One falls into waters within Japan air defense zone
By Jun Ji-hye
North Korea launched two missiles, presumed to be the nuclear-capable mid-range Nodong-type, into the East Sea Friday, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The latest provocation is a show of force against increasing international pressure to give up its nuclear program and the ongoing joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.
One missile fell within the Japan Air Defense Identification Zone (JADIZ) in the East Sea after flying about 800 kilometers, while the other disappeared off the radar early into its flight, raising speculation that it may have detonated in midair right after takeoff.
Seoul slammed Pyongyang for challenging new U.N. sanctions, adopted on March 2 for the latter's Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb. 7 rocket launch in breach of previous resolutions.
In addition, the U.S. government imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday, further tightening the screws on the country for its nuclear and rocket tests.
The military is keeping a close watch on the movements of North Korean soldiers in preparation for any additional provocations, officials said.
The JCS said the North launched one ballistic missile at 5:55 a.m. from Sukchon County, South Pyongan Province in the western part of the country.
"The missile dropped into waters within the JADIZ after flying about 800 kilometers," a JCS official said, noting that the missile appeared to have been launched from a transporter erector launcher, a type of mobile missile vehicle.
And at 6:17 a.m., the South Korean military's radar detected what appeared to be a second missile fired from the same area, but lost track of it at an altitude of 17 kilometers.
Intelligence officials believe the second missile may have exploded soon after takeoff, without reaching its target area.
"Analysis so far indicates that it was a missile, but more examination is needed to verify the data," the JCS said.
Officials said Pyongyang did not set a no-sail and no-fly zone before the launch, as required under international conventions to warn ships and planes.
The Japanese government is expected to protest strongly.
The latest provocation marks the North's first launch of mid-range Rodong missiles since March 26, 2014.
With a maximum range of 1,300 km, the Rodong puts all of South Korea and parts of Japan within striking distance.
On March 10, Pyongyang fired two short-range ballistic missiles, believed to be a type of Scud, into its eastern waters, about a week after it fired six projectiles using a 300-millimeter-caliber multiple launch rocket system.
Ministry of National Defense spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said the isolated state was apparently intending to show off its nuclear capabilities by launching the ballistic missiles, given that Pyongyang recently claimed it had miniaturized nuclear warheads to fit in its missiles and that it had acquired missile reentry technology necessary to bring a nuclear-armed ballistic missile back into Earth's atmosphere.
"Kim Jong-un has ordered his military to prepare for a nuclear attack on land, in the air, and on and under the sea," Moon said. "Today's (Friday) launch took place in an apparent bid to raise the credibility of the regime's nuclear capabilities."
Moon said the South Korean military was preparing for the possibility that the North may fire a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 kilometers.
"The ROK military is keeping a sharp readiness posture to respond to any provocative actions from the North," he said.
Seoul and Washington wrapped up the largely computer-simulated Key Resolve drill and combined amphibious Ssang Yong exercise, Friday. The allies' Foal Eagle combined field training exercise will continue until April 30.