North Korea fires three missiles, possibly an ICBM
North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the eastern waters off the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden wrapped up his Asia visit.
South Korean defense officials believe one was a Hwasong-17, the North's latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches as they took place at 6 a.m., 6:37 a.m. and 6:42 a.m. in the Sunan area of Pyongyang.
Military authorities said they thought the first missile might have been the North’s newest ICBM, the Hwasong-17, which they said flew approximately 360 kilometers (224 miles) and reached a top altitude of 540 kilometers.
Officials said the second missile, believed to be a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), reached an altitude of around 20 kilometers before “vanishing” in apparent disintegration.
The last missile, also thought to be an SRBM, traveled some 760 kilometers and reaching a peak altitude of 60 kilometers.
The tests came a week after Seoul’s spy agency warned South Korean lawmakers that preparations for a long-range missile launch, including liquid fuel loading, had been detected by the U.S. and South Korean reconnaissance assets.
Wednesday’s missile test took place the day after Biden, who was on a visit to U.S. allies South Korea and Japan from Friday to Tuesday, left the region.
The tests elicited a show of force in response from U.S. and South Korean armed forces.
The South Korean military test-fired Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missiles from Gangneung, Gangwon on the eastern coast into the East Sea, while the U.S. military fired several rounds from its MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), according to national security official Kim Tae-hyo in a presidential office briefing with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Kim said the South Korean Air Force also released a video of what is known as an “elephant walk,” or close-formation taxiing on a runway, of 30 F-15 fighter aircraft to “send a message that our fighter jets are always ready to defend our skies.”
The chief diplomats of the United States and South Korea condemned the tests as a “grave provocation,” saying it was “very regrettable” that the North Korean regime chose to conduct a major weapons test in the middle of a suspected outbreak of Covid-19.
Foreign Minister Park Jin and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed to coordinate a push for a fresh United Nations Security Council resolution against Pyongyang for threatening regional peace and stability, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
They also noted that last Saturday's summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol was a “milestone” meeting for the bilateral alliance to become a “global comprehensive strategic partnership.”
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also reaffirmed his country's “steadfast commitment” to South Korea’s defense in a call with his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-han after the test, the White House said.
Sullivan and Kim “both condemned the DPRK's destabilizing ballistic missile tests and committed to continue building on their close coordination,” the White House said in a press release, referring to the North by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In state-run media reports, Pyongyang has touted previous tests as proof that external “hostile” forces cannot influence its foreign policy or weapons development programs.
The latest tests came shortly after the North held the equivalent of a state funeral for the chief of the Korean People's Army Hyon Chol-hae, and as the regime’s propaganda machine struck a triumphant tone about its battle with its first acknowledged Covid-19 outbreak.
The missile tests could be a sign of the North’s renewed confidence, or determination to push forward with its weapons development program. It claims its Covid outbreak appears to have reached a stable level.
The missile tests, the second since Yoon’s inauguration, came 13 days after the regime fired three short-range ballistic missiles from the Sunan area of Pyongyang on May 12. It is the 17th major weapons test this year.
Wednesday’s tests could trigger the deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the region, depending on the nature of the missiles fired.
After the test, the JCS told reporters in a text, “Our military has strengthened its surveillance and vigilance, and we are closely cooperating with the United States and maintaining full readiness.”
It added, “Our military is monitoring related movements in preparation for the possibility of additional provocations by the North, and is maintaining a full readiness posture to ensure an overwhelming victory at all times.”
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]