South Korea says it has scrambled fighter jets after detecting around 180 North Korean warplanes moving near the border between the two countries.
South Korea’s airforce scrambled around 80 jets, including F-35A stealth fighters, in response to the North Korean sortie.
The North Korean aircraft remained north of the so-called tactical measure line, 20km (12 miles) north of the official military demarcation line (MDL) between the two countries, according to South Korea.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement that it had “detected around 180 warplane trails across the country” in inland areas as well as on the western and eastern coasts of the Korean peninsula, but that none breached the “tactical measure” line or came very close to the inter-Korean border.
“Our military is maintaining a firm readiness posture for further provocations while closely monitoring the North Korean military’s related movements under close cooperation between South Korea and the United States,” the joint chiefs of staff said.
The escalation comes after Pyongyang fired a record number of missiles in a single day on Wednesday, followed by a banned ICBM missile test that triggered evacuation warnings in Japan on Thursday.
South Korea’s military also said on Friday that North Korea had fired an artillery barrage into a maritime “buffer zone” overnight – a violation of the 2018 agreement established between the two Koreas.
The UN security council will convene an emergency meeting on Friday in the wake of a record-breaking blitz of launches by North Korea this week.
This is the second time in a month that the North has flown fighter jets close to the buffer zone, triggering a response from Seoul. Last month, a flight of 10 warplanes made similar manoeuvres.
North Korea had warned earlier this week that it would provide a “powerful” response to joint drills staged by the US and South Korea in the region.
Some 240 aircraft participating in these “Vigilant Storm” air exercises with the United States continued their drills in spite of the North Korean sortie on Friday, the military said.
The US and South Korea have agreed to extend their large-scale joint exercises by another day, through Saturday. The five-day drills were scheduled to end on Friday, but have been extended in response to Pyongyang’s ICBM test this week.
Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the central committee of North Korea‘s ruling Workers’ Party, has condemned the decision, calling it a “very dangerous decision” which is “shoving” the situation out of control.
“The United States and South Korea will find that they have made a terrible mistake that cannot be reversed,” said Mr Pak.
On Thursday, North Korea conducted its seventh ICBM launch of this year, which the South Korean military believes ended in failure. It failed during the second stage after the separation of the propellant and warhead sections, a defence source told Yonhap news agency.
It was a day after North Korea fired 23 missiles – the most in one day – including one that landed close to South Korea’s territorial waters, activating air-raid sirens to alert the country’s residents on Ulleungdo island to take cover.
South Korea responded with its own volley of three air-to-ground missiles which landed a similar distance off North Korea’s own coast.
Holding a meeting in Washington, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup vowed to seek new measures to demonstrate their “determination and capabilities” in the face of North Korea’s provocations.