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Kim Jong Un Likely Sends Successor to ICBM Factory Tour – Radio Free Asia

UPDATED on January 5, 2024 at 3:04 a.m. ET

Kim Jong Un and his “probable successor” Ju Ae visited an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) mobile launcher vehicle factory, a move seen by an expert that signals a strong commitment to ramp up the production of these vehicles.

The North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his “respected child” Ju Ae “conducted an on-site guidance at an important military vehicle production factory,” North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said Friday.

Kim and the daughter, accompanied by major ruling party officials including the powerful sister Kim Yo Jong, observed “various military vehicles produced at the factory, gaining a detailed understanding of their production status,” KCNA added.

Photos released by KCNA show the North Korean leadership standing before mobile launch vehicles, which could be equipped to launch its latest ICBM, the Hwasong-18.

The use of transporter erector launchers (TELs) complicates the ability of the U.S. and its regional allies to carry out pre-emptive strikes, as these mobile platforms offer enhanced concealment and mobility for missile deployments.

“This factory holds an extremely important position and plays a pivotal role in the historic endeavor of bolstering our national defense. In the current grave situation, where we must be more resolutely prepared for military confrontation, the contribution of this factory to our defense capabilities is of paramount importance,” said Kim Jong Un, as cited by KCNA.

North Korea must also further modernize its military capability, the North Korean leader added.

Hours after the KCNA report, North Korea launched some 200 artillery shells into waters off its Western coast near the inter-Korean maritime border of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. This area is close to South Korea’s Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong islands, which are located near the NLL.

The JCS said in the statement that the shells, launched between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Seoul time, caused no casualties to civilians or military personnel in the South. In response to this act, however, Seoul directed residents on the islands to seek shelter, as it informed its plans to conduct “naval fire” drills by its troops later in the afternoon.

The North Korean leader’s message came as the U.S. and South Korea began their first joint military drills for this year on Thursday, involving the U.S. Air Force asset, Rivet Joint, a reconnaissance aircraft designed for intelligence collection.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul and advisor to South Korean administrations, said that Pyongyang is determined to show that its stance on nuclear confrontation with the U.S. is a deeply serious commitment rather than mere rhetoric.

“Kim Jong Un’s display of ICBM mobile launcher vehicles signals a strong commitment to ramp up the production of these vehicles, in step with the increased manufacturing of nuclear missiles,” Yang said, adding that the interdependence between missiles and their launchers is “akin to that of a thread and needle” – each crucial to the other’s operation.

“Historically, North Korea relied on importing missile launch vehicles. However, through domestic production and customization, it has significantly improved the mobility, stealth, and quick deployment of its missile arsenal,” said the pundit.

The expert also noted the significance of Ju Ae accompanying the leader, saying her presence at military facilities underscored a specific symbolic message.

“It indicates that the commitment to bolstering national defense will persist, adhering to the doctrine that fortifying defense is a duty of the Baekdu bloodline,” Yang said.

The Baekdu bloodline, named after North Korea’s highest mountain Baekdu, refers to the lineage of North Korea’s ruling Kim family, as the hereditary leaders of the country.

The nominee to be the next head of South Korea’s spy agency said Thursday that he sees Ju Ae as the “probable successor” of North Korea, marking the first time the agency has officially indicated her possible succession of power.

Radio Free Asia reported in November last year that the daughter received a new official title “Morning Star of Korea” – an apparent and deliberate parallel to the country’s founding leader Kim Il Sung.

The daughter, born in 2013, has started making public appearances since November 2022, accompanying Kim Jong Un in North Korea’s various high-profile occasions, including his visiting of missile launching sites.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Elaine Chan.

Updated to add a statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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