(Bloomberg) — North Korea said it fired two cruise missiles from a submarine and issued a new threat to “mercilessly punish” the US as it starts large-scale military drills with South Korea that have stoked Pyongyang’s anger.
Kim Jong Un’s regime said it fired two strategic cruise missiles Sunday from a submarine off the east of the peninsula that flew on figure-8 paths for about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) before striking a target.
The so-called underwater launching drill verified a North Korean “nuclear war deterrence means” ahead of the joint drills, its official Korean Central News Agency said Monday.
While North Korea is not barred by United Nations resolutions from cruise missile tests, the launch from a submarine of the rockets would mark a new step in the state’s ability to potentially deliver a nuclear weapon that could hit US bases in South Korea and Japan.
South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff confirmed the launch, saying Monday it had captured an “unidentified missile-test” fired by a North Korean submarine.
“The detailed specifications are being analyzed precisely by the South Korean and US intelligence authorities,” the statement from the JCS said.
The latest launches add to the barrage of missiles North Korea has fired off in recent weeks, including an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.
It also sets the stage for a fresh ratcheting up of tensions as the US and South Korea hold their Freedom Shield exercises from Monday to March 23.
The US-South Korean drills are some of the largest the two have held in years and designed to bolster their defenses against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
North Korea, which for decades has decried such drills as a prelude to an invasion and nuclear war, has pledged an unprecedented response.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement released on KCNA on Monday where it denounced the drills and slammed the US for plans to criticize Pyongyang for its human rights record.
North Korea’s people are ready “‘to mercilessly punish the U.S. imperialists totally denying the sovereignty of our state and its socialist system and thus make them pay dearly without fail,” the statement said.
Kim’s regime has threatened unprecedented action over the drills, with Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of the leader warning Pyongyang would turn the Pacific into a “firing range” if the US continued drills.
She also hinted the state could start testing whether its warhead designs can withstand the heat of reentering the atmosphere.
North Korea has demonstrated that its missiles could fly as far as the US mainland but there are questions as to whether the warheads would be able to stay intact.
The Freedom Shield drills are designed to bolster US and South Korean defenses against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. North Korea has decried such drills as a prelude to an invasion and nuclear war.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office in May last year, brought back joint military exercises with the US that had been scaled down or halted under Donald Trump.
The former US president was hoping the move would facilitate his nuclear negotiations with the North Korean leader Kim.
Those talks, however, produced no concrete steps to wind down Pyongyang’s nuclear program, which has only grown larger as disarmament talks sputtered.
Yoon is also looking to expand South Korea’s military cooperation with Japan, a move strongly opposed by North Korea, which lists Tokyo among its mortal enemies.
South Korea’s spy agency last week briefed lawmakers in parliament on information that North Korea may test-launch its new solid-fuel ICBMs as early as this month.
Republished by The 21st Century
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