North Korea’s Kim test drives new tank and orders troops to prepare for war

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un joined troops training on a new tank model and drove one himself, state media reported Thursday, as his rivals South Korea and the US wrapped up their annual military exercises.

It is the third time Mr Kim was reported to have observed military exercises since the start of the 11-day South Korean-US drills, which he views as rehearsals for an invasion.

That is a less provocative option than missile tests.

North Korea
In images distributed by the Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong Un drives a new-type tank in North Korea (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

At the tank drills on Wednesday, Mr Kim praised the country’s latest tank as “the world’s most powerful” and told his troops to bolster their “fighting spirits” and complete “preparations for war,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

The other two drills he inspected recently were dedicated to artillery firing and manoeuvring exercises.

The tank was first unveiled during a military parade in 2020, and its rolling during Wednesday’s drill indicates that it is ready to be deployed, South Korean experts say.

Photos of the tank released by North Korea show it has a launch tube for missiles, a weapons system the former Soviet Union already operated in the 1970s.

The new tank could pose a threat to South Korea, said Yang Uk, an analyst at Asan Institute for Policy Studies, but it remains to be seen whether it can be mass-produced.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, centre, meets soldiers who took part in a training in North Korea (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The US and South Korea have been expanding their training exercises in a tit-for-tat response to the North’s weapons testing spree.

Concerns about North Korea’s military preparations have deepened since Mr Kim vowed in a speech in January to rewrite the constitution to eliminate the country’s long-standing goal to seek peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula and cement South Korea as its “invariable principal enemy”.

He said the new constitution must specify that North Korea would annex and subjugate the South if another war broke out.

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It is the third time that Kim Jong Un has been seen observing military drills, following visits to observe artillery firing drills earlier in March (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Observers say Mr Kim likely wants to use his upgraded weapons arsenal to win US concessions like extensive relief of international sanctions on North Korea.

They say North Korea is expected to extend its testing activities and ramp up warlike rhetoric this year as South Korea holds parliamentary elections in April and the US a presidential election in November.

“The South Korean-US training is over, but the North’s isn’t over yet,” Mr Yang said. “They won’t just stand still … they’ve been talking about war.”

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