Seoul, South Korea The North Korean military said on Monday that the recent series of missile tests was the practice of “mercilessly” striking key South Korean and US targets such as air bases and operations command systems with various missiles that likely contained nuclear weapons.

The statement by the North underscored leader Kim Jong Un’s determination not to back down in the face of rival pressure to expand military exercises. But some experts say Kim also used his exercises as an excuse to modernize his nuclear arsenal and increase his influence in future dealings with Washington and Seoul.

North Korea fired dozens of missiles and combat aircraft flew towards the sea last week – triggering evacuation alerts in certain areas of South Korea and Japan – in protest against massive US and South Korean air force exercises that the North sees as an attempted invasion.

US and South Korean officials responded that they would further strengthen joint training and warned the North that the use of nuclear weapons would end Kim’s regime.

“The recent corresponding military operations of the Korean People’s Army are a clear response from (North Korea) that the more persistently the enemy’s provocative military moves continue, the more thoroughly and ruthlessly the KPA will counter them,” said the North Korean General Staff. the military said in a statement from state media.

It was found that the tests of the weapons included ballistic missiles loaded with dispersion warheads and underground infiltration warheads, designed to att*ck enemy air bases; surface-to-air missiles designed to “destroy” enemy aircraft at various heights and distances; strategic cruise missiles that hit international waters about 50 miles from the southeastern coastal city of Ulsan.

The Northern Military said it had also carried out an important ballistic missile test with a special functional warhead, tasked with “paralyzing the enemy’s operation command system.” This may mean simulating electromagnetic pulse att*cks, but some observers doubt whether North Korea has mastered the key technologies to achieve this att*ck capability.

The North Military Statement does not explicitly mention: announced the launch on Thursday of an intercontinental ballistic missile that was to hit the US continentalthough its main newspaper published a photo of an ICBM-like missile as one of the weapons mobilized during last week’s testing operations.

Some experts say many of the other North Korean missiles launched last week are nuclear-capable short-range weapons that put key military targets in South Korea, including US military bases there, within strike range.

Later on Monday, the South Korean military challenged some of the North’s missile testing reports. A spokesman for Kim Jun-rak said South Korea did not detect the launch of cruise missiles from the north and that it is also notable that North Korea did not mention what Seoul assessed as an abnormal ICBM flight.

This year’s Air Force Exercise “Vigilant Storm” between the United States and South Korea was the largest in history during the annual fall maneuvers. 240 combat aircraft took part in the exercises, including advanced F-35 fighters from both countries. The Allies were originally scheduled to conduct five-day exercises ending on Friday, but extended training for another day in response to the North’s missile tests.

On Saturday, the last day of the air force exercise, the United States flew two B-1B supersonic b*mbers over South Korea in a show of strength against North Korea, the aircraft’s first such viaduct since December 2017.

The joint South Korean chiefs of staff said that the participation of the B-1B in the joint exercises showed the Allies’ readiness to respond sharply to North Korean provocations and the U.S. commitment to defend its ally using its full range of military capabilities, including nuclear.

Following their annual meeting on Thursday in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup issued a joint statement strongly condemning the recent North’s losses and carrying Austin’s warning that any nuclear strikes against the United States or its allies and partners “are unacceptable. and will end the Kim regime. ”The South Korean military had previously warned the North that the use of its nuclear weapons would put it on a“ path of self-destruction ”.

This undated combination image shows North Korea's recent missile tests
Recent North Korean missile tests are featured in this undated, composite photo, taken in undisclosed locations and released on November 7, 2022 by the Korean Central Information Agency (KCNA).

KCNA via Reuters

The two defense chiefs also agreed on the need to strengthen joint exercises and training to strengthen preparedness for North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

Even before the Vigilant Storm exercises, North Korea test-fired a multitude of missiles, which it called simulated nuclear att*cks on targets in the US and South Korea. In September, North Korea also adopted a new law allowing the preventive use of its nuclear weapons in a wide range of situations.

South Korean and US officials adamantly maintain that their exercises are defensive and have no intention of att*cking the North.

The US and South Korean armed forces are expanding their regular military exercises since the May inauguration of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who promised to take a tougher stance on North Korean provocations. Some Allied exercises were previously reduced or canceled to support the currently blocked North Korean nuclear diplomacy or deal with COVID-19 pandemic.

For months, South Korean and US officials have said North Korea has completed preparations for the first nuclear test in five years. South Korean reunification minister Kwon Youngse told lawmakers on Monday that North Korea could conduct a nuclear test at any time, but there is still no indication that such a test explosion is imminent.

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