According to a North Korean state media, this week tests of long-range cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles were carried out. There have been a record number of launches since the beginning of 2022. Leader Kim Jong Un also visited an arms factory, according to the official KCNA news agency, a week after Pyongyang threatened to resume long-range nuclear and ballistic tests, paused since a self-imposed moratorium in 2017.

North Korea conducted a long-range cruise missile system update test and a conventional warhead power confirmation test for a surface-to-surface tactical missile this week, KCNA said. According to the agency, Pyongyang on Tuesday tested long-range cruise missiles that flew over the sea to the east of the peninsula (Sea of ​​Japan, or East Sea as it is known in Korea) and hit ” the target island located 1,800 km away”.

On Thursday, North Korea tested short-range ballistic missiles that struck a “target island”, the agency detailed, “proving that the explosive power of the conventional warhead met design requirements”. This is Pyongyang’s fifth and sixth test launches since the beginning of the year, which has notably seen launches of hypersonic missiles. The KCNA agency also published images of Mr. Kim visiting an armament factory. In one of these photos, we see him beaming, wearing his usual long black leather jacket with a belt, surrounded by uniformed officials, whose faces are blurred.

Kim “highly appreciated the factory which has achieved collective innovation and great progress in the production of essential weapons,” KCNA reported. The January shootings are all part of the five-year plan to “improve its strategic arsenal”, analysis for AFP Hong Min, of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “The cruise missiles fired on Tuesday are an extension of the same type of missiles fired since last September with improvements in range and speed,” he added.

Balance of power with South Korea

The current series is also a response to South Korea’s efforts to improve its own weapons system, with the 2021 tests of supersonic missiles and new ballistic missiles launched by submarine, underlines Mr. Hong. “The North is showing that it is also developing missiles to counter what the South has in hand,” he explains. This series of banned tests prompted global condemnation and a closed meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

In response, the United States also imposed new sanctions, angering North Korea. The period is delicate for the region: China, the only major ally of the North Korean regime, hosts the Winter Olympics in February and a presidential election must take place in March in South Korea. Pyongyang is gearing up to celebrate the 80th birthday of Kim’s father, late leader Kim Jong Il, in February and then the 110th birthday of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founding leader, in April. The need to celebrate these “significant anniversaries” helps explain this recent round of testing, says expert Ankit Panda of the US think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “We can expect a hectic first half,” he predicted to AFP.

According to this expert, concerns around Covid may have forced Pyongyang to modify its winter training schedule and switch to missile tests to ensure “positive propaganda” on national defense towards its population. “This could be all the more important at a time when the national economy is doing poorly and agricultural production could threaten to lead to near-famine conditions,” he added. North Korea, already impoverished and suffering from the blockade it imposed on itself to counter the pandemic, recently resumed trade with its Chinese neighbor.

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