September 26, 2022 13:18
North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile into the East Sea on Sunday, ahead of joint maneuvers by South Korea and the U.S. in the same waters for the first time in five years.
It was the regime's first missile launch since it committed itself to preemptive use of nuclear weapons on Sept. 8.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff here on Sunday said the missile was fired from Taechon, North Pyongan Province at 6:53 a.m. and flew about 600 ㎞ at an altitude of 60 ㎞ and a speed of Mach 5. It seems to have been fired from a mobile launcher.
Military authorities speculate that it was a version of the KN-23 Iskander missile, which is hard to intercept as it conducts glide and pull-up maneuvers after it is fired.
The presidential office here denounced the launch as "a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a provocative act heightening tension on the Korean Peninsula and in the region."
South Korea and the U.S. are staging a joint maritime drills in the East Sea from Monday until Thursday mobilizing the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan that arrived at Busan last Friday.
The U.S. military has been concentrating strategic assets in and around the Korean Peninsula as the North is preparing for a fresh nuclear test. Last Friday, a carrier strike group of the U.S. Navy, including the Reagan, the guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville, the Aegis destroyer Barry and a state-of-the-art submarine, arrived in Busan to take part in the joint exercise.
"The missile was launched a day before the start of the joint maritime exercise," a military source said. "It was a surface-to-surface missile, not a surface-to-ship missile aimed at a maritime target like an aircraft carrier, but it seems clear that the North is angry about the joint exercise."
The distance between Taechon and Busan is some 600 ㎞, the same as the missile's flight distance. "A surface-to-ship missile must get coordinates of the target's location from a military satellite if it is to strike a moving aircraft carrier," a military officer said. "But the North doesn’t have long-range surface-to-ship missiles yet."
Military authorities said there are signs of the North preparing further provocations. The North is building a new submarine in Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province and has been conducting tests for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Taechon is home to a uranium refinery and a 200-MW nuclear power plant.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "must be considering the right timing for a nuclear test by taking political schedules at home and abroad into account," a security official said. There is speculation that Kim is waiting because the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party opens on Oct. 16.
An intelligence source said, "According to an intelligence report, Beijing has put pressure on Pyongyang not to spoil the mood ahead of the party congress," which is to reconfirm Chinese President Xi Jinping's stranglehold on power.
Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visits Seoul on Thursday after attending the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. "We're closely watching for the possibility of further provocation by the North," the JCS said.
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