SEOUL, March 4 (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his country to be ready to use its nuclear weapons at any time and to turn its military posture to "pre-emptive attack" mode in the face of growing threats from its enemies, state media said on Friday.
The comments, carried by the North's official KCNA news agency, marked a further escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula after the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday imposed harsh new sanctions against the isolated state for its nuclear program.
Kim made the comments as he supervised military exercises involving newly developed rocket launchers, KCNA reported. It did not mention the date of the drills but said the new weapons had South Korea within range.
South Korea's defense ministry said on Thursday North Korea launched several projectiles off its coast into the sea up to 150 kilometers (90 miles) away, an apparent response to the U.N. sanctions.
See 15 facts about Kim Jong Un:
15 facts about Kim Jong Un
North Korea leader tells military to be ready to use nuclear weapons at any time
1) Kim Jong Un was born on January 8 -- 1982, 1983, or 1984.
His parents were future North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and his consort, Ko Young Hee. He had an older brother named Kim Jong Chul and would later have a younger sister named Kim Yo Jong.
3) Then it was off to Switzerland to attend boarding school.
Called "Pak Un" and described as the son of an employee of the North Korean embassy, Jong Un is thought to have attended an English-language international school in Gümligen near Bern.
4) Jong Un loved basketball and idolized Michael Jordan.
The young Korean reportedly had posters of Jordan all over his walls during his Swiss school days. Although Jong Un was overweight and only 5-6, he was a decent basketball player.
(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
5) After school in Switzerland, he returned home for military schooling.
Upon his return to North Korea, Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University with his older brother. Some reports say they started to attend their father's military field inspections around 2007.
(Photo by Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
6) Jong Un has a theme song known as "Footsteps."
"Footsteps" looks and sounds like a propaganda song from the Soviet Union.
7) Many North Koreans see Jong Un as a youthful version of "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung.
Kim bears a clear resemblance to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in appearance, haircut, and mannerisms.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
8) After his father died, Jong Un was quickly declared "Supreme Leader" of North Korea.
When Jong Il died of a heart attack on December 17, 2011, the young Jong Un inherited the world's fourth-largest military, a nuclear arsenal, and absolute control over North Korea.
9) Some originally believed that Jong Un's aunt and uncle were actually calling the shots.
Among Jong Un's most trusted advisers were his aunt Kim Kyong Hui and her husband, Jang Sung Taek, both 66. The couple was reportedly ordered by Jong Il to control the country's military and help the young leader consolidate his position while he gains more experience.
(AP Photo/Kyodo News)
10) But at the end of December 2013, Jong Un had his uncle and his uncle's family executed, apparently in a bid to stop a coup against his rule.
11) He's married to a former cheerleader and may have two kids.
North Korean media revealed in July that he was married to Ri Sol Ju -- a former cheerleader and singer -- but no one knows exactly when they were married, according to NBC News.
(AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, File)
12) Jong Un lived out a childhood fantasy when former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman visited.
Everyone in the family is apparently a huge Chicago Bulls fans.
(Photo courtesy of VICE)
13) But recently, things haven't been going so well.
In 2013 he was reportedly the target of an assassination attempt. South Korean intelligence believes the young leader was targeted by "disgruntled people inside the North" after he demoted a four-star general, which resulted in a power struggle.
(Photo courtesy: DPRK)
14) Jong Un has continued to be belligerent with South Korea and the West throughout his rule in hopes of bolstering his authority.
North Korea has continued to test ballistic missiles and nuclear devices under Jong Un's rule, despite the threat of sanctions. In 2012, the country launched its first satellite into space. And since Jong Un has taken over, the country has continued to push ahead with its construction of ballistic and nuclear weapons.
(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
15) Jong Un's belligerence reached a peak in 2016.
On January 5, North Korea conducted its fourth-ever nuclear test and its second under Jong Un. Pyongyang claims the test was a miniaturized hydrogen bomb.
(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)
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Kim said North Korea should "bolster up (its) nuclear force both in quality and quantity" and stressed "the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment," KCNA quoted him as saying.
"Now is the time for us to convert our mode of military counteraction toward the enemies into an preemptive attack one in every aspect."
North Korea has previously threatened pre-emptive attacks on its enemies including South Korea, Japan and the United States. Military experts doubt it has yet developed the capability to fire a long-range missile with a miniaturized warhead to deliver a nuclear weapon as far as the United States.
"We urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions that aggravate tensions and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments," said Commander Bill Urban, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, responding to the report.
POSSIBLE ENGINE TEST EYED
A U.S.-based think tank said recent commercial satellite imagery showed new activity at North Korea's Sohae Satellite Launching Station that could be preparations for a rocket-engine test.
Johns Hopkins University's 38 North project, which monitors North Korea, said an image from Feb. 21 showed an unusual convoy of trucks near the vertical engine test stand.
"One possibility is that these vehicles are returning from a delivery of supplies, fuel, or even engine components for testing to the stand," the report said.
North Korea had taken steps at Sohae in past months to better conceal preparations for space launches and engine tests, making identifying preparations for launches using commercial satellite images more difficult, 38 North said.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday repeated a stern warning against the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions and said should would work to "end tyranny" by the North's leader.
Last month, Seoul suspended the operation of a jointly run factory project with North Korea that had been the rivals' last remaining venue for regular interaction. (Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington.; Editing by Lincoln Feast)