North Korea fires 3 missiles amid peninsular tensions over drone flights over border
North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters in its latest arms display on Saturday, a day after its South Korean rival launched a solid-fuel rocket as part of its effort to build a space-based surveillance capability to better monitor the North.
Tensions between rival Koreas rose earlier this week when South Korea accused North Korea of flying five drones across the rivals’ tense border for the first time in five years and responded by sending its own drones to the North.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that they detected the three launches from an inland area south of Pyongyang, the northern capital, on Saturday morning.
He said the three missiles traveled about 350 kilometers before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The estimated range suggests the missiles tested are targeting South Korea.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launches a « serious provocation » that undermines international peace. He said South Korea was closely monitoring North Korean actions in coordination with the United States and remained ready to « overwhelmingly » deter any provocation by North Korea.
US commitment to South Korea and Japan ‘ironclad’
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight the « destabilizing impact » of North Korea’s illegal weapons programs and that U.S. commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan « remained foolproof ». Earlier on Saturday, Japan’s Defense Ministry also reported suspected ballistic missile launches by North Korea.
It was North Korea’s first missile launch in eight days and came five days after South Korea said it detected the North Korean drones, all believed to be small surveillance drones, south of the border.
On Monday, the South Korean military dispatched fighter jets and helicopters, but did not shoot down any of the North Korean drones before returning home or disappearing from South Korea’s radar. One of the North Korean drones flew as far north as Seoul. This has caused security concerns among many in the South, for which the military issued a rare public apology on Tuesday.
South Korea again flew three of its surveillance drones across the border on Monday in an unusual tit-for-tat move against a North Korean provocation. South Korea on Thursday held large-scale military drills to simulate downing drones.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called for strengthening his country’s air defense network and pledged to react harshly to North Korea’s provocations.
Since taking office in May, Yoon’s government has stepped up regular military exercises with the United States in the face of increasing North Korean nuclear threats. North Korea has called the drills between its rivals a rehearsal for an invasion and has argued that its recent missile tests are a response to them. But some experts say North Korea is using the South Korea-US formation as a pretext to modernize its arsenal and increase its influence in future relations with the United States.
Over 70 North Korean test launches in 2022
Prior to Saturday’s launches, North Korea had already tested more than 70 missiles this year. Many of them were nuclear-capable weapons designed to attack the American continent and its allies South Korea and Japan.
South Korea on Friday launched a solid-fuel rocket, a type of space launch vehicle it plans to use to orbit its first spy satellite in the coming years.
In March, South Korea carried out its first successful launch of a solid-fuel rocket, and defense officials said Friday’s launch was a follow-up test to the previous launch. Friday’s unannounced launch sparked a brief public scare of a UFO sighting or North Korean missile launch in South Korea.
South Korea currently has no military reconnaissance satellites and depends on US spy satellites to monitor strategic installations in North Korea.
North Korea is also pushing to acquire its first military surveillance satellite. Earlier this month, North Korea said it used two old missiles as space launchers to test a camera and other systems needed for a spy satellite and later released low-resolution satellite photos showing South Korean cities. .
Some South Korean experts said the North Korean satellite imagery was too crude for military reconnaissance purposes and was likely a disguised test of North Korean missile technology. Furious at such an assessment, Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, hurled crude insults at unidentified South Korean experts. She also dismissed some outside doubts about North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile technology and threatened to conduct a standard-trajectory, full-range ICBM test.
This week, North Korea is hosting a major ruling party meeting in Pyongyang to review past policies and new policy goals for 2023. It is highly unusual for North Korea to test launch a missile during a key meeting.
In an indication that the Workers’ Party plenum was coming to an end, state media in the North reported on Saturday that its powerful Politburo had decided to complete the plenum’s draft resolution.
Some observers said North Korea would likely release details of the meeting on Sunday, which would carry Kim Jong-un’s wishes to expand its nuclear arsenal and introduce sophisticated weapons in the name of fighting what he calls up American hostility.