Pomeranian Coast

North Korea fires 8 ballistic missiles off east coast, South Korean military says

A North Korean missile is launched in this image released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Jan. 28, 2022. (KCNA)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Sunday, according to the south’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The missiles were fired from four provinces in the country between 9:08 a.m. and 9:43 a.m., the joint chiefs said in a text message to reporters. The missiles are estimated to have flown between 68 and 416 miles at altitudes of 16 to 56 miles. They are said to have reached three to six times the speed of sound.

The South Korean military is prepared for additional missile tests and “is maintaining a full readiness posture through consultation with US forces,” the joint chiefs said. It added that military leaders discussed the recent launch with the commander of US Forces Korea, Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, and confirmed “the combined defense capability and readiness for immediate detection and interception” of North Korean missiles.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement Sunday afternoon it was aware of the launches and had determined that they “pose no immediate threat to US personnel or territory or to our allies.”

“US commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains adamant,” the statement said.

If the number of missiles is correct, it would be the regime’s largest testing event, Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Stars and Stripes by phone Sunday.

Duitsman said North Korea launched four missiles “almost simultaneously” in 2017. Experts said it may have been an exercise simulating an attack on US forces stationed in Japan.

“It has previously made multiple launches in a single event, but usually in much smaller numbers,” Duitsman said, adding that North Korea has launched a record 28 ballistic missiles so far this year.

The regime conducted multiple ballistic missile tests in pairs or trios in recent months and also fired multiple missiles from multiple rocket launchers, Yang Uk, an associate research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, told Stars and Stripes on Sunday.

Uk said that based on the initial evidence, North Korea would likely have launched various types of missiles and described the launches as a military exercise, not a missile test.

The launches mark North Korea’s 17th round of missile tests this year and the first in June. The communist regime last conducted a test on May 25, hours after President Joe Biden left Asia following his first presidential trip to South Korea and Japan.

During his trip to Seoul, Biden and newly elected South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to strengthen their alliance and suggested starting talks to expand the scope of joint military exercises between their armed forces. Those large-scale exercises, which North Korea claims are a rehearsal for an invasion, were suspended in 2018 after a series of summits between then-President Donald Trump, then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Sunday’s launches came as officials estimated North Korea could soon conduct a nuclear test. Government officials from the US, South Korea and Japan have cited mounting evidence that the regime was preparing for its seventh nuclear test, the first since 2017.

The Biden administration said it continues to leave the door open to North Korea for negotiations with no preconditions.