• Defense & Security

N. Korea Launches 2 Ballistic Missiles, Likely in Response to U.S., South Korea drills

REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool/File Photo
A North Korean flag.

North Korea launched two ballistic missiles northeastward from its west coast early Monday morning, the Defense Ministry said.

The missiles, launched around 7:47 a.m. and 7:57 a.m., respectively, came down in the Sea of Japan near the east coast of the Korean Peninsula in an area thought to be outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). No damage to aircraft or shipping has been reported.

According to the ministry, the missiles had a likely maximum altitude of about 50 kilometers and flew approximately 350 kilometers. It is possible that the missiles were launched with an irregular trajectory, which would make them potentially difficult to intercept.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea, the projectiles were short-range ballistic missiles launched from the vicinity of Junghwa, North Hwanghae Province, in North Korea’s southwestern region.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday morning, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said: “[The launches] threaten the peace and safety of the international community, violate relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and are totally unacceptable. It’s possible that North Korea will engage in further provocative acts in the future, including various types of missile launches and nuclear tests.”

Pyongyang’s latest launches are seen as a response to a series of military drills by U.S. and South Korean forces being conducted in anticipation of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. The “Twin Dragons” exercise — the first large-scale landing drill to be held in about five years — started on March 20 and is slated to run until April 3. North Korea fiercely opposes the drills, which involve the mobilization of assault landing ships and other vessels.

In addition, the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz was scheduled to dock at Busan in the southeast of South Korea on Tuesday. It would be the first time for a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to port in Busan since the USS Ronald Reagan last September.

Previously, North Korea launched a series of ballistic and cruise missiles during the “Freedom Shield” military exercise conducted by Washington and Seoul from March 13-23 that centered on computer-simulation drills. Observers say it is highly likely that Pyongyang will continue its military provocations, putting Japan, the United States and South Korea on increased alert.