North Korea Tests New Cruise Missiles With Kim Jong Un on Hand

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(Bloomberg) -- North Korea tested what it billed as newly developed cruise missiles for use in submarines, with leader Kim Jong Un overseeing the launch that came as he has ramped up rhetoric about a potential conflict with the US and South Korea.

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Kim supervised tests of the new strategic cruise missiles that hit island targets in a move designed to help his country’s navy deliver a nuclear strike, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Monday of the test that took place a day earlier. It released photos showing a missile being launched from the water.

There were no details released on the distance traveled by the missiles or whether they were actually launched from a submarine, or an underwater platform. Multiple projectiles were detected around the waters near North Korea’s eastern port of Sinpo, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said previously in a text message to reporters.

Kim and his official media have been lashing out at the US and South Korea for almost every day over the past month, with the North Korean leader saying the time for peaceful unification is over and seeking to strike the concept from the country’s constitution.

Read: Kim Jong Un Wants ‘Peaceful Reunification’ Cut From Constitution

Over the weekend, North Korea’s biggest newspaper Rodong Sinmun, published an article calling the US “the enemy of humankind.”

“Owing to their ever-escalating war moves, the security environment in the Korean Peninsula is inching closer to a more critical situation and the word ‘war’ is already approaching us as a realistic entity, not as an abstract concept,” according to the article.

In one of its biggest provocations this year, North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile in early January capable of hitting US bases in Asia in its first such launch of 2024. The state’s official media said it was a “hypersonic” missile, indicating it deployed a reentry vehicle that could carry a nuclear warhead and maneuver at high speeds.

Read: North Korea Test-Fires Its First Ballistic Missile of 2024

North Korea followed that by firing multiple cruise missiles into waters off its west coast and tearing down a monument dedicated to reunification with South Korea as leader Kim intensified a pressure campaign against his neighbor.

Kim appears to be transferring massive amounts of weapons to Russia for President Vladimir Putin to use in his war on Ukraine. The arms include artillery shells and ballistic missiles, the US and South Korea have said. Russia is likely providing technology, key materials and commodities to Kim that could help him expand the economy and increase his military strength.

North Korea and Russia have denied accusations of arms transfers but satellite imagery since October shows a steady flow of shipping between the two countries likely conducted in territorial waters of the two to avoid international interdiction.

Read more: Ghost Ships at Reawakened North Korea Port Put Ukraine in Peril

Pyongyang fired 30 ballistic missiles and three space rockets in 2023. They included five intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit the US mainland. Kim’s regime launched more than 70 ballistic missiles in 2022, a record for the state.

Kim has ignored US calls to return to long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks, which offered Pyongyang economic aid in exchange for disarmament. But he has been busy modernizing his arsenal of missiles and conducting tests of systems to attack South Korea and Japan, which host the bulk of US military personnel in the region.

North Korea in late September enshrined its policy of exponentially growing its nuclear forces into its constitution, with Kim saying he was making the move to counter threats from the US and its partners to stifle Pyongyang’s atomic ambitions and destroy its system.

Although North Korea is barred by United Nations Security Council resolutions from testing ballistic missiles, it faces no such prohibitions on cruise missiles.

Ballistic missiles fly in an arced trajectory at supersonic speeds and are unpowered on descent. Cruise missiles travel at typically subsonic speeds and can fly at low altitudes. They are maneuverable, making them harder to detect and intercept.

--With assistance from Bill Faries.

(Updates with additional details in fifth paragraph. A previous version corrected the year of record missile launches.)

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