Located in Seoul, South Korea — North Korea’s military stated on Monday that its recent barrage of missile tests were intended to “ruthlessly” strike important South Korean and U.S. targets, such as air bases and operation command systems, with a range of nuclear-capable missiles.
The North’s announcement demonstrated leader Kim Jong Un’s willingness to resist his enemies’ efforts to extend their military exercises. Nevertheless, according to some observers, Kim exploited the exercises as a reason to update his nuclear weapons and improve his power in future negotiations with Washington and Seoul.
North Korea fired dozens of missiles and flew warplanes toward the sea this week, prompting evacuation advisories in certain South Korean and Japanese locations, in response to large U.S.-South Korean air force drills that it considers as an invasion rehearsal.
U.S. and South Korean authorities responded by pledging to increase their joint training exercises and warning North Korea that the use of nuclear weapons would lead to the collapse of Kim’s dictatorship.
“The recent corresponding military operations by the Korean People’s Army are a clear message from (North Korea) that the more persistent the enemies’ provocative military moves are, the more thoroughly and ruthlessly the KPA will respond,” the North Korean military’s General Staff said in a statement carried by state media.
Ballistic missiles loaded with dispersion warheads and underground infiltration warheads intended to strike enemy air bases; ground-to-air missiles designed to “annihilate” enemy aircraft at different altitudes and distances; and strategic cruise missiles that fell in international waters about 50 miles off South Korea’s southeastern coastal city of Ulsan were among the weapons tested, according to the report.
The military of the North also claimed to have conducted an important test of a ballistic missile equipped with a warhead designed to “paralyze the enemy’s operation command system.” This could indicate a simulation of electromagnetic pulse strikes, but other analysts question whether North Korea has acquired the necessary capabilities to develop such a weapon.
The North’s military statement did not mention Thursday’s alleged launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile aimed at the U.S. mainland, but its major media released a photo of a rocket resembling an ICBM as one of the weapons mobilized during last week’s testing exercises.
Many of the other missiles launched by North Korea this week, according to a number of experts, were short-range nuclear-capable missiles that put critical military targets in South Korea, including U.S. military bases, within striking distance.
Monday evening, the South Korean military refuted several of the North’s claims regarding its missile testing. Spokesperson Kim Jun-rak stated that South Korea did not detect the North’s cruise missile launches and that it is noteworthy that North Korea did not mention what Seoul deemed to be an irregular flight by an intercontinental ballistic missile.
This year’s “Vigilant Storm” air force exercises between the United States and South Korea were the largest fall maneuvers ever. The exercises comprised 240 warplanes from both nations, including sophisticated F-35 fighter jets. The allies had planned to conduct the maneuvers for five days, concluding on Friday, but extended the training by one day in response to North Korea’s missile tests.
On Saturday, the penultimate day of the air force drills, the United States flew two B-1B supersonic bombers over South Korea as a show of might against North Korea. This was the first time since December 2017 that the aircraft had flown over South Korea in this manner.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that the involvement of B-1Bs in the joint exercises highlighted the allies’ readiness to respond harshly to North Korean provocations and the U.S.’s willingness to defend its ally with the full spectrum of its military capabilities, including nuclear.
Thursday, following their annual meeting in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup issued a joint statement condemning the North’s recent launches and containing Austin’s warning that any nuclear attacks against the United States or its allies and partners “are unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime.” The military of South Korea has repeatedly warned the North that unleashing its nuclear weapons would lead to “self-destruction.”
North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency issued on November 7, 2022 this undated composite photograph obtained in undisclosed locations and depicting recent North Korean missile testing (KCNA). KCNA via Reuters
The two chiefs of defense also concurred on the necessity of enhancing combined exercises and training events to bolster preparedness against North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
Even prior to the “Vigilant Storm” exercises, North Korea conducted a series of missile tests simulating nuclear assaults against U.S. and South Korean targets. In September, North Korea also passed a new legislation permitting the use of its nuclear weapons in a variety of preemptive situations.
South Korean and American authorities have consistently stated that their military exercises are defensive in nature and that they have no plans to invade North Korea.
Since the inauguration of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in May, who has pledged to take a harder line on North Korean provocations, the U.S. and South Korean forces have increased their regular military drills. Some of the allies’ drills had been scaled back or canceled in the past to assist delayed diplomacy regarding North Korea’s nuclear program or to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean and American authorities have claimed for months that North Korea has finalized preparations for its first nuclear test in five years. Monday, South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse told lawmakers that North Korea could conduct a nuclear test at any time, but there were no indications that one was near.