North Korea fires cruise missiles amid US-South Korean military drills
North Korea claims to have fired two "strategic cruise missiles" from its submarine in the Sea of Japan on Sunday morning. The country's state media has termed it a "defensive move" ahead of the U.S. - South Korea joint military exercises scheduled to begin today, the South China Morning Post reported.
The exercises, dubbed "Freedom Shield," are the largest exercises undertaken by the two forces in the past five years. The annual event was scaled back in 2017 after former President Donald Trump tried to negotiate an end to North Korea's long-range missile and nuclear weapons program. However, that possibility seems long gone after the Asia country conducted a record number of missile tests last year.
North Korea hits back with missile tests
While the testing seems to have slowed down from the beginning of this year, following the announcement of Freedom Shield, North Korea has responded with more missile tests. Last week, North Korea fired six short-range missiles into the Yellow Sea.
Sunday's missile fires took place from the "8.24 Yongung" submarine, the same vessel that North Korea used to demonstrate its first submarine-launched ballistic missile in 2016, CNN said in its report.
Fired from the Sea of Japan, the missiles traveled for an hour at roughly 932 miles (1,500 km) per hour before performing figure-of-eight-shaped patterns before hitting their targets, state media agency KCNA claimed. South Korean officials, however, confirmed only one unidentified missile fire from a submarine and are analyzing the incident.
Experts, however, told the SCMP that images released by KCNA show that the submarine had surfaced to fire the missile, taking away the element of stealth needed in such a test.
However, these shortcomings are unlikely to faze North Korea's leadership which declared itself an "irreversible nuclear power" last year. Calling the joint military exercises a rehearsal for invasion, North Korea has asked its artillery units to be prepared for two missions, First to deter war and second, to take the initiative in war by intensifying its simulated drills for real war.
North Korea has also said that it is watching "every movement of the enemy" and will take "very powerful and overwhelming counteraction" against moves that are hostile to the country.
With the U.S.- South Kore drills expected to last ten days, it is likely that North Korea will make moves during this period, intensifying its efforts in the coming days. South Korea is banking on the U.S. commitment to deploy its assets, including nuclear weapons, to prevent attacks on its allies, the SCMP report added.