A barrage of North Korean missiles fired from both the ground and fighter jets splashed down on the waters off the country’s east coast on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, a major show of force on the eve of a key state anniversary and parliamentary elections in rival South Korea.
The back-to-back launches were the latest in a series of weapons tests that North Korea has conducted in recent weeks amid stalled nuclear talks and outside worries about a possible coronavirus outbreak in the country.
The tests follow a pattern for the North Korean government of conducting military drills near notable domestic anniversaries or significant events among its neighbors. Wednesday marked the birthdate 108 years ago of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, as well as a general election in South Korea.
North Korean troops based in the eastern coastal city of Munchon in Kangwon province first launched several projectiles – presumed to be cruise missiles – on Tuesday morning, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff (JCS) said in a statement.
The weapons flew more than 93 miles off the North’s east coast, a South Korean defense official said. If confirmed, it would be the North’s first cruise missile launch since June 2017, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.
North Korea also flew multiple Sukhoi-variant and MiG fighter jets above the eastern coastal city of Wonsan, which fired multiple air-to-ground rockets, a spokesman for the South Korean military told AFP.
In recent weeks, North Korea has test-launched a variety of missiles and other weapons amid deadlocked nuclear negotiations with the United States.
“South Korea and US intelligence authorities are closely analysing related issues,” the JCS statement said.
In June 2017, North Korea hailed the successful test of what it called a new type of surface-to-ship cruise missile designed to hit “any enemy group of battleships” that threatened the country.
That launch hit targets in the Sea of Japan, it said, and took place the week after two US aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan, took part in naval manoeuvres in the area.
Those missiles flew about 200km (124 miles), which analysts said was an improvement on a 2015 test that flew only 100km (62 miles).
On Sunday, North Korean state media reported Kim had visited an airbase and observed drills by the country’s fighter jets and attack aircraft.