North Korea’s latest missile launches came hours after US Vice President Kamala Harris denounced North Korea’s “brutal dictatorship” while reaffirming the US’ ironclad defense commitment to South Korea during her visit to South Korea.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said two short-range ballistic missiles were fired from Sunchon in South Pyongan Province toward the East Sea from 8:48 p.m. to 8:57 p.m. on Thursday.
The short-range ballistic missiles traveled about 350 kilometers at a speed of Mach 5 and an altitude of around 50 km, the JCS said in a statement, adding that South Korean and US intelligence authorities are analyzing the specifications.
The missiles were reportedly fired from a transporter erector launcher and targeted a specific region in the East Sea. The target is believed to be Alsom, a small uninhabited island off the North’s east coast.
The JCS said its chief, Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, and Gen. Paul LaCamera, chief of the United Nations Command and United States Forces Korea, held a virtual meeting and shared their assessment of the situation.
“Our military will maintain a firm readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related moves in preparation for further provocations by North Korea in close coordination with the US,” the JCS said.
North Korea has launched 36 ballistic missiles so far this year.
North Korea fired a total of five short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea in three discrete launches on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Thursday was North Korea’s third missile launch in five days, marking the shortest interval between missile launches this year. Pyongyang previously fired missiles on three occasions over six days from Jan. 25 to 30.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the capital city of Pyongyang toward the East Sea on Wednesday. North Korea also launched a short-range ballistic missile from Taechon County in North Pyongan Province toward the East Sea on Sunday morning.
The spate of missile launches seems to be a tit-for-tat action against the US and South Korean alliance’s move to reinforce and demonstrate their deterrence and readiness against North Korean threats through various channels.
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles hours after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and US Vice President Kamala Harris reaffirmed the ironclad alliance amid North Korea's mounting threats during their in-person meeting in Seoul.
Harris also launched a blistering criticism of North Korea’s “brutal dictatorship, rampant human rights violations and an unlawful weapons program” during her visit to the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, which straddles the inter-Korean border, Thursday afternoon.
South Korea, the US and Japan are also due to stage an anti-submarine warfare exercise in international waters of the East Sea for the first time since April 2017 on Friday. The exercise aims to strengthen combined capabilities and interoperability to counter North Korea’s mounting submarine threats.
The trilateral exercise follows the four-day bilateral naval drills between South Korea and the US.
The South Korean and US navies conducted maritime exercises involving a US aircraft carrier in the East Sea operational area, called the Korea Theater of Operations. They were the first such drills staged in South Korean waters since 2017.
The drills involve the US Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its carrier strike group, as well as the US nuclear-powered fast attack submarine USS Annapolis.