North Korea has fired two short-range ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast, its second show of strength this week, as South Korea and the United States conduct their biggest military exercises in years.
The missiles were fired in a window of about 10 minutes from 7:41am local time on Tuesday morning (22:41 GMT Monday), South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
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“Our military has strengthened surveillance and vigilance in preparation for additional launches, while maintaining a full readiness posture through close cooperation between South Korea and the United States,” the JCS statement said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan was collecting information on the missile.
Pyongyang’s latest test is the second in three days and comes as the US and South Korea hold the ‘Freedom Shield’ large-scale military exercises, due to continue until March 23. It is the first time they have held such drills, which North Korea sees as a rehearsal for invasion, since 2018.
On Sunday evening, South Korea said it had detected the submarine launch and North Korean state media said the following day that it had tested what it called two submarine-launched strategic cruise missiles.
Earlier this month, leader Kim Jong Un ordered the military to intensify drills to deter and respond to a “real war” if necessary.
North Korea test-fired more than 70 missiles in 2022 including intercontinental ballistic missiles with the potential range to reach the US mainland and short-range, nuclear-capable missiles that could target South Korea.
The US and South Korea have said the Freedom Shield exercises focus on the “changing security environment” due to North Korea’s redoubled aggression, and will “involve wartime procedures to repel potential North Korean attacks and conduct a stabilisation campaign in the North”.
The allies have stressed that the drills are a “defensive one based on a combined operational plan”.
Analysts have said North Korea was likely to use the drills as an excuse to carry out more missile launches, and perhaps even a nuclear test.
“More missile launches with variations in style and scope should be expected, with even a nuclear test. More acts of intimidation from North Korea should not come as a surprise,” Chun In-bum, a retired South Korean army general, told the AFP news agency.