North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Friday, South Korea's military said, while itself wrapping up almost two weeks of major drills aimed at deterring its neighbour.
The SRBMs were fired from the Tongcheon area of the North's Gangwon province, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, Reuters reported. The launch came four days after the neighbours exchanged warning shots off the west coast.
The launch was the latest in a record year of tests of short-range missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and others and stoked concern that North Korea is preparing for its first nuclear test since 2017.
"Our military is maintaining full readiness posture," the JCS said in a statement in which it declared that it had stepped up monitoring and security while co-ordinating closely with the US.
The launches did not pose an immediate threat to the US or its allies, according to a statement from the US military's Indo-Pacific Command.
The North’s first ballistic missile tests since October 14 came on the final day of South Korea’s annual 12-day Hoguk field exercises, which this year involved an unspecified number of US troops, AP reported.
Next week, South Korean and US air forces plan to conduct a large-scale training exercise.
North Korea sees such regular drills by Seoul and Washington as practice for launching an attack on the North, although the allies say their exercises are defensive in nature.
Next week’s Vigilant Storm aerial drills are scheduled to run from Monday to Friday and involve about 140 South Korean warplanes and about 100 US aircraft.
The planes include sophisticated fighter jets, such as the F-35, from both nations, South Korea’s Defence Ministry said.
Since late September, North Korea has launched a barrage of missiles towards the sea in what it called simulated tests of tactical nuclear weapons systems designed to attack South Korean and US targets.
While North Korea says its testing activities were meant to issue a warning amid a series of South Korea-US military drills, experts say Pyongyang has also used its rivals’ drills as a chance to test new weapons systems, boost its nuclear capability and increase its leverage in future dealings with Washington and Seoul.
Tongchon, the site for the North’s launches on Friday, is about 60 kilometers from the inter-Korean border.
The area is apparently closer to South Korea than any other missile launch site North Korea has used this year.
South Korea and the US have strongly warned North Korea against using its nuclear weapons pre-emptively.