South Korea and the US have fired eight surface-to-surface missiles into the sea in response to North Korea’s launch of a similar number of ballistic missiles the previous day, a South Korea defense ministry official said.
South Korea said Monday’s tit-for-tat launch off its east coast was a demonstration of Seoul’s “capability and readiness to carry out precision strikes” against the source of North Korea’s missile launches or the command and support centers, the Yonhap news agency cited the South Korean military as saying.
South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has vowed to take a tougher line against the North and agreed with Joe Biden at a summit in Seoul last month to upgrade joint military drills and their combined deterrence posture, including the deployment of more powerful US weapons .
On Monday, Yoon said the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs had reached a level where they “threatened regional and world peace”, and promised a “firm and stern response” to any future provocations.
The militaries of South Korea and the US fired eight missiles over a period of about 10 minutes starting at 4.45am, Yonhap said.
US Forces Korea said in a statement that the exercise had involved one US army missile and seven South Korean army missiles. It said the countries’ alliance “remains committed to peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula and throughout the Indo-Pacific. The US commitment to the defense of [South Korea] remains ironclad.”
North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast on Sunday, a day after the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan concluded a three-day naval exercise with South Korea in the Philippine Sea, apparently their first joint drill involving a carrier since November 2017.
The South’s military said it had detected the North firing the missiles over a 35-minute period from at least four different locations, in what appeared to be a single-day record for the regime’s ballistic launches.
North Korea, which is several weeks into battling its first known outbreak of Covid-19, has criticized previous joint drills as proof of Washington’s continued “hostile policies” toward Pyongyang, despite its talk of resuming nuclear diplomacy.
Pyongyang has not commented on its recent missile tests and appears to be focusing on its Covid-19 response for the domestic audience, but it is continuing to modernize its military, according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
While the regime has not yet demonstrated miniaturized nuclear warheads, missiles with multiple warheads, or warhead reentry capability, even launches of short-range missile launches can provide valuable lessons, he said.
“Firing many projectiles at once from various locations suggests Pyongyang is practicing to overwhelm South Korea’s missile defences,” Easley said, adding that the US and South Korea had “quickly responded to the Kim regime’s recent missile firings with counter-launches that demonstrate combined readiness for precision strikes against the origin of an attack”.
North Korea has conducted a flurry of missile launches this year, from hypersonic weapons to intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBM]for the first time in nearly five years.
Washington Seoul officials also recently warned that North Korea appeared ready to summarize nuclear weapons tests for the first time since 2017, as Kim attempts to push his country’s status as a genuine nuclear power to win economic security concessions from the US.
Last month, North Korea fired three missiles, including one thought to be its largest ICBM, after Biden ended his three-day trip to South Korea, where he and Yoon agreed to new measures to deter the regime.
The combined forces of South Korea and the US also fired missiles in response to those tests, which the two allies said violated UN security council resolutions.