The United States and South Korea have scheduled joint military drills for later this month to deal with the growing North Korean threat, and Kim’s inspections, which began on Wednesday and ran through Saturday, coincided with those preparations.
The tempo of North Korea’s missile testing and the joint U.S.-South Korea military games, which Kim perceives as invasion rehearsals, have both increased, ratcheting up tensions on the Korean Peninsula to their highest point in years.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin reaches out to other countries for support in the battle in Ukraine, some experts speculate that Kim’s visit of the weapons plants may be tied to possible military collaboration with Moscow, which may involve North Korean deliveries of artillery and other weaponry.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim visited an unnamed plant building large-caliber artillery systems, where he spoke about the importance of the factory’s work in ensuring the North’s military preparedness.
According to KCNA, Kim lauded the factory’s use of scientific and technological measures to enhance shell quality, shorten the processing time for propellent tubes, and speed up production, but he also urged the need to design and manufacture new types of shells.
Kim praised the workers at a different plant that makes launcher trucks to transport and fire ballistic missiles, saying that the military has a pressing need to increase the supply of the vehicles.
KCNA reported that Kim made the comments at a factory that makes engines for cruise missiles and drones. Kim also visited a small armaments plant, where he spoke about the importance of updating soldiers’ equipment. Photos released by North Korea’s official media showed Kim firing multiple scoped rifles from a table.
Kim has been working to break out of diplomatic isolation and slot himself into a united front against the United States in the face of growing conflicts with Washington and Seoul.
The visit to the weapons factories follows Kim’s participation in a massive military parade in Pyongyang last month, where he unveiled his most powerful missiles aimed at South Korea and the United States alongside Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and a Chinese ruling party official.
Kim’s decision to invite Shoigu to the July 27 parade after showing him around a domestic armaments exhibition lent credence to rumours that North Korea was willing to transfer weapons to Russia in support of its invasion of Ukraine.
Analyst Cheong Seong Chang of South Korea’s Sejong Institute speculated that Kim’s visits to the plants served a twofold purpose: to promote the upgrading of domestically produced weaponry and to inspect artillery and other equipment that could be transferred to Russia.
Kim’s statements at the artillery facility about the importance of enhancing shell quality and developing new types of ammunition for the country’s defence economic programmes, as Cheong put it, signal an intention to export to Russia.
Over the conflict in Ukraine, North Korea has sided with Russia, arguing that the hegemonic strategy of the U.S.-led West necessitated military action by Moscow to safeguard its security interests. However, Pyongyang has refuted American claims that it has supplied Russia with weapons to bolster its military operations in Ukraine.
Cheong said Kim’s comments about making missile-launch trucks at the factory could indicate progress in that area, which could increase the operational range of North Korea’s ballistic weapons aimed at its neighbours and the United States’ mainland.
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