North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula early Monday, and leader Kim Jong Un’s sister warned of more to come unless the United States halts military drills with South Korea.
Kim Yo Jong, one of the country’s top officials, said “the frequency of using the Pacific Ocean as our shooting range depends on the nature of the US military’s actions,” according to a statement posted on the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Monday’s missile tests were the second in three days – Pyongyang launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Saturday, its third such test in less than a year.
The US responded to that launch by holding separate drills with South Korea and Japan on Sunday, a move North Korea viewed as a provocation, on top of planned nuclear tabletop drills between the US and South Korea at the Pentagon this week. The allies are also expected to hold military drills next month in the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea had warned Friday of “unprecedented strong responses” to those drills if they go ahead.
Japan’s Defense Ministry estimated both missiles were fired Monday at around 7:00 a.m. local time and fell into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, “to the east of the Korean Peninsula, outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.”
The first missile flew about 400 kilometers (248 miles) at a maximum altitude of about 100 kilometers (62 miles), the ministry said in a statement, while the second was fired about 10 minutes later at a maximum altitude of around 50 kilometers (31 miles), flying about 350 kilometers (217 miles).
North Korea acknowledged Monday’s launch, calling it a “super-large multiple rocket launcher exercise, which is a means of tactical nuclear attack.”
KCNA said the country fired two 600mm multi-rocket launcher (MRL) shots – South Korea considers multi-rocket launchers larger than 600 mm as ballistic missiles.
North Korea’s response to drills
Monday’s statement from Kim Yo Jong suggested North Korea was primed for further launches, saying if Pyongyang deems the presence of US forces in the region to be a threat, it will take “corresponding measures.”
Referring to the US, Kim said “fanatics who raise tensions [in the region] will pay the price,” according to KCNA.
Kim said North Korea now has “satisfactory technology and capabilities” for missile reentry and all that remains is “to focus on increasing the number of forces.”
On Sunday, the US Air Force deployed B-1B strategic bombers on the Korean Peninsula with escort assistance from F-35As, F-15Ks, and F-16s from the South Korean and US Air Forces, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
“Through timely and immediate deployment of the US extended deterrence force on the Korean Peninsula, the two demonstrated the SK-US combined defense capability and posture by the alliance’s overwhelming force and improved combined operational capability,” the ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the US and Japan also conducted a joint air exercise over the Sea of Japan on Sunday, according to a statement by US Forces Japan.
“This exercise was conducted to demonstrate our nations’ rapid reaction capabilities, high levels of force readiness, close coordination, bilateral interoperability, and credible deterrent capacity,” the statement said.
International response to North Korea’s ICBM tests
After North Korea’s ballistic missile tests on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pushed for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting, and South Korea imposed sanctions on more individuals and companies.
Kishida said Japan would continue to deepen cooperation with South Korea and the US in a show of unity against North Korean provocations.
“We recognize that we must continue to gather information, vigilantly monitor the situation, and deepen cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea,” Kishida said.
Meanwhile South Korea’s Foreign Ministry imposed sanctions on four North Korean individuals and five organizations who it accused of aiding Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile weapons development and helping the country skirt sanctions. Since October, South Korea has laid sanctions upon 31 North Korean individuals and 35 organizations.
On Sunday, North Korea released more details of Saturday’s ICBM launch, saying it was a Hwasong-15 ICBM fired in a “surprise ICBM launching drill” under the orders of Kim Jong Un.
The missile flew 989 kilometers (614 miles) for almost 67 minutes to an altitude of 5,768.5 kilometers (3,584 miles), according to state news agency KCNA.
The report said the test was proof of Pyongyang’s ability to launch a “fatal nuclear counterattack on the hostile forces” and “clear proof of the sure reliability of our powerful physical nuclear deterrent.”
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres strongly condemned that launch and reiterated calls for Pyongyang to immediately desist from further provocative actions.
The US Indo-Pacific Command on Sunday stressed its “ironclad” commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan and said it was consulting closely with its allies and partners over the missile launches.
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launches highlight the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s unlawful WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs,” it said, referring to North Korea by its official name.