The United States and South Korea hold military exercises amid tension with the North

The South Korean and US militaries have launched their biggest joint military exercises in years, as North Korea said it conducted tests of submarine-launched cruise missiles in apparent protest at the exercises it views as an invasion drill.

North Korea’s missile tests on Sunday indicate the country will likely carry out provocative weapons test activities during the 11-day US-South Korean drills.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his troops to stand ready to repel the “frantic war-ready movements” of his rivals.

The South Korean and US drills include a computer simulation called Freedom Shield 23 and several combined field training exercises, collectively known as Warrior Shield FTX.

Officials in South Korea and the United States did not immediately release details of Monday’s drills.

But they previously said the computer simulation is designed to strengthen allies’ defense and response capabilities amid growing nuclear threats from North Korea and other changing security environments.

They said the field exercises would also return to the scale of their previous larger field training called Foal Eagle which was last held in 2018.

North Korea Koreas Tensions
A cruise missile the country fired from a submarine off North Korea’s east coast (North Korea/AP)

A recent US military statement said the field exercises are to further enhance the “cooperation of the two militaries through air, ground, sea, space, cyber and special operations, and improve tactics, techniques and procedures.”

North Korea said in state media that its launches of two cruise missiles from a submarine off its east coast showed its determination to respond with “overwhelmingly powerful” force to increasingly intense military maneuvers by “US imperialists and South Korean puppet forces”.

North Korea’s Central News Agency on Monday called the missiles “strategic” weapons, saying their launches verified the country’s “nuclear war deterrence” operational posture.

This implies that North Korea is aiming to arm the cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.

He said the missiles flew for more than two hours, striking figure-eight patterns and hitting targets 930 miles away.

The missiles were fired from the 8.24 Yongung ship, KCNA said, referring to a submarine North Korea used to conduct its first submarine-launched ballistic missile test in 2016.

The reported launch details show that Japan, including the US military bases in Okinawa, is within striking distance of the cruise missiles, if they are fired from North eastern waters, Kim Dong-yub said, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. .

He added that the weapons could even reach the US Pacific territory of Guam if the submarine could operate at a greater distance from North Korean waters.

Sunday’s actions were the North’s first submarine missile launches since it tested a weapon from a silo beneath an indoor warehouse last October.

Last May, the country conducted a test launch of a short-range ballistic missile from the same submarine.

North Korea’s mastery of submarine-launched missile systems would make it difficult for adversaries to detect launches early and provide the North with retaliatory strike capability.

Experts say it would take years, vast resources and vast technological improvements for the heavily sanctioned nation to build a fleet of various submarines that can safely travel the seas and reliably execute attacks.

Kim Dong-yub, the professor, said Sunday’s tests were the North’s first known cruise missile launches from a submarine, as all its previous submarine launches involved ballistic missiles.

He said North Korea is pushing for various types of missiles and launch platforms to increase their ability to evade detection before launch or in-flight interception.

North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (KCNA/KNS/AP)

The South Korean military confirmed the latest North Korean missile launches, saying they were fired from a submarine in waters near the North’s eastern port city of Sinpo on Sunday.

Sinpo has a major submarine construction shipyard.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said it is maintaining a preparation in close coordination with the United States.

He said South Korean and US intelligence authorities were looking into details of Sunday’s launches.

After a record number of missile tests last year, North Korea has carried out several additional rounds since January 1.

Before Sunday’s launches, the country also tested an ICBM potentially capable of reaching the continental United States; nuclear-capable short-range missiles designed to attack South Korea; and other weapons.

Experts say Kim, who sees his nuclear arsenal as his best security guarantee, is trying to pressure the United States to accept the North as a legitimate nuclear power and relax international economic sanctions.


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