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Kim Jong-un calls for ‘epochal change’ in war preparations during arms factory visit

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In this photograph released by Pyongyang's state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, speaks to military officials during an inspection of an unspecified weapons plant that took place the previous day. [YONHAP]
In this photograph released by Pyongyang’s state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, speaks to military officials during an inspection of an unspecified weapons plant that took place the previous day. [YONHAP]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected a factory that produces new missile launchers as he called for an “epochal change” in the regime’s war preparations, Pyongyang’s state media said Wednesday.

According to the North’s state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim on Tuesday visited an unspecified weapons plant that manufactures “a tactical missile weapons system that will be newly deployed to missile units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA).”

During his inspection of the plant, the North Korean leader “emphasized the need for an epochal change” in his military’s “preparations for war” by carrying out its weapons production plans for 2024 “without fail,” according to the KCNA.

The KCNA said that the North’s arms factories will manufacture the new tactical missile weapon systems in time for their deployment by the end of the year but did not specify the exact nature of the new system.

The state news agency also said that the regime’s weapons plants had met their production quotas in the first half of the year for missile launchers, which it said will be stationed with combined missile units of the North Korean military’s western operations group.

Recent North Korean state media reports have highlighted a flurry of weapons factory visits by Kim in recent days, which appear aimed at underlining his drive to modernize the regime’s military and ramp up arms production.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the North maintains the world’s fourth-largest standing army, but outside observers believe its armed forces’ conventional capabilities are severely hampered by limited fuel supplies, malnutrition and technological stagnation.

Kim’s weapons factory inspection on Tuesday took place two days after he visited factories that produce sniper rifles and rocket launcher vehicles and demanded improvements in the North Korean military’s artillery capabilities.

On Friday, he also oversaw a live-fire artillery test of what state media called an “updated version” of its 240-millimeter multiple rocket launcher system, which the North said it plans to deploy between this year and 2026.

Officials in Seoul believe that Pyongyang is trying to ramp up production of artillery shells and multiple rocket launcher systems amid deepening military cooperation between the North and Russia, especially following a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September last year.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik previously said the North has shipped at least 6,700 containers to Russia since the summit, enough to carry around 3 million rounds of 152-millimeter artillery shells or 500,000 rounds of 122-millimeter artillery shells.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said Sunday that it is conducting its own investigation into suspicions that the North supplied Russia with old stockpiles of artillery shells to use against Ukraine, following a local media report that 122-millimeter artillery shells manufactured in North Korea in the 1970s had been photographed by a Ukrainian photographer on the battlefield.

The North is also suspected of sourcing semiconductors and other technological components that it is officially barred from importing with assistance from intermediaries in China and other places.

British weapons monitoring group Conflict Armament Research said in February that “hundreds” of U.S. and European components were found in the debris of North Korean ballistic missiles fired upon Ukraine, some manufactured as recently as last year.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]

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