North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a “firepower strike drill,” North Korean state media confirmed on Tuesday. The drill took place on Monday and featured the launch of what South Korean authorities said were at least three projectiles.
According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s external state news agency, Kim “guided another firepower strike drill of long-range artillery sub-units of the Korean People’s Army on the front on March 9.” Kim had overseen an exercise days earlier near the coastal city of Wonsan.
Per images released by North Korean state media, the mixed artillery drills involved at least one close-range ballistic missile system, several 240 mm guided multiple launch rocket systems, and self-propelled guns. One image showed a target island being struck off the North Korean coast, in the Sea of Japan.
According to KCNA, Kim “set forth battle circumstances to the chief of the General Staff and watched the drill at the observation post.” In images released by state media, Kim is seen guiding the exercises with binoculars in hand.
“As an order to start the fire was given, the brave artillerymen on the front who have further sharply whetted the bayonet for the revolution with the high spirit of annihilating the enemy amid the flames of the training revolution personally kindled by the Supreme Leader and the wind of hard training for strengthening combat power, opened fire all at once,” KCNA reported.
According to the state media account of the exercises, it is likely that further training might lie ahead. Kim reportedly said that the artillery units should “go on in the direction of further strengthening the artillery training.” Kim “set forth important tasks to improve the quality of artillery training and conduct drills under the simulated conditions of an actual war,” KCNA noted.
Monday’s exercise involved the sixth known launches of the close-range ballistic missile system known to the U.S. intelligence community as the KN25. North Korea has not made public its name for this system, but has simply referred to it as a “super-large caliber” artillery rocket.
The exercises come amid ongoing concerns in North Korea about the spread of COVID-19, or the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus. North Korean state media had earlier described the disease as a national existential threat.
Like during the previous exercise this month, Kim was seen with Korean People’s Army officers wearing face masks though the North Korean leader himself was not wearing a mask.
Monday’s exercise followed a statement from the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemning several European states that had raised concerns about the most recent North Korean drills.
North Korea, in particular, has insisted that the apparent 600 mm KN25 guided ballistic missiles are simply a large rocket artillery system and should not fall under the United Nations Security Council resolution 1718 proscribed category of ballistic missile tests.