North Korea tests more cruise missiles as Leader Kim calls for war preparations

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday expanded its provocative weapons tests by launching cruise missiles into the sea, with leader Kim Jong Un calling on his military to step up war preparations as he toured a shipyard.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the US and South Korean militaries are analyzing North Korean launches in its Western Sea. She added that the southern army discovered several missiles, but did not immediately provide a specific number or an assessment of their flight characteristics.

The launches, which were North Korea’s fourth round of cruise missile tests in 2024, came hours after state media reported that Kim reiterated his focus on strengthening his navy as he inspected unspecified naval projects at a shipyard in Nampho on the west coast.

In recent months, Kim has emphasized his efforts to build a nuclear-armed navy to confront what he portrays as growing external threats posed by the United States, South Korea and Japan, which have stepped up their military cooperation to deal with Kim’s nuclear and missile weapons. program.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency did not specify when Kim visited Nampho. She paraphrased Kim, saying that strengthening his naval power “presents itself as the most important issue in reliably defending the country’s maritime sovereignty and intensifying war preparations.”

KCNA did not specify the types of warships being built in Namphu, but said they were linked to a five-year military development plan outlined during the ruling party congress in early 2021. During those meetings, Kim revealed an extensive wish list of advanced military assets. . Which included nuclear-powered submarines and nuclear missiles that could be launched from underwater.

During the inspection, Kim was briefed on the progress of his naval projects and remaining technological challenges and ordered workers to complete efforts “unconditionally” within the plan’s time frame that extends until 2025, KCNA said.

Kim Inae, spokeswoman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said this was the first time the ministry was aware of state media reports of Kim Jong Un conducting a military inspection in Namphu. This may indicate an expansion of naval projects from the shipyard in the country’s east at Sinpo, which has been North Korea’s base for submarine construction. Kim did not give a specific answer when asked whether Seoul believes the North is using Namphu in its efforts to build nuclear-powered submarines.

“By making military threats routine, North Korea is trying to create a feeling of insecurity among the South Korean people to undermine confidence in their government and attract international attention to build a climate in which its demands to resolve the crisis in South Korea must be accepted,” Peninsula said.

Kim Jong Un also called for naval power on Sunday as he inspected a test of a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, the Polhoasal-3-31, designed to be launched from submarines. Last month, North Korea also conducted tests of a long-range cruise missile, which it described as capable of carrying nuclear warheads and capable of covering a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), which could put US military bases in Japan within easy reach.

While North Korea has shown rapid progress in expanding its array of nuclear-capable land-based missiles, experts say Kim’s naval ambitions may require more time, resources and technological breakthroughs. Most of its older diesel submarines can only launch torpedoes and mines, and experts say Kim’s declared pursuit of nuclear-powered submarines is largely unattainable without significant outside help.

North Korean scientists and military engineers have in recent months made progress on Kim’s list of targets for 2021, and were tested for the first time last year. A solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile, called the Hwasong-18Which added to the North’s arsenal of weapons targeting the US mainland.

North Korea also tested on January 14 a A new medium-range solid-fuel missile, Which highlighted its efforts to develop weapons that could target US assets in the Pacific, including the military center on the island of Guam.

North Korea is also planning a launch Three more military spy satellites in 2024 after Sending the first satellite into orbit in November, Kim also described space reconnaissance as crucial to monitoring the military activities of the United States and South Korea and enhancing the threat posed by its nuclear-capable missiles.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have reached their highest levels in years, after Kim accelerated his weapons development to an unprecedented pace while issuing provocative nuclear threats against the United States, South Korea and Japan. In response, the United States and its Asian allies have strengthened their joint military exercises and updated their deterrence strategies.

There are concerns that Kim has been emboldened by steady progress in his nuclear arsenal Strengthening relations with Russia, It would increase pressure on his rivals in the election year in the United States and South Korea. Experts say Kim’s long-term goal is to force the United States to accept the idea of ​​the North being a nuclear power and negotiate security concessions and sanctions relief from a position of strength.

While most analysts downplay Kim’s war threats, some say there is a possibility he could attempt a direct military provocation that he could likely contain without allowing it to escalate into an all-out conflict. One potential crisis point is the disputed western maritime border between the two Koreas, which has been the site of several bloody naval skirmishes in recent years.

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