North Korea fires four cruise missiles as US and South Korea stage ‘tabletop’ nuclear drills
North Korea said it launched four long-range cruise missiles off its eastern coast as part of a series of “deadly nuclear counterattack” drills, just a day after the US and South Korea held their own simulated exercises.
Four Hwasal-2 strategic cruise missiles flew for three hours, flying a distance of 2000km each on Thursday, North Korean state media said.
South Korea’s and Japan’s militaries, which are often the first to spot and publicly report such launches, did not immediately announce the detection of the missile tests before Pyongyang disclosed it.
The launches came as the US and South Korea staged a simulated exercise to sharpen their joint response to potential nuclear weapon use by North Korea.
The one-day computer simulation was held on Wednesday as the two countries pledged to boost their 70-year alliance in the face of North Korea’s increasingly aggressive nuclear doctrine.
The Korean People’s Army’s operational strategic cruise missile was fired from Kim Chaek City, North Hamgyong Province, towards the sea off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.
According to its official news agency, the drills demonstrate that North Korea can “bolster up” its “deadly nuclear counterattack capability” against so-called “hostile forces”.
Other units of the KPA conducted firepower training at hardened sites without live firing, it added.
South Korea’s Defence Ministry said the launch was monitored but there were “differences” between claims made by North Korea and what was actually detected.
Lee Hyojung, spokesperson of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, condemned North Korea for escalating its testing activity despite signs of deepening economic isolation and food insecurity.
The two allies confirmed they conducted a simulation at the Pentagon on Wednesday, to demonstrate their “strong response capabilities and resolve to respond appropriately” to any nuclear attack.
The US Department of Defence said that the Biden administration’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review stated that any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners “will result in the end of that regime”.
In a separate statement, senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official Kwon Jong Gun criticised the US and South Korea for a simulated exercise and a visit to the Georgia submarine base, calling the actions an extension of anti-Pyongyang hostility.
The North Korean official also raised the issue over the UN Security Council emergency meeting that was held this week to discuss recent launches, including an intercontinental ballistic missile.
“The US should bear in mind that if it persists in its hostile and provocative practices against the DPRK despite the latter’s repeated protest and warning, it can be regarded as a declaration of war against the DPRK,” Mr Kwon said.
Firing a record number of more than 70 ballistic missiles, including ICBMs, last year, Kim Jong-un vowed to “exponentially increase” the regime’s nuclear arsenal in 2023.
It test-fired an ICBM on Saturday and a pair of short-range missiles on Monday to demonstrate a dual ability to conduct nuclear strikes on South Korea and the US mainland. The tests were in response to the US flying B-1B bombers to the region for joint training with South Korean and Japanese warplanes on Sunday.