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Nuclear-armed North Korea test-fires two strategic cruise missiles from submarine

North Korea test fired two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine on Sunday just hours ahead of South Korea and US’s joint military drills.

The launches aimed to show North Korea’s determination to control a situation in which “the US imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces are getting evermore undisguised in their anti-DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) military maneuvers,” reported North Korea’s state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The report added that the launches confirmed the reliability of the system and tested the underwater offensive operations of the submarine units that form part of the country’s nuclear deterrent.

The missiles flew for more than two hours, drawing figure-eight-shaped patterns and demonstrating an ability to hit targets 1,500km (930 miles) away, KCNA said.

The missiles were fired from the 8.24 Yongung ship, referencing a submarine that North Korea used to conduct its first submarine-launched ballistic missile test in 2016.

In a statement on Monday, North Korea’s foreign ministry said that it would take “the toughest counteraction against the most vicious hostile plots of the US and its followers to thoroughly defend the national sovereignty and rights and interests”.

South Korea’s military said that the launches were made in waters near the North’s port city of Sinpo, where the country has a major submarine-building shipyard, reported Associated Press.

South’s military spokesperson Lee Sung Jun said South Korean assessments didn’t match the launch details North Korea provided but did not give further details.

North Korea’s tests on Sunday come days after it fired a short-range ballistic missile towards the Yellow Sea on Thursday.

Also last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong said the country was ready to take “quick, overwhelming action” in response to US and South Korean joint military drills.

Sunday’s missile launches were the North’s first underwater missile launches since it test-fired a weapon from a silo under an inland reservoir last October.

In May last year, the country test-launched a short-range ballistic missile from the 8.24 Yongung submarine.

The North’s actions come as the US and the South conducted joint military drills on Monday.

In past years, the two allies cancelled or scaled back drills to pursue diplomatic efforts to denuclearise North Korea and out of concern about the Covid pandemic.

The two resumed and expanded exercises after North Korea conducted more than 70 missile tests in 2022 and adopted an increasingly aggressive nuclear doctrine.

The US military had earlier said in a statement said the latest exercises are to further enhance the two militaries’ “cooperation through air, land, sea, space, cyber and special operations, and improve upon tactics, techniques and procedures.”

(Additional reporting by agencies)