North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern waters Monday, continuing its weapons displays as the United States moved an aircraft carrier strike group to neighbouring waters for military exercises with the South.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the two missiles were fired from a western inland area south of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang from around 7:47 a.m. to 8 a.m. and traveled around 370 kilometers (229 miles) before landing at sea. Japan's military said the missiles flew on an “irregular” trajectory and reached a maximum altitude of 50 kilometers (31 miles) before landing outside Japan's exclusive economic zone.
Japan has previously used the term to describe a North Korean solid-fuel missile apparently modeled after Russia's Iskander mobile ballistic system, which is designed to be maneuverable in low-altitude flight to better evade South Korean missile defenses.
The launches came a day before the American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its strike group are to arrive at the South Korean port of Busan. South Korea's Defense Ministry said the Nimitz and its strike group will participate in exercises with South Korean warships on April 3 in international waters near the South Korean resort island of Jeju.
The launches were the North's seventh missile event this month and underscore heightening tensions in the region as the pace of both North Korean weapons tests and the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises has accelerated in recent months in a cycle of tit-for-tat responses.
The South Korean and Japanese militaries denounced the North's latest launches as serious provocations threatening regional peace and violating U.N. Security Council resolutions and said they were working with the United States to analyze the missiles further.
The United States and South Korea completed their biggest springtime exercises in years last week, which had included both computer simulations and life-fire field exercises. But the allies have continued their field training in a show of force against North Korea's expanding nuclear arsenal and belligerent threats of nuclear conflict.
North Korea has fired more than 20 ballistic and cruise missiles across 11 launch events this year as it tries to force the United States to accept its nuclear status and negotiate a removal of sanctions from a position of strength.
North Korea's launches this month included a flight-test of an intercontinental ballistic missile and a series of short-range weapons intended to overwhelm South Korean missile defenses as it tries to demonstrate an ability to conduct nuclear strikes on both South Korea and the U.S. mainland.
The North last week conducted what it described as a three-day exercise that simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean targets as leader Kim Jong Un condemned the U.S.-South Korean joint military drills as invasion rehearsals. The allies say the exercises are defensive in nature.
The North's tests also included a purported nuclear-capable underwater drone that the North claimed is capable of setting off a huge “radioactive tsunami” that would destroy naval vessels and ports. Analysts were skeptical about the North Korean claims about the drone or whether the device presents a major new threat, but the tests underlined the North's commitment to expand its nuclear threats.
Following the North's announcement of the drone test on Friday, South Korea's air force released details of a five-day joint aerial drill with the United States last week that included live-fire demonstrations of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The air force said the exercise was aimed at verifying precision strike capabilities and reaffirming the credibility of Seoul's “three-axis” strategy against North Korean nuclear threats — preemptively striking sources of attacks, intercepting incoming missiles and neutralizing the North's leadership and key military facilities.
North Korea already is coming off a record year in weapons testing, launching more than 70 missiles in 2022, when it also set into law an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes pre-emptive nuclear strikes in a broad range of scenarios where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.