WASHINGTON – North Korea fired off what appeared to be four anti-ship missiles into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan Wednesday, according to local media, days after U.S. and South Korean ships concluded joint military exercises there.
“We assess that North Korea intended to show off its various missile capabilities, display its precise targeting capability, in the form of armed protests against ships in regard to U.S. Navy carrier strike groups and joint naval drills,” said Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staffs, according to CNN.
The USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups conducted joint drills with the South Korean military, in what defense officials told CNN could be interpreted as a tough U.S. military posture.
The apparent short-range surface-to-ship missiles flew some 125 miles from the North Korean eastern coastal town of Wonsan and into the Sea of Japan, reaching a maximum altitude of 1.2 miles, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The missile launches are the tenth test by North Korea this year, and come in defiance of international pressure and condemnation. However, the cruise missile firing do not violate U.N. Security Council resolutions against the North, which ban launches using ballistic missile technology. The test was the fourth since the newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office last month.
The launch comes a day after Moon suspended the deployment of a controversial U.S. missile defense system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, pending an full environmental assessment. China and North Korea both see the system as hostile, and ramping up tensions on the peninsula.
Moon has advocated for warmer ties with North Korea, taking a less militaristic approach than his predecessor. At a meeting of his national security Thursday he warned that “North Korea will only face further isolation from the international community and economic difficulties with its missile launches,” according to The New York Times.
The head of the U.S. military’s missile defense program, Vice Adm. James Syring said before Congress Wednesday that the technological advances demonstrated by North Korea in its ballistic missile program in the past six months had caused him “great concern.”
“I would not say we are comfortably ahead of the threat. I would say we are addressing the threat that we know today,” Syring said.
“The advancements in the last six months have caused great concern to me and others, in the advancement of and demonstration of technology of ballistic missiles from North Korea. It is incumbent on us to assume that North Korea today can range the United States with an ICBM carrying a nuclear warhead.”