North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea on Friday in its first ballistic weapons launches in two weeks, as the U.S. military warned the North that the use of nuclear weapons “will result in the end of that regime.”
South Korea’s military detected the two launches from the North’s eastern coastal Tongchon area around midday on Friday, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. South Korea’s military has boosted its surveillance posture and maintains readiness amid close coordination with the United States, it said.
The U.S. Indo Pacific Command said the launches did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies but highlighted the “destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
The back-to-back launches, the North’s first ballistic missile tests since Oct. 14, came on the final day of South Korea’s annual 12-day “Hoguk” field exercises, which also involved an unspecified number of U.S. troops this year. Next week, South Korean and U.S. air forces plan to conduct a large-scale training as well.
North Korea sees such regular drills by Seoul and Washington as practice for launching an attack on the North, though the allies say their exercises are defensive in nature.
Next week’s “Vigilant Storm” aerial drills are to run from Monday to Friday and involve about 140 South Korean warplanes and about 100 U.S. aircraft. The planes include sophisticated fighter jets like F-35 from both nations, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement earlier Friday.
Since late September, North Korea has launched a barrage of missiles toward the sea in what it called simulated tests of tactical nuclear weapons systems designed to attack South Korean and U.S. targets. North Korea says its testing activities were meant to issue a warning amid a series of South Korea-U.S. military drills. But some experts say Pyongyang has also used its rivals’ drills as a chance to test new weapons systems, boost its nuclear capability and increase its leverage in future dealings with Washington and Seoul.
Tongchon, the launch site for the North’s Friday launches, is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from the inter-Korean border. The area was apparently closer to South Korea than any other missile launch site North Korea has used so far this year.
South Korea and the United States have strongly warned North Korea against using its nuclear weapons preemptively.