North Korea says it Fired Cruise Missiles amid U.S.-South Korean Military Training

February 24, 2023

North Korea on Friday said it had test fired long-range cruise missiles off its eastern coast the day before.

The launches were later confirmed by South Korea’s military. According to Pyongyang, they were intended to verify the reliability of the missiles and the rapid-response capabilities of the unit that operates those weapons.

The launches took place on the same day that the U.S. and South Korea were undertaking “tabletop” military exercises at the Pentagon to simulate response to a North Korean nuclear attack. The North had warned last Friday that if the other two countries went through with those exercises and others they had planned it would lead to “unprecedentedly constant, strong responses.”

During their exercises, the U.S. Defense Department and South Korea’s Defense Ministry said they discussed ways to demonstrate their “strong response capabilities and resolve to response appropriately” to any North Korean nuclear use.

The Pentagon added that during the meeting it highlighted the Biden Administration’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, which states that any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners “will result in the end of that regime.”

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the four missiles launched from North Korea’s northeastern coast on Thursday flew for nearly three hours, drew oval and figure-eight patterns above the sea, and showed they can hit targets 1,240 miles away.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said they found discrepancies with North Korea’s flight readings, but did not elaborate. The South Korean Joint Chiefs added that the allies were continuing to analyze the launches.

North Korea first tested a long-range cruise missile system in September 2021, implying at the time that the missiles were being developed to be armed with nuclear warheads.

North Korea on Monday fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea east of the peninsula, the second test launch in three days. On Saturday, Pyongyang had test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that traveled about 560 miles at a maximum altitude of 3,500 miles during an hour-long flight.

North Korea has confirmed that Monday’s test-fires were in response to a Sunday flight of American B-1B long-range, supersonic bombers for separate training with South Korea and Japan—which was itself a response to North Korea’s Saturday weapons test. 

North Korea is prohibited from any ballistic missile activity under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions. The U.S. has tried to get the Security Council to pass additional measures following the North’s recent tests, but North Korean allies China and Russia have prevented such efforts.

Until recent days, North Korea did halt weapons testing activities following a short-range missile firing on January 1. However, its more-than 70 missile launches in 2022 are a reported record number for one single year.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un has ratcheted up tensions entering 2023, calling for an “exponential increase” in nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nuclear weapons targeting “enemy” South Korea and the development of more advanced ICBMs.

Along with their tabletop exercises in Washington, the U.S. and South Korean delegations also visited Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, where they were briefed on the mission of Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. U.S. officials at the base described such forces as key means of providing U.S. extended deterrence to allies.

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