Kim Jong Un supervised the launch of two long-range cruise missiles, state media said Thursday, adding that the weapons had already been deployed to “tactical nuke” units of the North Korean army. Kim has overseen a blitz of ballistic missile launches in recent weeks, which Pyongyang hasthat simulated taking out airports and military facilities across South Korea.
The Wednesday test of the two cruise missiles was aimed at “enhancing the combat efficiency” of the weapons, which were “deployed at the units of the Korean People’s Army for the operation of tactical nukes,” KCNA reported.
The cruise missiles — which travel at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles, making them harder to detect and intercept — flew 1,240 miles over the sea before hitting their targets, the Korean Central News Agency said.
Kim expressed “great satisfaction” with the tests, which he said showed the country’s nuclear combat forces were at “full preparedness for actual war” and sent a “clear warning to the enemies,” KCNA said.
has tested “strategic” cruise missiles before but this is the first time it has said they have a nuclear role and are operational — although analysts question Pyongyang’s claims, saying it has not shown it can actually make nuclear warheads small enough.
“North Korea’s cruise missiles, air force, and tactical nuclear devices are probably much less capable than propaganda suggests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“The Kim regime is sometimes surprisingly transparent about weapons development goals, but it also,” he added.
With talks long stalled, andstymying the chance of fresh sanctions, Kim has doubled down on developing and testing his banned nuclear arsenal. Officials in Seoul and Washington have been warning for months that Pyongyang — which would be the country’s seventh.
Kim said North Korea will “focus all efforts on the endless and accelerating development of the national nuclear combat armed forces,” KCNA reported Thursday.
Pyongyang isn’t technically banned by the UN from testing cruise missiles, but all ballistic missile launches violate sanctions and are typically flagged by Seoul or Tokyo. Neither had alerted the Wednesday test, but South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said later that he was looking at “various possibilities” for his country and the US to extend their joint measures aimed at deterring a North Korean nuclear or conventional attack.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Yoon made that remark when questioned Thursday about a newspaper report claiming his government had asked the US about the possibility of a “nuclear-sharing arrangement.”
Kim made acquiring tactical nukes — smaller, lighter weapons designed for battlefield use — a top priority at a key party congress in January 2021.
“The latest test means the North is operating tactical nuclear capability on cruise missiles, which are harder to detect for their low-altitude flight,” Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification told Agence France Presse.
“It is a testament to Pyongyang’s capability to mount nuclear warheads,” Hong said, adding that cruise missiles can also have irregular flight paths, which makes them harder to intercept.
North Korea revised its nuclear laws last month to allow preemptive strikes, with Kim declaring North Korea an “irreversible” nuclear power — effectively ending the possibility of negotiations over its arsenal.
Since then, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington haveincluding deploying a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier to the area twice, infuriating Pyongyang, which sees such drills as rehearsals for invasion.
In response, North Korea organized drills that it said earlier this week had played out hitting South Korea’s ports, airports and military command facilities with tactical nukes.