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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korean leader Kim Jong this week oversaw military drills by the country’s air and anti-aircraft force tasked with defending the capital city of Pyongyang, state-run media reported on Wednesday, in an unplanned visit to the unit in which he hailed their “readiness.”
Coverage of the visit carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and the Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim had “abruptly dropped by” Unit 1017 of the Air and Anti-aircraft Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) to “learn about the flight drill of a pursuit assault plane group.”
“It is important to make sudden decisions and inspect the regular readiness of the military unit at any time as a fight of the air and anti-aircraft field could be waged without previous notice,” DPRK media reported Kim to have said in a Korean-language report.
Kim then reportedly ordered the pilots “to take off and perform difficult and complicated air combat actions.”
After watching air combat exercises including takeoff, different air combat actions, and landing, Kim “expressed great satisfaction over the readiness to carry any air combat tasks irrespective of conditions and environment.”
The visit represents Kim’s first reported on-site inspection of a military exercise in almost half a year, coming five months since his November visit to a test of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon test.”
The North Korean leader on Tuesday said he was “proud” of Unit 1017, arguing that they had made a great “achievement by waging a vigorous struggle to restore the original performance of flights and develop fighting power one stage further.”
The DPRK leader also praised the unit for ensuring the pilots were “mentally and physically as well as technically well-prepared” and was said to have said “he feels relieved after meeting the pilots credibly carrying out anti-aircraft tasks to defend the capital city.”
The North Korean leader also “highly praised that the unit is perfectly and correctly implementing the Party’s policy of training revolution as well as military and political tasks and he can take pride in it.”
Members of the unit also stressed their “determination to thoroughly prepare to become a true combatant and versatile fighter pilot who can independently and proficiently carry out air combat mission under any unfavorable circumstances.”
To this end, state media reported, the air and anti-aircraft force promised to “stage flight drills intensively under the worst extreme condition” simulating real “war.”
Tuesday saw Kim greeted during his visit by military officials including director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA Kim Su Gil, minister of the People’s Armed Forces No Kwang Chol, and commander of the Air and Anti-Air Force of the KPA Kim Kwang Hyok.
The trip to the military site comes during a spate of visits by the DPRK leader in the wake of last week’s major political reshuffle and a “policy speech” at the First Session of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA).
That two-day meeting on Thursday and Friday saw Kim reelected as chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC).
He was also subsequently named “supreme commander” of the country’s armed forces by state media.
Kim on Monday visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to mark the Day of the Sun holiday, the birth anniversary of the country’s founding President Kim Il Sung.
Tuesday’s visit, however, marks his first formal on-site inspection since his re-election as SAC chairman on Thursday.
Kim was on the same day reported to inspected the nearby Sinchang Fish Farm with wife Ri Sol Ju, in a trip carried on the front page of Wednesday edition of the Rodong Sinmun.
Kim’s visit to the KPA unit, in turn, was featured on the second page of the party daily.
The DPRK leader used the farm inspection to point to “problems that must be overcome in the overall fish farming of the country and gave very important instructions to bring about a revolutionary turn in the fish farming field.”
One expert argued Kim’s the two concurrently-reported visits had “great significance internally and externally” and were likely intended to deliver an “efficacious message” at home and abroad.
“It shows that he internally strives to develop the economy while not neglecting the security issue,” Kim Dong-yub, Director of Research at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told NK News.
That the two on-site inspections were reported simultaneously as the North Korean leader’s first since his policy speech on Friday, Kim stressed, was significant.
“There is also another intention to prevent the demoralization of the military and the degradation of its combat power as resources are funneled into the economic development now the Byungjin policy is complete,” he continued, a reference to the now-defunct North Korean policy of emphasizing the parallel development of nuclear weapons and the economy.
March saw the DPRK leader convened the fifth meeting of company commanders and political instructors of the KPA — the second such gathering since he took power.
At that meeting, Kim urged military officials to intensify political education and develop into an “ideologically-prepared elite force.”
The DPRK leader was also accompanied Tuesday by Choe Ryong Hae, a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee as well as first vice-chairman of the SAC and president of the Presidium of the SPA.
Other leading officials of the Party Central Committee including vice-chairman Kim Phyong Hae and O Su Yong were present, as was Jo Yong Won, who was promoted to first vice department director of the WPK Central Committee at the First Session of the 14th SPA.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)