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S. Korea, US extend air drill exercise following suspected ICBM launch

NK fires three missiles toward East Sea, with ICBM launch likely a failure

Citizens watch news related to North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station on Wednesday morning. (Yonhap)
Citizens watch news related to North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station on Wednesday morning. (Yonhap)

North Korea on Thursday continued launching missiles for a second day, upping the pressure on the South with what Seoul suspects to be an intercontinental ballistic missile. The South Korea and US air forces have decided to extend the training period of their large-scale joint air exercise “Vigilant Storm.”

The South Korean military detected one long-range ballistic missile, which was launched into the East Sea from around 7:40 a.m. in Pyongyang, and two short-range ballistic missiles from around 8:39 a.m. in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the morning.

The long-range ballistic missile flew about 760 kilometers and reached an altitude of about 1,920 kilometers and a speed of approximately Mach 15, while the short-range ballistic missile flew about 330 kilometers, reaching an altitude of about 70 km and a speed of about Mach 5. Detailed data is being analyzed closely by South Korean and US intelligence authorities, the JCS said.

Japanese media outlet NHK reported on the same day that the first ballistic missile launched by North Korea passed over Japan, but the Japanese Defense Ministry later clarified that it had not. Accordingly, it is estimated that North Korea failed by launching a long-range ballistic missile at an elevation higher than the normal angle of 30-45 degrees.

The South Korea and US air forces decided to extend the training period of the large-scale joint air exercise “Vigilant Storm,” which started Monday, in response to the recent continuous provocations by North Korea, the South Korea Air Force said in the afternoon.

“The Air Force Operations Command and the US 7th Air Force agreed that it was necessary to demonstrate the solid combined defense posture of the ROK-US alliance under the current security crisis, which is heightened by North Korean provocations,” the Air Force said.

The National Security Office strongly condemned three North Korean ballistic missile launches Thursday as a grave violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and vowed to continue the South Korea-US joint defense exercise.

The National Security Office said it immediately reported the relevant information to President Yoon Suk-yeol, and held an emergency standing committee presided over by national security adviser Kim Sung-han. Yoon attended the meeting, where he was briefed on the situation and ordered countermeasures.

“NSC Standing Committee members noted that North Korea violated the NLL yesterday for the first time since the division and launched another ballistic missile provocation today,” the presidential office said in a written statement on at 11:25 a.m.

“Participants strongly condemned North Korea's ballistic missile launch as a grave violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a serious provocation that heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the region,” the statement said. “In particular, in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, we made it clear that the ROK-US joint defense exercise to protect the lives and safety of our people will continue, unwavering.”

Yoon ordered officials to strengthen Korea-US extended deterrence enforcement and to expand security cooperation with the US and Japan.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said Gen. Kim Seung-kyum shared the situation closely with Gen. Paul LaCamera, commander of the United Nations Command, and confirmed that the joint defense posture will be strengthened against any threats and provocations from North Korea.

Military authorities are analyzing specifications of the missiles, such as range, altitude and speed. The warhead of the first missile separated during flight, indicating a longer-range missile.

Park Won-gon, a professor in the department of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University, called it a typical example of North Korean brinkmanship.

“It is rare for North Korea to make this many provocations in such a short period of time. The North seems to intend to extremely escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula within a short period of time to pave way for the seventh nuclear test,” he said. “After that, it plans to hold talks with the US with its status as a nuclear power.”

“One thing we can notice is that the missile launches were not reported within North Korea. The news is not reported by Rodong Sinmun,” Park said. “I think this reflects the nervousness of North Korea which is struggling with various challenges like the pandemic and sanctions. They think something needs to be changed quickly.”

North Korea has fired ballistic missiles 30 times so far this year, as well as three cruise missiles. There have been 19 rounds of missile launches since the inauguration of the Yoon Suk-yeol government in May.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired a total of 25 missiles over the course of 11 hours, including a short-range ballistic missile that landed in international waters of the East Sea south of the Northern Limit Line for the first time since the division of Korea. It also fired 100 artillery rounds.

The White House condemned the North Korean provocations.

“This action demonstrates that the DPRK continues to prioritize its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson in a statement released Wednesday in the US.

“We urge all countries to condemn these violations and call on the DPRK to cease its destabilizing actions and engage in serious dialogue,” she said. “The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies.”



By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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