North Korea is preparing for a new round of provocative displays of weapons, such as testing long-range missiles and launching a spy satellite, while ramping up illicit activities to support its fragile economy, South Korea’s intelligence service said on Thursday.
North Korea’s chronic economic difficulties and food shortages have worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and UN sanctions. But it has conducted a record number of missile tests since last year amid suspicions that its weapons programs are funded by illegal cyber activities and covert exports of prohibited items.
The National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that North Korea’s economy contracted every year between 2020 and 2022 and that its gross domestic product last year was 12% lower than in 2016, according to Yoo Sang-bumone of the legislators who attended the briefing.
Outside experts believe that the current North Korea’s food shortages and economic woes are the worst since leader Kim Jong-un took office power in late 2011. But they say there are no signs of imminent famine or major public unrest that could threaten Kim’s hold on its 26 million people.
The food problem has been exacerbated by the regime’s attempts to restrict market activities, declining personal income and pandemic-related restrictions that decimated foreign trade, according to North Korean watchdog groups.
The NIS told lawmakers that in the first half of this year, North Korea covertly exported an estimated 1.7 million tons of coal, up 300% from the previous year, and 580 kilograms (1,280 pounds) gold, up 50%, both in violation of UN sanctions, according to Yoo.
It is estimated that North Korea has stolen more than 13.5 billion dollars in virtual assets since 2015, Yoo said.
The NIS has a spotty record of reporting on events in North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive nations, but it is generally more reliable than civilian monitoring groups.
The NIS also said that Kim is expected to resume weapons tests in response to major annual US and South Korean military exercises which begin next week and a trilateral summit between the United States, South Korea and Japan at Camp David, the United States, this Friday.
It detected unusually intense activity at a North Korean facility that produces solid-fuel ICBMs and another site related to liquid-fuel ICBMs, Yoo said in a televised briefing.
The NIS said North Korea could also try launch a spy satellite in late August or early September to commemorate the country’s 75th anniversary on September 9. The NIS said North Korea has been testing an engine for the rocket to be used for the launch and has installed an additional ground antenna to receive satellite data, Yoo said.
It would be North Korea’s second attempt this year to put a spy satellite into orbit. On its first attempt at the end of May, the rocket crashed into the ocean shortly after liftoff. North Korean state media said it lost momentum after the separation of its first and second stages.
Kim promised to develop a high Tech Weapon Systems Series, including a military reconnaissance satellite, in response to what North Korea calls US military threats.
North Korea is extremely sensitive to US efforts to strengthen its alliances with South Korea and Japan. Since early 2022, North Korea has carried out more than 100 weapons tests, saying it needs to strengthen its own military capabilities in response to expanding US and South Korean exercises, which have included a US aircraft carrier, long-range bombers and nuclear weapons. -armed submarine.
North Korea has shown that its intercontinental ballistic missiles have the Potential range to reach continental United States, but many analysts believe that it still needs to master some remaining technological challenges. Its short-range missiles are capable of targeting South Korea and Japan.
Three of North Korea’s four known types of ICBMs use liquid fuel and the fourth uses solid fuel. Solid fuel missiles are easier to move and fire quickly, making them more difficult to detect before launch.
(With information from AP)
Japan and the US will develop a new anti-missile system capable of shooting down hypersonic projectiles from China and Russia
North Korean hackers managed to infiltrate a Russian hypersonic missile company
Kim Jong-un ordered his Army to prepare “offensively” for a possible war