North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently paid a visit to an air force base providing air cover for Pyongyang on April 16 – the first such visit since the beginning of the “second phase” of his leadership. This was promptly followed by another visit to a military-related facility on April 17, suggesting that the regime is focusing on strengthening internal solidarity.
Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on April 18 that “[Comrade] Kim Jong Un […] supervised and guided a test-fire of a new-type tactical guided weapon conducted by the Academy of Defense Science […]”
“The completion of the development of the weapons system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the [Korean] People’s Army (KPA),” KCNA reported Kim as saying.
“He [Kim Jong Un] has always been struck with admiration at them in the period of developing strategic weapons and our scientists, technicians and workers are, indeed, great and there is no weapon they cannot make when they are determined to do so.”
The state-run media outlet also reported that “the design indices of the tactical guided weapon whose advantages are appreciated for the peculiar mode of guiding flight and the load of a powerful warhead were perfectly verified at the test-fire conducted in various modes of firing at different targets.”
Kim’s visit to the test site for the new weapon developed by the military was his first since November last year.
North Korea observers believe that Kim’s visit to military facilities is likely related to the regime’s attempt to consolidate domestic support, rather than show off the country’s military prowess given that the reports are lacking in detail and photographs.
“If North Korea was trying to send a message to the international community, they would have added more details to the articles,” Dong Yub Kim, head of research at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES), told Daily NK. “It seems likely they’re trying to show off Kim’s efforts to protect the country.”
“They are trying to create the foundation for the North Korean people to focus on the economy by making it clear that the country’s leadership is taking care of security matters,” Kim also noted. “The fact that Kim visited an air force base the day before (April 16) and this was reported widely in the Rodong Sinmun suggests the propaganda is for internal, not external, consumption.”
In short, Kim emphasized that the North Korean regime is using the visit to military-related facilities to quell internal fears as confrontation between the US and North Korea drags on.
During his policy speech at the first session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), Kim Jong Un stated that, “We have to always keep in mind that peace can be ensured only by powerful military capabilities, and [we must] firmly maintain the principle of self-defence and keep increasing the defence capabilities of the country.”
Some observers say that Kim’s visit to the “new tactical weapon” test site may have been an attempt to break through the impasse in US-North Korea negotiations. In essence, this would mean that Kim’s visit to the facility was aimed at showing the US that the North Koreans have “other options” in addition to nuclear weapons.
The fact that North Korean reports state that Kim visited a “tactical weapons” test site instead of a “strategic weapons” test site suggests that the regime wishes to keep negotiations going while inducing US negotiators to change their stance.
KCNA reported that on April 16, Kim Jong Un observed a guided flight drill at Unit 1017 of the KPA’s Air and Anti-Aircraft Force.
Unit 1017 is located in South Pyongan Province’s Sunchon Airport and manages anti-aircraft defences for Pyongyang.