North Korea continues missile launches as US redeploys carrier
North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters Thursday after the United States redeployed an aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula in response to Pyongyang's previous launch of a nuclear-capable missile over Japan.
The latest missile launches suggest North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is determined to continue with weapons tests aimed at boosting his nuclear arsenal in defiance of international sanctions. Many experts say Kim's goal is to eventually win US recognition as a legitimate nuclear state and the lifting of those sanctions, though the international community has shown no sign of allowing that to happen.
The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North's capital region and landed between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The first missile flew 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 80 kilometers (50 miles) and the second flew 800 kilometers (497 miles) on an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 miles).
The flight details were similar to Japanese assessments announced by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, who confirmed that the missiles didn't reach Japan's exclusive economic zone.
He added that the second missile was possibly launched on an "irregular" trajectory. It is a term that has been previously used to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon modeled after Russia's Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to improve its chances of evading missile defenses.
South Korea's military said it has boosted its surveillance posture and maintains readiness in close coordination with the United States. The US Indo Pacific Command said the launches didn't pose an immediate threat to United States or its allies, but still highlighted the "destabilizing impact" of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was expected to hold a telephone call with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol over the North Korean threat later Thursday, said the North's continued launches were "absolutely intolerable."
Yoon's office said his National Security Director Kim Sung-han discussed the launch at an emergency security meeting where members discussed plans to prepare for further North Korean hostilities, including military provocations.
The launches were North Korea's sixth round of weapons tests in less than two weeks, adding to a record number of missile launches this year that has prompted condemnation from the United States and other countries. South Korean officials the North may up the ante soon by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile or conducting its first nuclear test explosion since 2017 and seventh overall, escalating an old pattern of heightening tensions before trying to wrest outside concessions.
Moon Hong Sik, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson, said North Korea's accelerating tests also reflect an urgency to meet Kim Jong Un's arms development goals. Kim last year described an extensive wish list of advanced nuclear weapons systems, including more powerful ICBMs, multiwarhead missiles, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and tactical nuclear arms.
North Korea is "moving accordingly with the timeline it set for itself," Moon said.