North Korea fires ballistic missiles as US sounds off ‘end of regime’ warning over nuclear programme

North Korea has fired two short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea, South Korea’s military has said.

In a statement it said two launches had been detected from the North’s eastern coastal Tongchon area around mid-day on Friday.

Tongchon is about 60km (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’s military said it had boosted its surveillance posture accordingly and added that it maintains readiness amid close coordination with the US.

The US has issued yet another stern warning to North Korea and said any nuclear attack by North Korea against the US or its allies and partners “will result in the end of that regime”.

“There is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive,” said Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy report issued on Thursday.

It added that the Pentagon will continue to deter North Korean attacks through “forward posture”, including nuclear deterrence, integrated air and missile defenses and close coordination and interoperability with South Korea.

The two launches are the North’s first ballistic missile tests since 14 October.

The launches come on the final day of South Korea’s annual 12-day “Hoguk“ field exercises, which also involved an unspecified number of US troops this year.

Large-scale training between South Korea and the US’s air force is also planned for next week.

The training, known as “Vigilant Storm” aerial drills, are slated to run from Monday to Friday.

It will involve about 140 South Korean warplanes and 100 US aircraft.

In a statement on Friday, South Korea’s defense ministry said the planes included sophisticated fighter jets like F-35 from both countries.

Concerns have been growing that North Korea may conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 in the coming weeks.

This year, the North has conducted a record run of weapons tests, which are being seen as leader Kim Jong-un’s efforts to intimidate the South and the US to accept the North as a legitimate nuclear state and lift economic sanctions on them.

On Thursday, UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi said a new nuclear test explosion by North Korea “would be yet another confirmation of a program which is moving full steam ahead in a way that is incredibly concerning.”

Additional reporting by agencies