and South Korea have been expanding their training exercises, with the latest round involving a computer-simulated command post training and 48 kinds of field exercises.

North Korea’s military preparations follow a speech by Kim in January in which he pledged to rewrite the constitution to eliminate the country’s longstanding goal to seek peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula and cement South Korea as its “invariable principal enemy”.

He said the new constitution must specify North Korea would annex and subjugate the South if another war broke out.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides a military demonstration involving tank units
North Korea’s military demonstration involving tank units [KCNA via Reuters]

The rolling of the new tank, which has a launch tube for missiles, a weapons system the former Soviet Union already operated in the 1970s, indicates that it is ready to be deployed but it remains to be seen whether it can be mass-produced, according to analysts.

Observers also say Kim likely wants to use his upgraded weapons arsenal to win US concessions like extensive relief of international sanctions on North Korea. They say North Korea is expected to extend its testing activities and ramp up warlike rhetoric this year as South Korea holds parliamentary elections in April and the US a presidential election in November.

“The South Korean-U.S. training is over, but the North’s isn’t over yet,” Yang Uk, an analyst at Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told The Associated Press news agency. “They won’t just stand still … they’ve been talking about war.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit South Korea next week to attend the third Summit for Democracy.

The top US diplomat will also hold a meeting with his counterpart, Cho Tae-yul, the second in a month.

Source: News Agencies