SEOUL, Sept 25 – North Korea fired a ballistic missile towards the sea off its east coast on Sunday ahead of a planned military exercise between South Korean and US forces involving an aircraft carrier and ahead of a visit by US Vice President Kamala to the Harris region.
South Korea’s military said it was a single short-range ballistic missile fired from near the Taechon area in North Pyongyang province just before 7:00 a.m. local time and flew about 600 km (373 mi) at an altitude of 60 km and a speed of Mach. 5.
“North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile is an act of grave provocation that threatens the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Kim Seung-kyum and US Forces Korea Commander Paul LaCamera discussed the situation after the launch and reaffirmed their readiness to respond to any threat or provocation from North Korea, it added.
South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss response measures and condemned the launch as a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and an unjustifiable act of provocation.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan estimated the missile reached a maximum altitude of 50 km and could have flown on an irregular trajectory. Hamada said it is outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and there have been no reported problems with shipping or air traffic.
Many of the short-range missiles tested by North Korea in recent years have been designed to evade missile defenses by maneuvering in flight and following a lower, “compressed” trajectory, experts said.
“If you include cruise missiles, it’s the 19th start, which is an unprecedented pace,” Hamada said.
“North Korea’s action poses a threat to the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community, and to do so at a time when the Ukrainian invasion is unfolding is unforgivable,” he said, adding that Japan had lodged a protest through the North Korean embassy in Beijing.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement released after the launch that it was aware of the launch and was consulting closely with allies, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan.
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.”
The launch comes after the arrival of the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in South Korea to participate in joint exercises with South Korean forces over four days from September 26 to 29, and ahead of Harris’ planned visit to Seoul this week.
It was the first time the North had carried out such a launch since it fired eight short-range ballistic missiles in one day in early June, prompting the United States to demand more sanctions for violating UN Security Council resolutions.
North Korea rejects the UN resolutions as a violation of its sovereign right to self-defense and space exploration, and has criticized previous joint exercises between the United States and South Korea as evidence of their hostile policies.
After North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests this year, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles for the first time since 2017, the United States and South Korea said they would step up joint exercises and military shows of force to deter Pyongyang.
“Defense exercises will not prevent North Korean missile tests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international affairs at Ewha University in Seoul.
But U.S.-South Korean security cooperation helps deter a North Korean attack and counter pressure from Pyongyang, and the allies should not let provocations stop them from conducting the military training and exchanges needed to maintain the alliance, he added.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday that North Korea may also be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), citing the South’s military.