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N.Korea conducts fourth ballistic missile launch in a week

Pyongyang fires two missiles hours before S.Korea is due to stage military parade to mark its Armed Forces Day

Passersby watch a TV report of North Korea`s missile launch at Seoul Station on Sunday. (File Photo - Yonhap)
Passersby watch a TV report of North Korea`s missile launch at Seoul Station on Sunday. (File Photo - Yonhap)
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the capital city of Pyongyang toward the east coast on Saturday morning, marking its fourth missile launch in a week.

The missile launches came hours before South Korea was set to stage a large-scale military parade to mark the Oct.1 Armed Forces Day with the participation of President Yoon Suk-yeol, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and top military commanders.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said “two short-range ballistic missiles were fired from the Sunan area in Pyongyang city toward the East Sea from around 06:45 a.m. to 07:03 a.m. on Saturday.”

The short-range ballistic missiles traveled about 350 kilometers at a speed of around Mach 6 and an altitude of 30 km, the JCS said in a statement, adding that South Korean and US intelligence authorities are analyzing the specifications.

The travel distance is approximately equidistant from the launch site to the South Korean Army, Navy and Air Force Headquarters in the city of Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province, where the national event was held to mark the 74th Armed Forces Day.

The missiles were reportedly fired from a transporter erector launcher and targeted a specific region in the East Sea. The target is believed to be Alsom, a small uninhabited island off North Korea’s east coast.

The JCS said its chief, Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, and Gen. Paul LaCamera, chief of the United Nations Command and United States Forces Korea, held a virtual meeting and closely shared their assessment of the situation.

“Our military will maintain a firm readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related moves in preparation for further provocations by North Korea in close coordination with the US,” the JCS said.

The US Indo-Pacific Command also issued a statement  to reaffirm the US “ironclad” defense commitments to South Korea and Japan, explaining that the US is consulting closely with its  allies and partners on the two ballistic missile launches.

National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council standing committee to discuss countermeasures to North Korea’s missile launches, the South Korean presidential office said. President Yoon Suk-yeol was immediately briefed on the launches.

The NSC standing committee “strongly condemned North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches in violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” noting that North Korea has shortened the interval between launches and fired ballistic missiles from various places.

The presidential committee also “deplored North Korea’s behavior of focusing on conducting provocations when its people’s livelihoods are in a critical situation due to economic difficulties and the antivirus crisis.”

Unprecedented missile launches on Armed Forces Day
North Korea unprecedentedly launched two ballistic missiles around four hours before South Korea was set to celebrate its Armed Forces Day at the Gyeryongdae military headquarters on Saturday morning.

The ceremony was held under the theme of “strong defense, powerful military based on science and technology” and aimed to “demonstrate strong response capabilities and resolution to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” according to South Korea’s Ministry.  

President Yoon sent a message of warning to the Kim Jong-un regime, urging North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons in his speech marking the Armed Forces Day.

“Our military will maintain a firm readiness and protect the lives and property of our people against any kind of North Korean provocations and threats,” Yoon said.  “If North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, it will face a decisive and overwhelming response from the South Korea-US alliance and our military.”

Yoon pledged to concurrently reinforce independent military capabilities and the South Korea-US combined defense posture to address North Korea’s escalating missile and nuclear threats.

Yoon underscored his plan to significantly reinforce the military’s reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities and strike capabilities against North Korea by expeditiously completing the establishment of an indigenous three-axis defense system. 

The three-pronged defense system consists of the Kill Chain preemptive strike mechanism, Korea Air and Missile Defense, which aims to build complex and multi-layered missile defense shields, and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation.

The South Korean military also displayed weapons systems which are the key elements of its three-axis defense system. 230-mm Chunmoo multiple rocket launchers, ground-to-ground Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) ballistic missiles, Hyunmoo-II ballistic missiles and Hyunmoo-III cruise missiles were mobilized to show South Korea’s strike capabilities. 

The South Korean Air Force’s Patriot Advanced Capability 2 (PAC-2) and PAC-3 interceptor missiles and homegrown Cheongung II (M-SAM)  mid-range surface-to-air missiles were put on display.

7 ballistic missiles fired in a week
North Korea has launched 38 ballistic missiles so far this year. But among them, a total of seven short-range ballistic missiles were fired this week in four discrete launches on Sep.25, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. 

The three previous launches were conducted at different places and times.

The spate of missile launches in short intervals seems to be an apparent tit-for-tat action against the alliance’s move to reinforce their deterrence and readiness and crank up trilateral security cooperation with Japan against mounting threats from North Korea.

This week, the US Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its carrier strike group participated in the key bilateral and trilateral exercise with its allies, which was staged for the first time since 2017 on and near the Korean Peninsula.

The US nuclear-powered fast attack submarine USS Annapolis joined the drills.  

South Korea, the US and Japan on Friday conducted an anti-submarine warfare exercise in international waters of the East Sea to enhance combined capabilities and interoperability against escalating threats from North Korea.

The trilateral exercise came a day after the South Korean and US navies conducted their combined maritime exercises in South Korea’s East Sea from Monday to Thursday.

US Vice President Kamala Harris also made a rare trip to the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, which straddles the inter-Korean border, on Thursday afternoon in a move to show off the US defense commitment to South Korea despite North Korea’s missile launches the previous day.

Harris underscored that the US  would “do everything” in its power to ensure its US’ ironclad defense commitment to South Korea, including its extended deterrence commitment supported by the full range of US military capabilities. At the same time, Harris launched a blistering criticism of North Korea’s “brutal dictatorship, rampant human rights violations and an unlawful weapons program.”

By Ji Da-gyum (dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)
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