– North Korea said on Friday it had fired 18 short-range ballistic missiles during a drill as a demonstration of its willingness to launch a pre-emptive strike against South Korea’s “gangsters’ regime” if necessary to counter an attack.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided the firing drill of the 600mm “super-large” multiple rocket launchers on Thursday, state news agency KCNA reported.

South Korea said it had detected at least 10 short-range ballistic missiles fired by North Korea off its east coast, calling it a possible display for would-be weapons buyers, including Russia.

The launch, following the firing of tactical ballistic missiles and a failed satellite launch this month, was a clear act of provocation that threatens peace on the Korean peninsula, deputy spokesperson for Seoul’s unification ministry Kim In-ae told a briefing.

Artillery troops successfully hit the target of an island about 365 km (230 miles) away as Kim Jong Un oversaw the demonstration at the launch site, KCNA reported.

Photos published by state media showed 18 missiles, identified by experts as KN-25s, rising into the air from mobile launchers.

First tested in 2019, the “super-large” rocket blurs the distinction between multiple-launch rocket systems and short-range ballistic missiles, according to the Center for International and Strategic Studies.

North Korea has said a tactical nuclear weapon could be fitted to such missiles. Leader Kim urged the country’s nuclear forces to be ready to carry out the mission of war deterrence and take the initiative in case of war, KCNA said.

“Showers of fire for annihilation” during the drill showed North Korea’s will to defend its sovereignty and react against the enemy, KCNA said in another report.

The drill included the use of a recently unveiled fire-control system that is part of the government’s combined nuclear weapons management system, KCNA said.

The US State Department condemned Thursday’s launch using ballistic missile technology as reckless and violating multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The US Defense Intelligence Agency said analysis of debris imagery confirmed Russia has fielded North Korean missiles in its war in Ukraine, according to a report summary.

Russia and North Korea have denied arms deals, which would violate U.N. embargoes on Pyongyang, but have vowed to deepen cooperation in all sectors.

A column carried by KCNA criticized Wednesday’s deployment of US RC-135U reconnaissance aircraft from Japan to the Korean peninsula, saying the aircraft and other reconnaissance assets by the South and the US infringed on North Korea’s sovereignty.

South Korean media reported that a US military spy plane had flown above the Seoul metropolitan area and waters off the west coast this week, citing flight trackers.

On Wednesday, North Korea sent hundreds of balloons carrying trash and manure across the heavily fortified border to South Korea, calling them “gifts of sincerity” and prompting an angry response from Seoul, which said the act was base and dangerous. – Reuters