Seoul, South Korea –
North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Thursday after the United States redeployed an aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula in response to Pyongyang’s earlier launch of a nuclear-capable missile over Japan.
The latest missile launches suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is determined to continue weapons tests aimed at increasing his nuclear arsenal in defiance of international sanctions. Many experts say Kim’s goal is to eventually win recognition of the United States as a legitimate nuclear state and the lifting of those sanctions, though the international community has shown no sign of allowing that to happen.
The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from North Korea’s capital region and landed between the Korean peninsula and Japan, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The first missile flew 350 kilometers (217 mi) and reached a maximum altitude of 80 kilometers (50 mi) and the second flew 800 kilometers (497 mi) with an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 mi).
Details of the flight were similar to Japanese assessments announced by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, who confirmed that the missiles did not hit Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
He added that the second missile was possibly launched on an “irregular” trajectory. It’s a term that has previously been used to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon modeled on Russia’s Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to improve its chances of evading missile defenses.
South Korea’s military said it has strengthened its surveillance posture and maintains readiness in close coordination with the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said North Korea’s continued launches were “absolutely intolerable.”
The launches were North Korea’s sixth round of weapons tests in less than two weeks, adding to a record number of missile launches this year that has drawn condemnation from the United States and other countries.
On Tuesday, North Korea staged its most provocative weapons demonstration in years, firing an intermediate-range missile at Japan for the first time in five years. The launch prompted the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts and stop trains.
Experts said the weapon was likely a Hwasong-12 missile capable of reaching the US Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.
Other previously tested weapons reportedly include Iskander-type missiles and other ballistic weapons designed to attack key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
Thursday’s launches came as the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan returned to waters east of South Korea in what the South Korean military called an attempt to show allies’ “strong will” to counter continued provocations and North Korean threats.
The aircraft carrier was in the area last week as part of exercises between South Korea and the United States and other allied training involving Japan. North Korea views US-led drills near the peninsula as an invasion rehearsal and considers training involving a US aircraft carrier more provocative.
North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday that the Reagan strike group’s redeployment poses “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on and around the Korean peninsula.” The ministry said it strongly condemned US-led efforts in the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions against North Korea over its recent missile tests, which it described as a “fair counter” to joint US exercises. and South Korea.
After North Korea’s intermediate-range missile launch, the United States and South Korea also conducted their own live-fire drills that have so far involved surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and precision-guided bombs launched from fighter jets.
But one of the tit-for-tat launches nearly caused catastrophe early Wednesday when a malfunctioning South Korean Hyumoo-2 missile capsized shortly after takeoff and crashed to the ground at an air force base in the eastern coastal city of Gangneung. The South Korean military said no one was injured and civilian facilities were not affected.
After North Korea’s release on Tuesday, the United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. But Wednesday’s session ended without a consensus, underscoring a split among the council’s permanent members that has been deepened by Russia’s war with Ukraine.
During the meeting, Russia and China insisted to their fellow Security Council members that US-led military exercises in the region had caused North Korea to act. The United States and its allies expressed concern that the council’s inability to reach a consensus on North Korea’s record number of missile launches this year was emboldening North Korea and undermining the authority of the United Nations’ most powerful body. United.
North Korea has fired nearly 40 ballistic missiles in more than 20 different launch events this year, using stalled diplomacy with the United States and Russia’s war against Ukraine as a window to accelerate weapons development.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.