North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) toward the East Sea on Sunday, the South Korean military said, after Seoul and Washington wrapped up a naval exercise, involving a US aircraft carrier, the previous day.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches from the Munchon area in Gangwon Province between 1:48 a.m. and 1:58 a.m., and that the missiles flew some 350 km at apogees of around 90 km at top speeds of Mach 5, Yonhap news agency reported.
Given the distance and altitude, the projectiles are presumed to be “super-large caliber” missiles, fired from a multiple rocket launch system, known as the KN-25, according to observers in Seoul.
The launch, the North’s seventh missile provocation in two weeks, followed the conclusion of the South Korea-U.S. exercise, involving the USS Ronald Reagan carrier, on Saturday and of the allies’ trilateral drills with Japan on Thursday.
It also came on the eve of the 77th anniversary of the founding of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.
“The recent series of North Korea’s ballistic missiles is an act of significant provocation that undermines peace not only on the Korean Peninsula but also in the international community, and a clear breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.
It added, “Our military will maintain a firm readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related movements in close cooperation with the U.S. in preparation against additional provocations.”
Soon after the launches, JCS Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum and Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, had virtual consultations.
In a statement, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said that the latest launches highlight the “destabilizing” impact of the North’s “unlawful” weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
“The U.S. commitments to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad,” the command said, referring to South Korea by its official name.
South Korea’s top nuclear envoy Kim Gunn had back-to-back phone consultations with his American and Japanese counterparts — Sung Kim and Takehiro Funakoshi, respectively — and strongly denounced Pyongyang’s continued violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, according to his ministry.
They stressed that the North’s provocations using annual combined military drills, defensive in nature, by Seoul and Washington as a pretext can’t be justified, it added.
The USS Ronald Reagan carrier was redeployed to waters east of the peninsula Wednesday, a day after Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan.
On Saturday, a spokesperson of the North’s defense ministry took issue with the carrier’s deployment, calling it an “event of considerably huge negative splash to the regional situation.”
Also on the day, the North’s National Aviation Administration (NAA) said Pyongyang’s missile test is a “self-defensive” step against what it sees as U.S. military threats.