North Korea launches short-range ballistic missiles day after US and South Korea begin military drills

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Tuesday, the South Korean military said.

This is the latest of several weapons tests as the United States and South Korea conduct their joint military drills in years.

Agencies reported that the missiles were launched from the southwestern coastal town of Jangyon and flew across North Korea before landing in the sea off that country’s east coast.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that both missiles travelled about 620km. “North Korea fires unidentified ballistic missile towards the East Sea,” the joint chiefs of staff said, referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.

South Korea called the missile launches a “grave provocation” and said that the launches undermine the stability of the Korean peninsula.

The firing of two short-range ballistic missile launches by North Korea was its second weapons test this week.

On Monday, North Korea said it test-fired two cruise missiles from a submarine.

Known as Freedom Shield, the joint military drills between the US and South Korea started on Monday and will run for 10 days as part of the allies’ drive to counter North Korea’s growing threats.

The Freedom Shield exercises focus on the “changing security environment” due to North Korea’s aggression, the allies said.

They will “involve wartime procedures to repel potential North Korean attacks and conduct a stabilisation campaign in the North,” the South Korean military said earlier.

Meanwhile, the US Indo-Pacific Command said that the launches on Tuesday don’t pose an immediate threat to its allies. But it said the North’s recent tests highlight the “destabilising impact” of the North’s unlawful weapons programs and that the US security commitment to South Korea and Japan remains “ironclad.”

Jeon Ha Gyu, the spokesperson of South Korea’s Defense Ministry, said Tuesday the US-South Korea drills will proceed normally, regardless of whether “North Korea tries to disrupt them with provocations like missile launches”.

(Additional reporting by agencies)