As partner warships practiced missile defense, Pyongyang launched the most recent in a string of ballistic missiles, and South Korea scrambled fighter jets in response, according to Seoul’s defense ministry.
The South sent out 30 fighters in response to the unusual bombing exercise by at least eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers. Warplanes descended from the sky on both sides of the heavily guarded border as tensions over Pyongyang’s recent missile launches rose.
On Thursday, less than an hour after denouncing the relocation of a US aircraft carrier to the area and a UN Security Council meeting held in New York, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the ocean in the direction of Japan.
North Korea has launched over 40 missiles this year, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and appears set to undertake its first nuclear test since 2017, authorities in Seoul and Washington have stated.
Thursday’s launches followed the return of the carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, to waters off the Korean peninsula, and a UN Security Council meeting conducted in reaction to the North’s previous tests.
The missile launch was the first since North Korea fired an IRBM over Japan on Tuesday, which sparked joint missile drills between South Korea and the US in which one weapon went off-course. It was the sixth missile launch in the previous 12 days.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea and the Japanese government both reported the launch.
“This is the sixth time in the short period, just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”
The launch followed North Korea’s criticism of the US for speaking to the UN Security Council about Pyongyang’s “just counteraction measures” over joint US-South Korean military exercises, implying that its missile launches are a response to the allied military actions.
The isolated country’s foreign ministry also denounced Washington for moving the US aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula in a statement, claiming that it constituted a severe threat to the stability of the situation.
The IRBM launch by North Korea over Japan prompted a sudden redeployment of the carrier and the strike group of accompanying vessels.
The carrier strike group participated in a maritime missile defense training exercise with destroyers from South Korea and Japan, the South Korean military announced on Thursday.
“This training focuses on mastering detection, tracking and interception procedures through shared target information under a scenario of (North Korea) conducting ballistic missile provocations,” it said in a statement.
According to a representative for the State Department, the United States denounced Thursday’s launch as a breach of UN Security Council resolutions and a danger to the surrounding nations and the global community.
But the spokeswoman went on to say that Washington was dedicated to using diplomacy and urged the North to start a dialogue.
While the second missile on Thursday had an estimated altitude of 50km and travelled 800km, it likely took an erratic trajectory and flew to a height of around 100km, according to his estimates.
According to South Korea’s JCS, the missiles were fired from a location close to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
The United States and its allies have increased military force projections in the area, but the UN Security Council, which has previously adopted resolutions prohibiting the North’s missile and nuclear programs, seems unlikely to impose additional international penalties.