North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised tests of long-range cruise missiles, which he described as a successful demonstration of his military's expanding nuclear strike capabilities and readiness for actual war", state media said on Thursday.
Wednesday's tests extended a record number of weapons demonstrations this year by North Korea, which has punctuated its testing activity with threats to preemptively use nuclear weapons against South Korea and the United States if it perceives its leadership as under threat.
Analysts say Kim is exploiting the distraction created by Russia's war on Ukraine, using it as a window to accelerate arms development as he pursues a full-fledged nuclear arsenal that could viably threaten regional US allies and the American homeland.
South Korean officials say Kim may also conduct a nuclear test in the coming weeks or months, escalating a pressure campaign aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power that can negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said the two missiles during Wednesday's tests flew for nearly three hours, drawing oval and figure eight-shaped patterns above its western seas, and showed that they can hit targets 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) away.
The tests demonstrated the accuracy and war-fighting efficiency of the weapon system that has already been deployed at army units operating tactical battlefield nuclear weapons, the agency said.
Kim after the tests praised the readiness of his nuclear combat forces, which he said were fully prepared for actual war to bring enemies under their control at a blow with various weapons systems that are mobile, precise and powerful", according to the report.
He said that the tests send another clear warning to enemies and vowed to further expand the operational realm of his nuclear armed forces to resolutely deter any crucial military crisis and war crisis at any time and completely take the initiative in it.
Wednesday's tests were the first known weapons demonstrations by North Korea after it launched 12 ballistic missiles in a span of two weeks through October 9 in what it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets.
Those weapons included a new intermediate range ballistic missile that flew over Japan while demonstrating potential range to reach Guam, a major US military hub in the Pacific, and a short-range missile fired from an unspecified platform inside an inland reservoir.
North Korea said those drills were meant as a warning to Seoul and Washington for staging dangerous joint naval exercises involving the nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in recent weeks, which were meant to be the allies' show of strength in face of growing North Korean threats.
Concerns about Kim's expanding nuclear arsenal has grown since his rubber-stamp parliament last month passed a new law that authorised preemptive use of nuclear weapons over a broad range of scenarios, including non-war situations, where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.
South Korea's military has since warned North Korea that it would self-destruct if it uses its bombs by triggering an overwhelming response from the allies.
While Kim's intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the American homeland have gathered much of the international attention, he has also been expanding his arsenal of shorter-range weapons aimed at overwhelming missile defences in South Korea.
The North describes some of those weapons as tactical, which experts say communicate a threat to arm them with small battlefield nukes and proactively use them during conflicts to blunt the stronger conventional forces of South Korea and the United States, which stations about 28,500 troops in the South.
North Korea has fired more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles over more than 20 launch events this year, exploiting a divide in the UN Security Council deepened over Russia's war on Ukraine.
The council's permanent Moscow and Beijing have rejected US-led proposals to impose tighter sanctions on Pyongyang over its intensified testing activity.
Experts say the North's next nuclear test, which would be its seventh overall since 2006, is likely to be the first that the Security Council fails to meet with new sanctions.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since early 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling US-led sanctions against the North and the North's denuclearisation steps.
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