SEOUL, Aug 14 (AP): North Korean leader Kim Jong Un again toured major munitions factories and
ordered a drastic increase in production of missiles and other weapons, state media said on
Monday, as the South Korean and US militaries announced they will begin major drills next week to
hone their joint capability against the North’s evolving nuclear threats.
Kim’s push to produce more weapons also comes as US officials believe Russia’s defense minister
recently talked with North Korea about selling more weapons to Russia for its war with Ukraine.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim visited factories producing tactical missiles, mobile launch
platforms, armoured vehicles and artillery shells on Friday and Saturday. He visited a spate of other
munitions factories in early August.
During a stop at the missile factory, Kim set a goal to “drastically boost” production capacity so the
facility can mass produce missiles to meet the needs of front-line military units, KCNA said.
“The qualitative level of war preparations depends on the development of the munitions industry
and the factory bears a very important responsibility in speeding up the war preparations of the
(North) Korean People’s Army,” Kim said, according to the report.
Visiting other factories, Kim called for building more modern missile launch trucks and said there is
an urgent need to boost production of large-caliber multiple rocket launcher shells “at an
exponential rate,” the report said. Kim also drove a new utility combat armored vehicle, KCNA said.
Kim has been focusing on enlarging his nuclear and missile arsenals since his high-stakes diplomacy
with then-President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019.
Since the start of 2022, Kim’s military has conducted more than 100 missile tests, many of them in
the name of warning the US and South Korea over their expansion of joint military training exercises.
Many experts say Kim eventually aims to use his modernized weapons arsenals to wrest US
concessions, such as sanctions relief, whenever diplomacy resumes with Washington.
North Korea could perform more weapons tests soon as the US and South Korea are set to start their
summer military exercises next Monday.
North Korea calls the US-South Korean training a practice for an invasion. The allies say they have no
intentions of attacking North Korea.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying North Korea must have “an overwhelming military force and get fully
prepared for coping with any war” with the power to “surely annihilate” its enemies.
The US-South Korean drills, called Ulchi Freedom Shield, is a computer-simulated command post
exercise. During this year’s exercise that is scheduled to run through until August 31, the allies said
they’ll also conduct large-scale field training events, which will reportedly be the largest of their kind
in recent years.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson, Lee Sung Joon, told reporters that this year’s UFS
drills are aimed at further strengthening the allies’ response capabilities by performing exercises
based on scenarios that reflect North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile capabilities and other
regional security situations. Col. Isaac L. Taylor, a spokesperson for the US military, told the same
news conference that the drills are designed to be “a tough and realistic exercise.”
Earlier this month, the White House said US intelligence officials had determined that Russian
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to North Korean officials during a visit to Pyongyang last
month about increasing the sale of munitions to Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
North Korea has denied American claims that it shipped artillery shells and ammunition to Russia.
But the North has publicly supported Russia over the war and hinted at sending workers to help
rebuild Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine.
Kim has been trying to beef up ties with China and Russia in the face of US-led pressure campaigns
over its nuclear program and pandemic-related economic difficulties.
KCNA said Monday that 200-some hectares (494 acres) of farmland in North Korea’s eastern region
were flooded because of Tropical Storm Khanun.
Kim visited typhoon-hit areas, called for immediate steps to protect crops there and criticized local
officials for failing to prevent the farmlands’ flooding, the report said.
North Korea is prone to weather-related disasters such as flooding and droughts. Observers say
North Korea’s food shortage has worsened due to several reasons including draconian pandemic
restrictions, unsuccessful attempts to supply grain via state-run facilities and dwindling personal