Seoul holds largest-ever artillery drills to discourage Pyongyang’s potential provocations

South Korean soldiers of an artillery unit take part in a drill. File photo. © Kim Hong-Ji
Thunderous sounds rocked the South-North Korean border as hundreds of artillery systems fired simultaneously in Seoul’s largest-ever artillery drills near the demarcation line on the anniversary of last year’s exchange of fire with Pyongyang.

The exercise involved around 300 K-55 and K-9 Thunder artillery systems operated by dozens of military units which fired shells simultaneously in multiple directions right next to the 250-kilometer Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which divides the nations by a strip that is about four kilometers wide.

“Some 300 artillery pieces from 49 artillery battalions are planning to take part in the live-fire exercise,” the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said in a statement just ahead of the exercise. “The drill that will kick off at 5:04pm will involve the K-9 and K-55 self-propelled artillery pieces.”

The display falls on the anniversary of an exchange of fire between the states in August last year, following a land mine explosions that maimed two South Korean soldiers. The drills were initiated to check the combat readiness of troops in case of new “provocations” from the North.

The precision of the firing process was monitored in real time using surveillance drones.

Massive drills took place as tensions on the peninsula run at all-time high, with the North continuing to violate UN sanctions and pursuing nuclear research and the development of ballistic rockets.

Pyongyang has slammed Seoul’s actions, saying that “in the past, [South Korea] has been crazy about military provocations driven by a war fever to invade North Korea, but the latest shelling exercise which involved so many artillery units lurking along the front-line is unprecedented,” according to the North's ruling party-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

The exercise brings the Koreas into the “worst state of crisis,” the newspaper added.

On Wednesday, Pyongyang confirmed the resumption of its plutonium production program at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

“We have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods removed from a graphite-moderated reactor,” the DPRK’s Atomic Energy Institute (AEI), which holds jurisdiction over North Korea’s nuclear facilities, said in a written statement to Kyodo News.

The announcement comes as the US and its allies in the region seek to fortify their positions around North Korea. Of particular concern to Pyongyang is the installation of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, a move that has also been criticized by Russia and China as potentially threating their national security.

North Korea does not rule out the possibility of holding its fifth nuclear test, saying that it is necessary to repel any US and S. Korean threats to its sovereignty.

“Under conditions that the United States constantly threatens us with nuclear weapons, we will not discontinue tests,” Wednesday’s statement read.