South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday ordered her military to strengthen defense readiness amid rising tensions with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Park issued the order to all South Korean armed forces nationwide, saying that the military should maintain a complete preparedness to respond actively to "reckless provocations" from the DPRK, her office Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement.
The president also asked the general public to exercise caution toward the current emergency situations as the DPRK on Wednesday warned of a strike against Cheong Wa Dae to turn her office into a sea of flames and ashes.
The statement denounced the DPRK threats as a provocation to the nation and the president and a direct challenge to the entire world.
Tensions mounted in recent weeks on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang ramped up bellicose rhetoric in response to new tougher UN Security Council sanctions and the joint U.S.-South Korea annual war games.
Hours after the unanimous adoption at UN Security Council of fresh sanctions toward Pyongyang on March 2, the DPRK fired several rounds of new multiple rocket launchers, supervised by top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim ordered his military to get nuclear warheads always on a standby for use at any time on March 3. He also ordered all nuclear strike means to be ready for action on March 10 when he guided a firing drill of ballistic missiles, which the South Korean military said were two short-range Scud missiles.
The firing drill came three days after Seoul and Washington kicked off their joint annual war games on March 7. The Key Resolve command post exercise ended last Friday, but the Foal Eagle field training exercise would last until April 30.
The DPRK recently claimed to have miniaturized nuclear warheads to fit on ballistic missiles, and said last week that it had successfully conducted a simulated ground test of atmospheric re-entry, which is seen as the last technology to develop a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
Pyongyang test-fired its new large-caliber multiple rocket launchers on Monday, after firing off two medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles into its east sea last week in defiance of UN resolutions that ban any test of ballistic missile technology.
On Thursday, top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un said his country succeeded in testing a solid-fuel rocket engine of large output, according to the DPRK's state-run KCNA news agency. Kim said the test enhanced the power of ballistic rockets capable of mercilessly striking hostile forces.
Kim guided a ground test of a solid-fuel rocket engine and its separation, calling it a historic, unforgettable day. The solid-fuel missiles allegedly have many advantages in military use thanks to its mobility and reduced time to launch. Liquid-fuelled missiles take long to launch and can be detected more easily for a fuelling time.
Seoul's defense ministry spokesman Moon Sang-Gyun told a regular press briefing that the DPRK seemed to be in a stage of developing the solid-fuel rocket, saying that it means making it possible for the DPRK to launch missiles on a constant basis.
Moon said the South Korean military has been devising countermeasures as it had expected the DPRK's development of a solid-fuel rocket. He said the military took it seriously.
According to South Korean experts, Pyongyang now uses solid fuel only for some of short-range missiles, not for medium- and long-range ballistic missiles. The solid fuel would enable the DPRK missiles to be launched in a short time at any place.
Moon said the DPRK's FROG missiles use solid fuel while other missiles use liquid fuel, noting that Pyongyang's claim to the successful test of a solid-fuel rocket engine seemed to be aimed at showcasing the progress in its nuclear and missile development.
The spokesman, however, added that the DPRK's claim requires additional analysis to confirm it.