North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a cruise missile test while aboard a naval ship on Monday. Concurrently, the US and South Korea began yet another series of military exercises which Pyongyang views as rehearsals for war and regime change.
According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a state run media outlet, Kim visited a Navy flotilla on the east coast to observe the missile launch and watched as sailors on a patrol ship staged the “strategic” test. Kim was pictured, flanked by officers, standing on the deck of a vessel and watching the missile as it was fired.
This test was intended to confirm the “combat function of the ship and the feature of its missile system,” as well as enhance the ability of the seamen to successfully launch an “attack mission in actual war,” KCNA reported just hours before Washington and Seoul commenced their war game.
The annual Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises – eyeing Pyongyang – involves tens of thousands of troops from both countries and will run until August 31. United States Forces Korea issued a statement which says several other countries “are scheduled to participate in different capacities” including Australia, the UK, France, Canada, and the Philippines. The South Korean military boasted that this year’s iteration will be held on the “largest scale ever.”
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the drills would simulate various contingency scenarios such as cyber, terror, and drone attacks. Yoon warned, during a meeting of the National Security Council, “true peace is preserved only by overwhelming force.”
On Friday, the North Korean military stated that it scrambled warplanes in response to a “dangerous military provocation” by a US spy plane in Pyongyang’s exclusive economic zone, this includes the area within 200 nautical miles of its territory.
“[The military] promptly gave an order… to make an emergency sortie toward the air space intruded by the U.S. strategic reconnaissance plane and carry on an alert guard duty,” the statement reads. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) recently admonished Washington that if such provocations persist, US spy planes may be shot down.
Under the Joe Biden administration, massive joint US-South Korean live fire war games have resumed and since 2022, in response, the DPRK has launched more than 100 missiles.
In March, Washington and Seoul held their largest live-fire field exercises in five years, the drills were dubbed “Foal Eagle.” As part of the giant joint military exercises this year, Washington and Seoul carried out the largest war drills in the history of their seven decade alliance. Some of these drills have even taken place near the border with the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Tensions have been soaring on the Korean peninsula largely as a result of these war games which have seen the White House deploy nuclear capable bombers, aircraft carriers, and armed Reaper drones. Last month, a US nuclear-armed submarine docked in South Korea for the first time since 1981.
Last week, Biden, Yoon, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met at Camp David. The White House declared the three sides agreed to a “multi-year trilateral exercise plan,” entailing a “multi-year trilateral framework that includes annual, named, multi-domain trilateral exercises, which will constitute an unprecedented level of trilateral defense cooperation.” The burgeoning alliance is ancillary to Washington’s buildup in the Asia-Pacific for a coming war with China.
Although, the US intelligence community assesses Kim will only use his nation’s nuclear-armed status as a means for political and diplomatic ends – not for offensive military purposes – the increased war drills will surely inflame tensions with Pyongyang.