North Korea fired its fourth barrage of cruise missiles in some two weeks, a move that came just hours after leader Kim Jong Un called for stepping up "war preparations” during a visit to a naval shipyard.

Multiple cruise missiles were fired toward waters off North Korea’s west coast at around 11 a.m. Friday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message to reporters. U.S. and South Korean intelligence authorities were analyzing the test, it said. Kim’s regime usually releases information about the launches a day after the fact.

The North Korean leader inspected warships being built at the Nampho Dockyard on the country’s west coast, the official Korean Central News Agency reported earlier. He was on hand to see the test late last month of a new cruise missile designed to be fired from a submarine and also inspected a nuclear-powered submarine his state is trying to build.

Kim is likely using the tests to show he has a variety of methods to launch a strike, adding to the planning contingencies for the U.S. and its allies in the region — Japan and South Korea. This includes using his navy to fire off missiles as well as deploying a new type of underwater drone that Pyongyang says would be able to deliver a nuclear strike. Weapons experts doubt the claim.

At the start of the year, Kim raised worries about ratcheting up provocations when he called for ending the concept of peaceful reunification with South Korea and his state fired artillery near Yeonpyeong Island. The seas near the South Korean border island have been the site of clashes between the two sides, including a 2010 incident in which South Korea said North Korea torpedoed one of its warships south of the line, killing 46 sailors.

Although North Korea is barred by U.N. Security Council resolutions from testing ballistic missiles, it faces no such prohibitions on cruise missiles.

Ballistic missiles fly in an arced trajectory at supersonic speeds and are unpowered on descent. Cruise missiles travel at typically subsonic speeds and can fly at low altitudes. They are maneuverable, making them harder to detect and intercept.

Kim has shown no inclination that he wants to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks and has rolled out a series of new weapons designed to deliver nuclear strikes on the U.S. and its allies in Asia.

This has led to some speculation that Kim has turned the corner on his bellicose outbursts and is readying for battle. U.S. President Joe Biden has warned Kim that it would mean the end of his regime if he tried to launch a nuclear attack.

Kim over the past few months has called for strengthening his navy, which mostly consists of small warships and submarines for coastal defenses. Russia has been looking to train with Kim’s fleet as it steps up cooperation with its neighbor, South Korea’s spy agency warned in September, Yonhap News reported.

In testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Samuel Paparo said the relationship between Russia and North Korea is becoming symbiotic as Kim receives help from Moscow in exchange for sending munitions to President Vladimir Putin for his war on Ukraine.

"It closes gaps each for the other, providing conventional weapons to Russia from North Korean industry, providing sanctions-evading materials and high end — potentially high-end technology to North Korea,” Paparo said at the hearing for his reappointment as commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.


@Jackie San