North Korea says it has deployed “tactical nuclear” missiles


Tensions in South Korea
A television screen shows an image of a North Korean missile launch during a news program at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on October 13, 2022.

Ahn Young-joon / AP

Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch of two long-range cruise missiles, state media said on Thursday, adding that the weapons had already been deployed to the North Korean military’s “tactical nuclear weapons” units.

Kim supervised a ballistic missile launches in recent weekswhich Pyongyang described as a tactical nuclear exercise that simulated the capture of airfields and military installations across South Korea.

Wednesday’s test of two cruise missiles was aimed at “increasing the combat effectiveness” of the weapons, which were “deployed by units of the Korean People’s Army for the operation of tactical nuclear weapons,” KCNA said.

The cruise missiles – which travel at lower altitudes than ballistic missiles, making them more difficult to detect and intercept – flew 1,240 miles above sea level 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 fighting forces were “fully prepared for a real war” and sent a “clear warning to the enemy”, KCNA said.

North Korea has previously tested “strategic” cruise missiles, but this is the first time it has said they have a nuclear role and are operational – although analysts dispute Pyongyang’s claims, saying it has not demonstrated it can actually produce nuclear warheads small enough.

“North Korea’s cruise missiles, air force and tactical nuclear facilities are probably much less capable than the propaganda suggests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“The Kim regime is sometimes surprisingly transparent about its weapons development goals, but also tends to exaggerate power and capabilities,” he added.

With talks long stalled and Ukraine-related issues at the UN hampering the chance of new sanctions, Kim has redoubled the development and testing of his banned nuclear arsenal.

Officials in Seoul and Washington have warned for months that Pyongyang is poised to conduct another nuclear test — which would be the country’s seventh.

Kim said North Korea would “focus all efforts on the endless and accelerating development of the nation’s nuclear combat armed forces,” KCNA reported Thursday.

Pyongyang is not technically banned by the UN from testing cruise missiles, but any ballistic missile launches violate sanctions and are usually flagged by Seoul or Tokyo. Neither of them mentioned Wednesday’s test.

Kim set out at a key party congress in January 2021 to acquire tactical nuclear weapons – smaller, lighter weapons designed for battlefield use.

“The latest test means the North is operating tactical nuclear capabilities on cruise missiles that are harder to detect due to their low-altitude flight,” Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification told Agence France Presse.

“It’s proof of Pyongyang’s ability to mount nuclear warheads,” he said, adding that cruise missiles can also have erratic flight paths, making them difficult to intercept.

North Korea last month revised its nuclear laws to allow pre-emptive 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 intensified combined military exercisesincluding twice deploying a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier to the area, infuriating Pyongyang, which views such exercises as rehearsals for an invasion.

In response, North Korea staged drills that it said earlier this week hit South Korean ports, airports and military command facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.



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