Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, guided Thursday’s short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) launch, according to Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), one of the North’s state-controlled media. The missile launch came two weeks after the North test-fired four strategic cruise missiles on February 23.
“That day Kim Jong Un examined the actual war response posture of the 8th fire assault company under the unit charged with striking the enemy’s operation airport in the direction of the western front,” KCNA said. “Leading officials of the Central Committee of the WPK and commanding officers of the large combined unit of the Korean People’s Army watched the drill.”
North Korea’s SRBM test showcased the ability to strike airbases in South Korea in the lead-up to the joint military drills between the South and the United States. Similarly, North Korea’s “multiple launch precision attack” missile test on February 20 simulated an attack on South Korean and U.S. airbases in the South’s territory.
“The fire assault company, which has trained its capability to carrying out strike missions in the definite and minute war posture of containing any military moves of the enemy at a time [sic], fired a powerful volley at the targeted waters in the West Sea of Korea set under the simulated conditions of the major elements of the enemy operation airport, thus confidently demonstrating its capability to counter an actual war,” KCNA said on Thursday.
According to the images in the latest reports, Kim accompanied military personnel during his guidance of the test on Thursday. He was also pictured standing with Kim Ju Ae, the beloved daughter of Kim Jong Un who has occasionally appeared in state media reports since the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch in November 2022. Kim seems to be setting a pattern of attending military activities with his daughter, causing analysts to speculate that she is being positioned as his successor.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said North Korea launched six SRBMs toward its western coast on Thursday. The launches came just days ahead of South Korea-U.S. joint regular springtime military drills, scheduled from March 13 to March 23.
The SRBM launches followed a series of statements warning against the military exercises, capped off by a statement from Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of Kim Jong Un and the main voice on the inter-Korean relations. North Korea considers the South Korea-U.S. combined military exercises to be one of the “hostile policies” aimed at Pyongyang, and the North has consistently demanded Seoul and Washington to halt the drills.
Due to the growing capabilities of the North’s nuclear capabilities, however, South Korea and the United States have decided to scale up their joint military activities by deploying more U.S. strategic assets for the drills and are expected to strengthen their response capabilities against the North’s nuclear and missile capabilities further.
The launches on Thursday showed “our clear, practical and unshakable will to take military action,” Kim was quoted as saying in the KCNA report. Kim also “stressed the need to always stay alert for all sorts of more frantic war preparation moves being committed by the enemy recently and maintain and steadily train the powerful capability to overwhelmingly respond to and contain them all the time so as to thoroughly deter the danger of a military clash on the Korean Peninsula.”
Since Kim failed to entice then-U.S. President Donald Trump to accept his phased denuclearization deal during the 2019 Hanoi summit, he has readopted the old-school policy to enhance his leverage in the power game with the U.S. and the South. Along with its moves to prepare to launch its first military reconnaissance satellite by April, North Korea is developing more powerful and advanced nuclear weapons to challenge the South Korea-U.S. military alliance in the region. Pyongyang has been making steady progress in that regard, even though the United States and the United Nations have imposed comprehensive economic sanctions against the North.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Friday reiterated his approach to strengthening extended deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats during the 77th graduation and commission ceremony of the Naval Academy, according to the South Korean Presidential Office. Since he ran for the presidency, Yoon has emphasized that “real” peace comes from power in a bid to criticize the peace process undertaken by his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, and Trump from 2018 to 2019.
Along with his belief that the country’s defense capabilities should be enhanced amid the growing missile capabilities of North Korea, Yoon has reinvigorated Seoul’s three-axis military system, an operational plan that was partially abrogated by Moon, as a means for future security conflicts with North Korea.