North Korea fired four cruise missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, the latest in a series of weapons tests as South Korea and the United States conduct joint military exercises, according to Reuters.
The military initially said Pyongyang fired “several missiles,” without elaborating, but South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sob told parliament that four missiles had been fired. He added that North Korea appeared to have made “tremendous progress” in minimizing nuclear warheads to fit them into tactical guided weapon systems. He continued, “I do not see that they are ready yet to develop what North Korea has recently called tactical guided weapons, but we are studying the possibilities with the United States.”
In response to a question about North Korea’s imminent deployment of nuclear weapons, Lee Jong said it had reached “significant levels.” The military said Pyongyang fired the missiles at around 10:15 a.m. (0115 GMT) from South Hamgyong Province.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military was on high alert and that intelligence services in South Korea and the United States were analyzing details of the missiles. “We will successfully conclude the Freedom Shield exercises, as scheduled, in light of a strong joint defense posture,” the army said in a statement. Today (Thursday), the two allies are scheduled to conclude an 11-day exercise, which they called “Shield of Freedom 23”.
Meanwhile, the US amphibious assault ship McCain docked in South Korea yesterday, in the first large-scale amphibious landing exercise for the two allies in five years, the US military said.
The latest missile launch carried out by the northern neighbor yesterday, just three days after it launched a short-range ballistic missile towards the sea off its eastern coast.
North Korea has stepped up its military testing in the past few weeks. It launched an intercontinental ballistic missile last week and conducted what it described as a simulated nuclear counterattack on the United States and South Korea over the weekend.
Pyongyang has stepped up its criticism of the United States and South Korea. Yesterday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that a North Korean foreign ministry official said that pressure to give up nuclear weapons is tantamount to a declaration of war.
The statement took aim at US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield, who said on Monday it was time for North Korea “to abandon its illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said yesterday’s launches may have included cruise missiles, which are among North Korea’s strategic weapons. The word “strategic” is often used to describe weapons that have nuclear capabilities.