North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for “exponential growth” in the country’s nuclear arsenal in response to what he said were threats from South Korea and the United States, state media in Pyongyang reported on Sunday.
Kim’s remarks came as North Korea twice over the weekend tested what it said was a large, nuclear-capable multiple-launch rocket system that could put the whole of South Korea within range, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) .
Speaking on New Year’s Eve, the last day of the six-day plenary meeting to review 2022, Kim Jong-un said South Korea had become an “unquestionable enemy” and that its main ally, the United States, had increased pressure on North Korea to the “maximum” by frequently Its military assets have deployed to the Korean peninsula at levels not seen over the past year.
In response, Kim Jong-un said over the coming year that Pyongyang must develop new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) while mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons to give the North a “quick counterattack capability,” according to the KCNA news agency.
Kim’s comments came late in a year when his regime tested more missiles than at any point in North Korea’s history, including an intercontinental ballistic missile that could theoretically hit the continental United States.
North Korea fired at least three short-range ballistic missiles from a site in southern Pyongyang on Saturday, the 37th day of its 2022 missile tests, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Another test was conducted earlier that Sunday. North Korea said Saturday’s and Sunday’s tests were for a 600mm multiple launch rocket (MRL) system. Most active MLRSs in the world are around 300 mm in size.
Speaking at a plenary meeting on Saturday, Kim Jong-un said the 600mm MRL was first rolled out three years ago and production has been ramping up for deployment since late October 2022, according to KCNA. He later added that another 30 600mm MRLs would be deployed to the army at the same time.
Kim said the weapon is capable of overcoming high terrain, can conduct continuous precision strikes, has a range covering the entire South, and can be loaded with tactical nuclear warheads, according to KCNA.
“In the future, as a key offensive weapon of our army, it will carry out its own combat mission to overwhelm the enemy,” Kim said.
South Korea’s defense ministry later responded to Kim’s remarks, calling them “provocative language that seriously damages peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”
The ministry urged Pyongyang to “immediately stop” its development of nuclear weapons and return to the path of denuclearization, warning that “if North Korea tries to use nuclear weapons, the Kim Jong-un regime will come to an end”.
The ministry vowed to maintain its military readiness posture to “resolutely respond” to any North Korean threat, adding that the military would strengthen its “three-axis” defense system designed to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
The three-axis defense system includes the Kill Chain Preemptive Strike System, South Korea’s air and missile defense systems, and South Korea’s Massive Punishment and Retaliation Program, an operational plan to degrade North Korea’s leadership in a major conflict.
South Korean President Yoon Hek-yeol said in a phone call with military chiefs on Sunday that North Korea would continue its ongoing nuclear and missile provocations and that the South Korean military should respond with clear retaliation, his office said.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said Pyongyang had demonstrated its ability to carry out a series of military strikes over the past year.
“Its recent missile launches have not been technically impressive. Instead, numerous tests at unusual times and from different locations have shown that North Korea can launch different types of attacks from multiple directions at any time,” Easley said. Say.
Easley also noted that North Korea is using more than missiles to increase military pressure on South Korea. Last week, Pyongyang flew five drones into South Korean airspace, forcing Seoul to scramble fighter jets and helicopters to track them down, before sending its own drones into North Korean airspace.
Easley said it would all lead to an escalation of tensions.
“Such provocations, including the drone invasion, appear excessive for deterrence, possibly to intimidate South Korea into a softer policy. But with Kim rejecting diplomacy and threatening to mass-produce nuclear weapons, the Yoon administration may go further Strengthen South Korea’s defense capabilities and readiness,” Easley said.
For its part, South Korea is also building up its strength.
Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced last month that it will spend more than $2.7 billion over 10 years to enhance the mission capability and survivability of its fleet of F-15K fighter jets, which will North Korea plays a key role in a possible North Korean attack.
Washington isn’t standing still, either. In addition to deploying assets such as F-22 fighter jets and B-1 bombers in exercises around the Korean peninsula, the U.S. military recently activated its first Space Force command on foreign territory in South Korea, under a new commander Said he was ready to face any threat in the area.
According to USFK, the new unit “is tasked with coordinating space operations and services such as missile warning, positioning, navigation and timing, and satellite communications in the region.”
Even before Kim Jong-un’s latest remarks, experts had noted the dramatic strides Pyongyang had made with its missile forces over the past year.
Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN in mid-December that Pyongyang had become a missile power.
“The bigger picture is that North Korea is actually turning into a significant operator of a massive missile force,” Panda said. “The word test is no longer appropriate to talk about most North Korean missile launches.”
“Most of the missiles they’ve launched this year are part of military exercises. They’re rehearsing for a nuclear war. I think that’s the big picture this year,” Panda said.