North Korea appears to have conducted artillery firing drills, South Korea has said, days after the United States deployed sophisticated fighter jets to South Korea for joint training.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it detected multiple trajectories presumed to be North Korean artillery on Sunday afternoon.
“Our military spotted flight trajectories that are suspected to be North Korea’s multiple rocket launchers from around 18:21 to 18:37pm today,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message sent to reporters.
“Our military has strengthened surveillance and vigilance, and maintained a thorough readiness posture while keeping close US-South Korea cooperation,” it said, without further details.
South Korea’s presidential office said the suspected launches occurred off North Korea’s west coast. It said National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han reviewed South Korean military readiness and that his office closely monitors possible additional launches by North Korea.
This year, North Korea has carried out an unusually large number of weapons tests, including nuclear-capable missiles that place both the mainland of the US and its allies – including South Korea and Japan – within striking distance.
Washington and Seoul officials have also warned that the isolated regime is preparing to carry out what would be its seventh nuclear test – a move that the US warned would provoke a “swift and forceful” response.
Last month, South Korean Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup said Seoul would “strengthen” its defence capabilities, as well as its security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo, to counter the nuclear threat from Pyongyang.
Some experts say North Korea is attempting to perfect its weapons technology and boost its bargaining chip in future negotiations with the US to win sanctions relief or security guarantees.
Last week, six US F-35 aircraft from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska arrived in South Korea for their first temporary deployment in South Korea since late 2017 for joint training with South Korean fighter jets.
South Korea’s Defence Ministry said the deployment was aimed at demonstrating the allies’ combined defence posture and strong deterrence against potential external aggression while improving the interoperability of the two air forces.
A US military statement said the US aircraft planned to operate over South Korea and surrounding waters during the scheduled 10-day training mission.
North Korea typically views joint exercises between the US and South Korea as an invasion rehearsal and responds with its own weapons tests.
US and South Korean defence officials have repeatedly said they have no intentions of attacking North Korea.
North Korea has said it was forced to develop nuclear weapons to cope with US military threats.
Despite its run of missile tests earlier this year, North Korea has not conducted its expected first nuclear bomb test in five years, and Seoul officials said that’s likely because of an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and opposition by China, its last major ally and aid benefactor.