North Korea has said its leader Kim Jong Un supervised a live-fire demonstration of newly-developed short-range ballistic missiles he said were intended to send an “adequate warning” to the United States and South Korea over their joint military exercises.
The announcement by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency came a day after South Korea’s military said it detected North Korea firing two projectiles that were likely to be ballistic missiles into the sea.
Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff alerted reporters to the launches minutes before the North’s Foreign Ministry denounced Washington and Seoul over the start of their joint exercises on Monday.
The ministry’s statement said the drills, which North Korea sees as an invasion rehearsal, leave the country “compelled to develop, test and deploy the powerful physical means essential for national defence”.
North Korea’s fourth round of weapons launches in less than two weeks came amid a standstill in nuclear negotiations and after US President Donald Trump repeatedly dismissed the significance of the country’s recent tests despite the threat the weapons pose to allies South Korea and Japan and to US bases there.
Experts say Mr Trump’s downplaying of North Korea’s weapons display has allowed the country more room to advance its military capabilities as it attempts to build leverage ahead of negotiations, which could possibly resume sometime after the end of the allies’ drills later this month.
Lee Sang-min, spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said North Korea’s recent testing activity did not help efforts to stabilise peace and called for Pyongyang to uphold an inter-Korean agreement reached last year to form a joint military committee to discuss reducing military tensions.
He did not provide a specific answer when asked whether Seoul believes the North’s weapons display will intensify.
KCNA said the launches early on Tuesday verified the reliability and combat ability of the newly-developed missiles. It said two missiles launched from a western airfield flew cross-country and over the area surrounding capital Pyongyang before accurately hitting an island target off its eastern coast.
The agency reported Mr Kim expressed satisfaction and said the launches would “send an adequate warning to the joint military drill now underway by the US and south Korean authorities”.
Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun also published photos showing what appeared to be a missile soaring from a launcher installed on a vehicle and Mr Kim smiling and celebrating with military officials.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles travelled about 279 miles on an apogee of 23 miles at a maximum speed of above Mach 6.9 before landing in waters off the country’s eastern coast.
It said the projectiles showed similar flight characteristics to short-range missiles North Korea fired on July 25, which travelled about 373 miles during launches North Korea described as a “solemn warning” to South Korea over its plans to continue military drills with the United States.
South Korea’s military had said the flight data of the July missiles showed similarities to the Russian-made Iskander, a solid-fuel, nuclear capable missile that is highly manoeuvrable and travels on lower trajectories compared with conventional ballistic weapons, improving its chances of evading missile defence systems.
The North last week also conducted two test firings of what it described as a new rocket artillery system.