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See Kim Jong Un showing off a new tank

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sits inside a tank
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sits inside a tank during a military demonstration involving tank units, in North Korea.KCNA via Reuters
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was seen riding in a tank during military exercises this month.

  • North Korea held exercises involving tanks and air and amphibious combat units.

  • The US and South Korea also held joint military drills, including counter-nuclear operations.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was seen riding in a tank during military exercises earlier this month in a show of force likely meant to counter the US-South Korea military exercises his regime has repeatedly denounced.

Kim talked tough after the photo ops and brought along the person speculated to be a likely successor in North Korea's authoritarian dynasty.

Kim oversees firepower demonstrations

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sits inside a tank during a military demonstration.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sits inside a tank during a military demonstration.KCNA via Reuters

The Korean People's Army demonstrated its firepower with an array of large-scale demonstrations. The drills included air and amphibious combat troops and "newly-equipped super-large" rocket launchers. The exercises also featured a new main battle tank.

Many details of the exercises could not be confirmed due to the lack of independent observers, but images from the North Korean state-run news agency showed more than 60 self-propelled howitzers and multiple rocket launchers were part of the exercises, USNI News reported.

Preparing for 'merciless and rapid strikes' in the event of war

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds a firearm surrounded by military personnel
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds a firearm at a major military operations base in the western region of the country.KCNA via Reuters

The military drills came in response to the North Korean strongman calling to intensify "practical actual-war drills ensuring victory in a war," according to a report by Korean Central News Agency.

Kim said the military exercises were "necessary" for all its artillery sub-units to prepare them to "take the initiative with merciless and rapid strikes at the moment of their entry into an actual war," per KCNA.

Rising tensions with South Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gestures at soldiers during a military demonstration
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gestures as he guides a military demonstration involving tank units in North Korea.KCNA via Reuters

The military demonstrations come as North Korea ramps up tensions against South Korea.

Earlier this year, Kim said the country's government would make a "decisive policy change" in its relations with its southern neighbor, potentially in a bid to justify future use of nuclear weapons against the South.

"If they give up on peaceful unification and redefine South Korea as a hostile enemy country with no diplomatic relations, the contradiction of using nuclear weapons against the same people will be eliminated," Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, told Reuters.

Shin Won-sik, Seoul's defense minister, said it would "constitute a war" if North Korea fired upon the South.

Modernizing North Korea's armed forces

A North Korean soldier is seen leaping in the air beside other personnel during military training.
Soldiers participate in a demonstration during the training of the Korean People's Army's air and amphibious combat units.KCNA via Reuters

North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun, the official organ of the state's Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, reported that the exercises focused on preparing troops for "unexpected wartime circumstances" as the North Korean leader works to modernize the country's armed forces.

Ready for 'full combat mobilization'

Soldiers participate in a demonstration during the training of the Korean People's Army's air and amphibious combat units.
Soldiers participate in a demonstration during the training of the Korean People's Army's air and amphibious combat units.KCNA via Reuters

Following the large-scale exercises, Kim declared the military was ready for "full combat mobilization."

"The destructive offensive means possessed by our army should more thoroughly fulfill their missions to block and suppress the possibility of war with the constant perfect preparedness to collapse the capital of the enemy and the structure of its military forces," Kim told the troops, according to KCNA.

'Fulfilling important military missions for war deterrence'

A North Korean tank fires during a military demonstration.
A North Korean tank fires during a military demonstration.KCNA via Reuters

"The drill started with the power demonstration firing of the long-range artillery sub-units near the border who have put the enemy's capital in their striking range and are fulfilling important military missions for war deterrence," according to a report by KCNA.

Parachuting paratroopers

Soldiers are seen parachuting in the sky during a demonstration during the training of the Korean People's Army's air and amphibious combat units.
Soldiers are seen parachuting in the sky during a demonstration during the training of the Korean People's Army's air and amphibious combat units.KCNA via Reuters

Photos released by KCNA showed North Korean tanks in a line firing during military demonstrations. Paratroopers are also seen parachuting out of large commercial cargo planes, NK News reported.

Late last year, experts said North Korea appeared to have converted Air Koryo's Il-76 cargo planes into military aircraft, including an airborne warning system used to detect enemy missiles.

In 2022, Air Koryo officials faced sanctions in response to aiding in nuclear tests run by North Korea.

Kim's likely successor attending military drills

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's daughter Kim Ju Ae looks through binoculars while standing beside her father and North Korean military personnel.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's daughter Kim Ju Ae looks through binoculars while standing beside her father and North Korean military personnel.KCNA via Reuters

Kim's daughter Kim Ju Ae was also photographed attending the paratrooper drills.

Ju Ae, who is believed to be about 10 or 11 years old, has made numerous appearances alongside her father — the only one of his three children to do so — leading to the belief that he is prepping her to be his likely successor.

"It would not be out of question for him to decide he wants his daughter to be next in line because he has shown his willingness to put women in positions of power," Ramon Pacecho Pardo, a professor of international relations at King's College London, told Business Insider's Tom Porter.

Coinciding with Freedom Shield 24

Military members salute during a military demonstration involving tank units in North Korea.
Military members salute during a military demonstration involving tank units in North Korea.KCNA via Reuters

The North Korean military drills also coincided with joint exercises held by the US and South Korea, which included training on land, sea, and air, as well as operations to counter nuclear missiles.

Forces from other United Nations countries took part in the annual military drills, called Freedom Shield 24, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand.

The exercises, which ran from March 4 to 14, are aimed at strengthening security and stability across Northeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific by fortifying "the combined defense posture and enhance Alliance response capabilities against a spectrum of security threats."

An 'undisguised' military threat

Military helicopters fly above firing tanks during a military demonstration in North Korea.
Military helicopters fly above firing tanks during a military demonstration in North Korea.KCNA via Reuters

North Korea's Ministry of National Defense released a statement denouncing the US-led joint military exercises "for getting more undisguised in their military threat to a sovereign state."

"The armed forces of the DPRK will continue to watch the adventurist acts of the enemies and conduct responsible military activities to strongly control the unstable security environment on the Korean peninsula," according to the statement.

Resuming missile testing

The Korean People's Army conducts an artillery firing drill.
The Korean People's Army conducts an artillery firing drill.KCNA via Reuters

Days after exercises for Freedom Shield 24 concluded, North Korea resumed its short-range ballistic missile tests on March 17. North Korea is banned from testing ballistic missiles by the UN Security Council.

Russia was also reportedly using North Korean missiles in the war in Ukraine and collecting data on its performance with an arms deal between the two allies. A South Korean official described Ukraine as a "test site" for North Korean weapons.

"The Kim regime's one-upmanship aims to show strength to its domestic audience, suggest costs on the Korean Peninsula for Seoul's international security cooperation, and warn Washington against increasing pressure on Pyongyang," Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Seoul's Ewha University, told Al-Jazeera.

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