North Korea fired four ballistic missiles on Saturday, the South Korean military said, the latest in Pyongyang’s blitz test campaign this week as Washington and Seoul wrapped up their biggest army drills air.
The wave of North Korean launches included an intercontinental ballistic missile and another that landed near southern territorial waters. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said it was “actually a territorial invasion”.
The launches came as hundreds of US and South Korean fighter jets – including B-1B heavy bombers – took part in exercise Vigilant Storm, 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, towards the West Sea at around 11:32 to 11:59 a.m. today,” they said. the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). said in a statement on Saturday, using another name for the Yellow Sea.
Their “flight distance was detected at around 130 km (80 miles), an altitude of around 20 km and a speed of around Mach 5”, they added. Mach 5 is five times the speed of sound.
The United States and South Korea have warned the launches could result in a nuclear test by North Korea, and have extended their Air Force drills through Saturday in response.
Vigilant Storm was originally scheduled to run Monday through Friday.
Pyongyang has stepped up missile launches in response to drills. Such exercises have long provoked strong reactions from North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.
– “Significant threat” –
Vigilant Storm ended on Saturday, with the US Air Force deploying two B-1B long-range heavy bombers on the final day in an accelerated show of force.
It was the first time B-1Bs had flown to the Korean Peninsula since December 2017.
South Korea’s JCS said it had demonstrated “the ability and willingness to respond firmly to any provocation by North Korea.”
Pyongyang particularly condemned past deployments of US strategic weapons such as B-1Bs and aircraft carrier strike groups during times of high tension.
While the B-1B “Lancer” supersonic 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 USAF lists the Lancer’s weapons payload at 34 tons (75,000 pounds), which can include cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs.
The B-1B’s range can be extended by aerial refueling, allowing it to strike anywhere in the world.
Ahn Chan-il, an expert in North Korean studies, told AFP that given the B-1B’s status as a US strategic asset, its deployment will be considered a “significant threat” by North Korea. North.
The B-1B deployment came a day after South Korea dispatched fighter jets in response to what it said was the mobilization of about 180 North Korean fighter jets.
Experts say Pyongyang is particularly sensitive to such drills because its air force is one of the weakest links in its military, lacking high-tech aircraft and properly trained pilots.
Compared to North Korea’s aging fleet, Vigilant Storm saw some of the most advanced American and South Korean fighter jets in action, including F-35 stealth fighters.
At the United Nations Security Council on Friday, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Vigilant Storm’s criticism North Korean “propaganda”, saying it posed no threat to other countries.
She attacked China and Russia during the emergency session, accusing them of “enabling” North Korea.
Moscow and Beijing in turn blamed Washington for the escalation, and the meeting ended without a joint Security Council statement.
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