North Korea yesterday fired four ballistic missiles, the South Korean military said, the latest in Pyongyang’s testing blitz this week as Washington and Seoul concluded their biggest-ever air force drills.
The flurry of North Korean launches included an intercontinental ballistic missile and one that landed near the South’s territorial waters.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said it was “effectively a territorial invasion.”
Photo: South Korean Ministry of Defense via Reuters
The launches came as hundreds of US and South Korean warplanes — including B-1B heavy bombers — participated in the “Vigilant Storm” exercise, which Pyongyang described as “aggressive and provocative.”
“The South Korean military detected four short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea from Tongrim, North Pyongan Province, to the West Sea at around 11:32am to 11:59am today,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote in a statement on yesterday, using another name for the Yellow Sea.
Their “flight distance was detected at about 130km, an altitude of about 20 km, and a speed of about Mach 5,” they wrote.
Mach 5 is equivalent to five times the speed of sound.
The US and South Korea have said that these launches could culminate in a nuclear test by North Korea, and extended their air force drills until yesterday in response. Vigilant Storm was originally scheduled to run from Monday to Friday.
Pyongyang ramped up missile launches in response to the drills. Such exercises have long provoked strong reactions from North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.
Vigilant Storm concluded with the US Air Force deploying two B-1B long-range heavy bombers in a ramped-up show of force.
This was the first time B-1Bs have flown to the Korean Peninsula since December 2017.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said it demonstrated the “capability and readiness to firmly respond to any provocations from North Korea.”
Pyongyang has especially condemned past deployments of US strategic weapons such as B-1Bs and aircraft carrier strike groups in times of high tension.
While the supersonic B-1B Lancer aircraft no longer carries nuclear weapons, it is described by the US Air Force as “the backbone of America’s long-range bomber force.”
The US Air Force lists the Lancer’s weapons payload as 34 tonnes, which can include cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs.
The B-1B’s range can be extended by in-air refueling, giving it the ability to strike anywhere in the world.
Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean studies academic, said that given the B-1B’s status as a strategic US asset, its deployment would be seen as a “significant threat” by North Korea.
The B-1B deployment came a day after South Korea scrambled fighter jets in response to what it said was the mobilization of about 180 North Korean warplanes.
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