North Korea tests missile launches as U.S., South Korea begin military drills

SEOUL, South Korea –

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has observed the test-firing of strategic cruise missiles from a navy ship, state media reported Monday, as the U.S. and South Korean militaries kicked off major annual drills that the North views as an invasion rehearsal.

The North’s report on missile tests came three days after the leaders of the U.S., South Korea and Japan agreed to expand their security and economic ties at a summit in the United States.

During an inspection visit of a navy flotilla on the eastern coast, Kim boarded a patrol boat to review its weapons and preparations for combat. He later watched its seamen conducting a drill of launching “strategic” cruise missiles, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

KCNA didn’t say when the missile launches happened, and a state media photo showed Kim watching the launch of a missile from another place, not on the patrol boat. KCNA’s use of the word “strategic” in reference to the tested weapons implied they were developed to carry nuclear warheads.

Kim said he would bolster efforts to build powerful warships and modernize shipboard and underwater weapons systems for the North’s navy. He called for the country’s sailors to build “overwhelming ideological and spiritual strength,” saying that is more important than numerical or technical superiority of weapons, according to KCNA.

North Korea was widely expected to resume weapons tests in reaction to the summer U.S.-South Korean military training that began Monday for an 11-day run.

The “Ulchi Freedom Shield” training is a computer-simulated command post exercise. The U.S. and South Korean militaries said they also plan conduct large-scale field exercises as well.

North Korea has slammed major U.S.-South Korean drills as practice for an invasion and has responded to them with missile tests. U.S. and South Korean officials maintain the exercies are defensive in nature and they have no intention of attacking the North.

Since the opening of 2022, North Korea performed more than 100 weapons tests, some of them nuclear-capable ballistic missiles designed to strike the U.S. mainland and its allies South Korea and Japan. The U.S. and South Korea have expanded their regular training exercises in response.

During their summit at Camp David, U.S. President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said they intend to put into operation by year’s end the sharing of real-time missile warning data on North Korea and hold annual trilateral exercises.

It was the first ever stand-alone summit held by the three countries, and the leaders said they are committed to pursuing enhanced ballistic missile defence cooperation to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

North Korea has said the three countries’ push to strengthen their security cooperation is compelling it to reinforce its own military capability.

South Korea’s spy service told lawmakers Thursday that North Korea was taking steps needed for the launches of long-range missiles and an attempt to put a spy satellite into orbit. The North’s first attempt to launch a spy satellite in late May ended in failure, when a rocket carrying the satellite plunged into the ocean soon after liftoff.

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