North Korea fired a volley of shots into the sea using multiple rocket launchers Tuesday, in an apparent show of force to coincide with South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises, South Korean officials said.
Before noon, the North fired three shots using a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), a high-mobility automatic launcher capable of firing surface-to-surface rockets, the South’s Defense Ministry said.
The projectiles were launched from the North’s eastern port of Wonsan and flew 55 km into the Sea of Japan, it said.
The North fired four more MLRS shots from 4:17 p.m. that flew about 155 km, the ministry said.
“North Korea is believed to have tested two different types of MLRS,” a ministry spokesman said.
South Korean troops have increased their vigilance following a series of North Korean missile launches that drew condemnation from South Korea and the United States.
North Korea test-fired four short-range Scud missiles off its east coast last week, followed by two more missiles Monday.
South Korea called the missile launches a “reckless provocation,” while the United States demanded the North show restraint and abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions.
A spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry on Monday condemned North Korea’s missile firings as “an abnormal military activity threatening international aviation and also the safety of civilians.”
Japan has also lodged a protest with North Korea for launching short-range missiles, saying the missile launches posed a danger to aircraft and shipping in the Sea of Japan.
The Scuds are at the longer edge of the short-range spectrum, with an estimated reach of 300-800 km — capable of striking any target in the South.
It is not unusual for North Korea to carry out such tests, which often go unreported by South Korea.
But Washington said the latest missile tests breached U.N. resolutions that require Pyongyang to abandon its ballistic missile program.
The missile tests have clearly been timed to coincide with annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises that started a week ago and run until mid-April.
Pyongyang routinely condemns the South-U.S. joint exercises as rehearsals for invasion.
Last year the drills coincided with a sharp and unusually protracted surge in military tensions that saw North Korea issuing apocalyptic threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.
By contrast, this year’s drills began as relations between Seoul and Pyongyang were enjoying something of a thaw.
They overlapped with the end of the first reunion for more than three years of families divided by the Korean War — an event that raised hopes of greater cross-border cooperation.
Pyongyang had initially insisted that the joint exercises be postponed until after the reunions finished. But Seoul refused and — in a rare concession — the North allowed the family gatherings on its territory to go ahead as scheduled.
Analysts believe the missile tests reflect Pyongyang’s need to flex its muscles in the wake of the reunion compromise.