North Korea blames US-ROK air force drills for raising tensions in report on test of command" />

Kim Jong Un leads salvo missile launch in first test of ‘nuclear trigger’ system- Colin Zwirko April 23

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North Korea blames US-ROK air force drills for raising tensions in report on test of command and control over nukes

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un led a salvo missile launch to test the country’s “Nuclear Trigger’ system” for the first time on Monday, according to state media, while blaming the U.S. and South Korea for raising tensions.

The drills featured training on raising the war alert in the lead up to the launch of four 600mm multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) rockets at once using the “national nuclear weapon comprehensive control system,” a test of Kim’s ability to maintain command and control over nuclear weapons spread across the country in a crisis.

They were launched in a “nuclear counteroffensive” scenario simulating an attack against the U.S. and South Korea, the Rodong Sinmun reported on Tuesday, stating that frequent sorties during recent joint air drills by the two countries south of the border have “incited an extreme war fever.”

State media also accused the allies of practicing the “removal of a target” in North Korea during a joint paratrooper “infiltration” drill on April 18 and said nuclear weapons development must be enhanced since “the security environment of the DPRK is seriously threatened by the hostile forces’ ceaseless military provocations to stifle the DPRK by ‘force.’”

Before Monday’s missile launch, soldiers practiced “the procedure and process of switching over to a nuclear counterattack posture in a scenario where the ‘Hwasan (Volcano) Alert,’ the state’s highest nuclear crisis alert [level], is issued.”

Parts of the drills involved “operating the nuclear counterattack command system” and practicing “the process and order” of setting up 600mm MLRS transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles with rockets “tipped with simulated nuclear warheads.”

“Through the drill, the reliability of the system of command, management, control and operation of the whole nuclear force was reexamined in a multifaceted way, and the action order and combat methods for making the super-large multiple rocket units rapidly switch over to nuclear counterattack were mastered,” state media reported.

A salvo launch of four 600mm MLRS rockets appeared to take place on April 22 from the lawn of one of Kim Jong Un’s mansions in eastern Pyongyang | Image: Rodong Sinmun (April 23, 2024)

Pyongyang has promoted the steady development of its command and control systems in recent years, particularly after enacting a new nuclear doctrine in Sept. 2022.

It stipulated that only leader Kim Jong Un has decision-making powers over using nuclear weapons, but if his command and control abilities are “placed in danger owing to an attack by hostile forces, a nuclear strike shall be launched automatically and immediately to destroy the hostile forces.”

Ankit Panda, Stanton Senior Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told NK News that “there is still quite a bit we don’t know” about North Korea’s command and control systems despite improved transparency in recent years.

“The adoption of tactical nuclear weapons [like the 600mm MLRS] will introduce strong incentives to co-locate warheads and launchers, and to disperse warhead storage,” he explained, though he suspects “North Korea has not yet fully dispersed its warhead storage infrastructure, likely to mitigate the risk of unauthorized use.”

Panda said state media reports in the future could hint at nuclear warheads being distributed around the country or handled by “frontline” military units as part of this process.

“There are other options too; Kim could opt to only disperse warheads in a crisis, but that has other risks,” he said, pointing to tradeoffs between maintaining control and establishing a rapid launch capability.

A salvo launch of four 600mm MLRS rockets appeared to take place on April 22 from the lawn of one of Kim Jong Un’s mansions in eastern Pyongyang | Image: Rodong Sinmun (April 23, 2024)

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) spokesperson Lee Sung-jun told reporters at a briefing Tuesday that Seoul believes the test was intended in part as a show of force after a “delay” in the first of three planned military reconnaissance satellite launches this year. He said the previous day that a satellite launch does not appear imminent despite heavy activity at the space launch site.

Lee added on Tuesday that the MLRS system test appears to be related to intentions to “export” the weapon abroad. The accusation comes after Russia has been found to be using new North Korean ballistic missiles in attacks on Ukraine this year.

The Rodong Sinmun said the four rockets on Monday flew 219 miles (352 km) before successfully striking an island off the east coast at roughly the same time.

On North Korea’s claims of “sniper”-like accuracy in the test, Lee said the JCS “assessed this was exaggerated” and that “there appear to be many untruthful aspects” to the DPRK’s report, without going into specifics.

The island Kim Jong Un is looking at in state TV images of Monday’s launch appears to be one that North Korea has used often during missile tests, located 216 miles (348 km) from the launch spot.

Photos show the launch spot was a manicured lawn at a Kim family mansion sometimes called the Jindallae Guesthouse east of Pyongyang, near a garden-themed long-range missile launchpad that was built last year.

JCS announced it detected the launch of “several” short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) in real time just after 3 p.m. KST, estimating that they flew around 186 miles (300 km) before landing in the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

Japanese defense authorities said the missiles flew around 155 miles (250 km) at a maximum altitude of 31 miles (50 km).

Kim led a similar salvo launch of the same missile system (called KN-25 by the U.S.) but on a different lawn of the same Kim mansion last month. It also involved testing the use of an “automatic fire command and control system.”

State media described that launch as a drill to prove the “readiness posture” of soldiers and their ability to make “unexpected” maneuvers with the mobile launch vehicles.

A silo-launched SRBM test in March 2023 reportedly involved multiple days of testing the “reliability of the command and control operation system” for tactical nuclear forces.

Experts also interpreted the launch of eight missiles from four locations across North Korea on one morning in June 2022 as part of command and control training.

North Korea’s nuclear doctrine says Pyongyang can launch nuclear weapons not only in response to an enemy nuclear or conventional attack on the leadership or important assets, but also preemptively if it judges that an enemy is planning an imminent attack.

Edited by Arius Derr

Last updated April 23 at 12:46 p.m. KST with JCS comments