SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Friday extended a provocative run in weapons tests by firing cruise missiles into the sea, as leader Kim Jong Un called for his military to step up war preparations while touring a shipyard.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the U.S. and South Korean militaries were analyzing the North Korean launches into its western sea. It said the South’s military detected multiple missiles but it did not immediately provide a specific number or an assessment of their flight characteristics.
The launches, which were the North’s fourth round of cruise missile tests in 2024, came hours after state media reported that Kim reiterated his focus on strengthening his naval forces as he inspected unspecified naval projects at a shipyard in Nampho, on the west coast.
Kim in recent months has emphasized his effort to build a nuclear-armed navy to counter what he portrays as growing external threats posed by the United States, South Korea and Japan, which have stepped up their military cooperation to cope with Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency did not specify when Kim visited Nampho. It paraphrased Kim as saying that the strengthening of his naval force “presents itself as the most important issue in reliably defending the maritime sovereignty of the country and stepping up the war preparations.”
KCNA did not specify the types of warships being built in Nampho, but said they were related to a five-year military development plan set during a ruling party congress in early 2021. During those meetings, Kim revealed an extensive wish list of advanced military assets, which included nuclear-powered submarines and nuclear missiles that can be launched from underwater.
During the inspection, Kim was briefed on the progress of his naval projects and remaining technological challenges and ordered workers to “unconditionally” complete the efforts within the timeframe of the plan that runs through 2025, KCNA said.
Kim Inae, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said it was the first time the ministry was aware of that state media reported on Kim Jong Un conducting a military inspection in Nampho. That could suggest an expansion of naval projects from the country’s eastern shipyard of Sinpo, which has been the North’s base for submarine construction. Kim did not provide a specific answer when asked whether Seoul believes the North is using Nampho for its efforts to build nuclear-powered submarines.
“By making military threats routine, North Korea is trying to create a sense of insecurity among South Korean people to undermine trust in their government and to attract international attention to build an atmosphere in which its demands must be accepted to resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula,” she said.
South Korea’s army said its special operation troops wrapped up a 10-day training with U.S. Green Berets on Friday in a region near the country’s capital, Seoul, in the allies’ latest combined military exercises. The countries in recent months have staged larger drills, including trilateral exercises involving Japan.
Kim Jong Un also called for naval might on Sunday while inspecting a test of a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, the Pulhwasal-3-31, designed to be fired from submarines. Last month the North also conducted tests of a long-range cruise missile, which it has described as nuclear-capable and can cover ranges of up to 1,240 miles, which would potentially put U.S. military bases in Japan within reach.
While North Korea has demonstrated quick progress in expanding its lineup of land-based nuclear-capable missiles, experts say Kim’s naval ambitions may require significantly more time, resources and technology breakthroughs. Most of its aging, diesel-powered submarines can launch only torpedoes and mines, and experts say Kim’s stated pursuit of nuclear-propelled submarines is largely unfeasible without significant external assistance.