North Korea launched a salvo of four missiles towards the Sea of Japan (known in Korea as the East Sea) on Monday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed on Monday.
The JCS said the four projectiles traveled around 1,000km on average and reached a maximum altitude of around 260 km.
Despite growing speculation that the North may have launched an Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), due to the location of the launch, South Korea’s JCS dismissed the rumor during a regular press briefing held at 1030 KST (20:30 EST).
“The U.S. and the South are currently in the process of conducting a detailed analysis. It seems that there is a slim chance but the more detailed analysis is needed,” Roh Jae-cheon, head of public affairs for the JCS, told reporters when asked if there was any possibility than an ICBM had been launched.
Kyodo News said that Japan had reported no damage as a result of the launches, which will likely draw strong condemnation from the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.
The JCS said earlier on Monday that North Korea launched a presumed single unidentified projectile from near Tongchang-ri towards the “East Sea” in North Pyongan Province, at 0736 KST.
“We are analyzing the type of the projectile that North Korea fired off, flying distance and so on,” Yonhap News Agency quoted an unnamed South Korean official early on Monday.
The launch of the projectiles, which have not been identified but are likely ballistic missiles, comes on the sixth day of the U.S. – South Korean joint military Foal Eagle training exercise.
The salvo of launches come following a warning contained within a Friday editorial in North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper that said if the U.S. and South Korea continued seasonal drills, “the country’s new types of Juche-strategic weapons… will soar into the air.”
North Korea used the same area, where its Sohae satellite launching station can be found, to launch a liquid-fueled Kwangmyongsong-4 long-range rocket in February 2016, ostensibly to put a satellite into space.
Coming as it does a week after a deal between the Lotte Group and the South Korean government over land to deploy the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, one expert told NK News that the North Koreans may be attempting to highlight the system’s deficiencies.
“THAAD can only engage so many targets at once,” said Scott Lafoy, an NK Pro missile analyst. “It has a long range, so it is better than Patriot [THAAD’s predecessor] about this, but it still can be overwhelmed.”
“So this is just a good way of showing off to Japan and South Korea that they will still be capable of overwhelming defenses.”
Monday’s launches come 22 days after the North launched a new type of solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) on February 12, from Panghyon, also in North Pyongan Province.
If the latest launches were successful, and especially if they used a new or emerging technology, precedence suggests North Korean state media will prominently feature photos and video of the tests on Tuesday.
Less than 24 hours after the February 12 launch, state-run news agencies carried detailed video and photos which analysts used to identify new missile features.
RESPONSE TO DRILLS?
Foal Eagle, the ROK-U.S. annual combined Field Training Exercise (FTX) began last Wednesday. Approximately 17,000 U.S. forces participated with ROK forces in last year’s Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, two training exercises which usually begin in the same month.
This year’s Foal Eagle is to last until the end of next month, and is said by the South Korean military to be one of the largest drills ever conducted by the two countries.
In a likely response to those drills, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on March 1 visited the Headquarters of Large Combined Unit 966 of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), a unit that is believed to be part of the Pyongyang Defense Command (PCD).
Meanwhile, a New York Times investigation on Saturday claimed the U.S. government had successfully slowed North Korea’s missile testing progress in 2016 using cyber and electronic attacks.
“The evidence was in the numbers,” the investigation said, without revealing technical evidence to back the claims. “Most flight tests of an intermediate-range missile called the Musudan… ended in flames: Its overall failure rate is 88 percent.”
Main picture: Wikimedia Commons