Seoul, South Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is calling for an “exponential increase” in his country’s nuclear weapons arsenal in response to what he says are threats from South Korea and the United States, it was reported on Sunday. Pyongyang’s official media.

Kim’s comments come as North Korea twice over the weekend tested what it claimed was a large nuclear-capable multiple-launch rocket system that could put all of South Korea within its reach. , according to a report by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Speaking on New Year’s Eve on the final day of a six-day plenary session that reviewed 2022, Kim said South Korea had become an “indisputable enemy” and its main ally, the United States. United, had increased the pressure on the North to the “maximum”. level over the past year by frequently deploying its military assets on the Korean Peninsula.

In response, Kim said in the coming year that Pyonyang should mass-produce tactical nuclear weapons while developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that would give the North a “rapid counterattack capability”, according to the report. from KCNA.

Kim’s comments come at the end of a year that has seen his regime test more missiles than at any time in North Korea’s history, including an ICBM that could theoretically strike the mainland American.

On Saturday, on its 37th day of missile testing in 2022, North Korea fired at least three short-range ballistic missiles from a site south of Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He followed that Sunday morning with another test. North Korea said the tests on Saturday and Sunday were for a 600mm Multiple Launch Rocket (MRL) system. Most of the multiple rocket launch systems in service around the world are around 300mm in size.

The 600mm MRL was first introduced three years ago and production has been ramped up since late October 2022 for deployment, Kim said in his address to Saturday’s plenary session, according to KCNA. He later added that another 30 600mm MRLs will be deployed to the army simultaneously.

Kim said the weapon is capable of overcoming high terrain, can hit consecutively with precision, has all of South Korea within its range and can be loaded with tactical nuclear warheads, according to the KCNA report.

“Prospectively, as the key offensive weapon of our military forces, it will carry out its own combat mission to overwhelm the enemy,” Kim said.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said Pyongyang had used the past year to demonstrate its ability to carry out a series of military strikes.

“Its recent missile launches were not technically impressive. Instead, the high volume of tests at unusual times and from various locations demonstrates that North Korea could launch different types of attacks, at any time. and in many directions,” Easley said.

Easley also noted that it’s not just missiles North Korea is using to increase military pressure on the South. Last week, Pyongyang flew five drones into South Korean airspace, forcing Seoul to scramble fighter jets and helicopters to follow them and then send its own drones into North Korean airspace.

All of this is leading to escalating tensions, according to Easley.

“Such provocations, including drone incursions, seem overkill for deterrence and may be intended to scare South Korea into adopting a softer policy. But with Kim disavowing diplomacy and threatening to mass-produce nuclear weapons, the Yoon administration is likely to further increase South Korea’s defense capabilities and readiness,” Easley said.

For its part, South Korea is also strengthening its forces.

The Seoul Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced last month that it will spend more than $2.7 billion over 10 years to enhance the mission capabilities and survivability of its fleet of F-15K fighters, planes that would play a key role in possible strikes on North Korea.

Washington is not standing still either. In addition to deploying assets such as F-22 fighters and B-1 bombers in exercises around the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. military recently activated its first Space Force command on foreign soil in South Korea. South, the unit’s new commander saying he is ready to face any threat in the region.

The new unit “will be responsible for coordinating space operations and services such as missile warning, position navigation and synchronization and satellite communications in the region,” according to U.S. Forces Korea.

Even before Kim’s latest remarks, experts had noted the great strides Pyongyang had made in 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 big picture is that North Korea is literally becoming a leading operator of large-scale missile forces,” Panda said. “The word test is no longer appropriate to refer to most North Korean missile launches.”

“Most of the missiles they launched this year are part of military exercises. They are planning a nuclear war. And that, I think, is the big picture for this year,” Panda said.

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