SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered his military to expand its combat exercises and strengthen war preparedness as he looks to escalate an already provocative run in weapons demonstrations in the face of deepening tensions with its neighbors and Washington.
Kim presided over a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Military Commission on Monday and encouraged the armed forces to perform "ever-victorious feats" and display "matchless military strength" to open a new phase in development, the country's official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday.
The meeting came amid signs North Korea is planning a military parade that may be an occasion to showcase the latest hardware from his growing nuclear weapons and missile program that's brewing concern for the United States and its allies in Asia.
The commission's members, who represent Kim's top military brass, discussed a series of tasks aimed at inducing "great change" in the military, including "constantly expanding and intensifying the operation and combat drills" and "more strictly perfecting the preparedness for war," the agency said.
The commission also discussed unspecified organizational changes to "fundamentally improve and strengthen" military affairs, and state media photos of the meeting showed a flag representing a possibly new department called the "missile general bureau."
North Korea marks the 75th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army on Wednesday and may celebrate with a parade in Pyongyang.
Lee Sung-jun, spokesperson of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a briefing that the South Korean military has detected a "significant increase in personnel and vehicles" in areas related to parade rehearsals, but declined to share a specific assessment on when the event would take place.
Lee said the South Korean military was closely monitoring developments related to North Korea's possible creation of a new military bureau related to missiles, but didn't provide further details. Some analysts say that the new department could possibly handle the development of nuclear warheads and ballistic systems.
Kim's comments from the military meeting are the latest warning from Pyongyang that it's preparing to intensify its military demonstrations following a record-breaking year in missile testing. The warnings are in part a response to the United States' expanding military drills with South Korea, which the allies have said are aimed at countering the North's evolving threat.
Last week, North Korea threatened to counter U.S. military moves with the "most overwhelming nuclear force" as it condemned U.S. plans to expand its joint exercise with South Korea and deploy more advanced military assets like bombers and aircraft carriers to the region.
North Korea fired more than 70 ballistic missiles in 2022, including potential nuclear-capable weapons designed to strike targets in South Korea or reach the U.S. mainland. It also conducted a slew of launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets in response to the expanded U.S. military drills with South Korea, which had been downsized during the Trump administration.
During a major political conference in December, Kim called for an "exponential increase" of the country's nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nukes targeting South Korea and the development of more powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the American homeland.
Experts say Kim's weapons tests and threats are aimed at forcing Washington to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power, which Pyongyang sees as a way to negotiate economic and political concession from a position of strength.
But there are also signs that the costs of Kim's growing nuclear ambitions are piling up. North Korean state media said Monday that the ruling Workers' Party has scheduled a plenary meeting of its powerful Central Committee later this month to discuss the "urgent task" on improving agricultural production amid deepening economic isolation.
Some experts have said that the country's food insecurity is likely at its worst state since the 1990s when a devastating famine killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang has been stalled since 2019, with the two sides remaining at odds over U.S.-led economic sanctions against the North and the North's nuclear program.