North Korea's Kim orders sharp increase in missile production, days before US-South Korea drills

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made another inspection tour of major munitions factories and ordered a drastic increase in production of missiles and other weapons, state media said Monday, days before South Korea and the U.S. begin annual military drills that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal.

Kim’s push to produce more weapons also comes as U.S. 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, armored vehicles and artillery shells on Friday and Saturday.

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 frontline 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 U.S. 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 U.S. and South Korean over their expansion of joint military training exercises.

North Korea could perform more weapons tests soon as the U.S. and South Korea are set to start their summer military exercises later this month. North Korea calls the U.S.-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.

Many experts say Kim eventually aims to use his modernized weapons arsenals to wrest U.S. concessions, such as sanctions relief, whenever diplomacy resumes with Washington.

Earlier this month, the White House said U.S. 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 U.S.-led pressure campaigns over its nuclear program and pandemic-related economic difficulties.

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