South Korea’s military claimed North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) off its east coast on Friday, capping up nearly two weeks of significant drills aimed at deterring its neighbor.
The launch, which came at a time when there were mounting suspicions that North Korea was preparing for its first nuclear test since 2017, was the latest in a record year of tests, whether of short-range missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), or other types.
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) claimed the SRBMs were fired from the Tongcheon area of Gangwon province, on North Korea’s east coast, four days after the neighbors traded warning shots off the west coast amid growing tensions.
“Our military is maintaining a full readiness posture,” the JCS said in a statement, adding that it had increased monitoring and security while closely coordinating with the US.
South Korean military were scheduled to complete the 12-day Hoguk 22 field exercises on Friday, which included some drills with US troops, while major training involving South Korean and US planes were scheduled to begin on Monday.
North Korea has stated that its latest missile launches were in response to the joint drills, which it regards as provocative and a practice for an invasion.
The exercises, according to South Korea and the United States, are defensive and necessary to counter North Korean threats.
The US and its partners fear the North is set to restart nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.
Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korean President, has stated that the North has finished all technical preparations for an underground blast at its Punggye-ri test site, which has been formally closed since 2018.
From 2006 to 2017, North Korea conducted six nuclear tests there.
A sixth North Korean nuclear test would be “proof of a program that is moving full steam ahead in an extraordinarily worrying manner,” the UN nuclear watchdog’s chairman said on Thursday.
South Korea has warned that a resumption of North Korean nuclear testing would necessitate a “unparalleled” response from the allies, but neither it nor the US has provided details.