The South Korean and US militaries fired a volley of missiles into the sea in response to North Korea firing a ballistic missile over Japan, Seoul said Wednesday.
Nuclear-armed North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years on Tuesday, prompting Tokyo to issue evacuation warnings for some residents.
South Korea and the United States staged a drill of their own in response, firing ground-to-ground missiles into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, Seoul’s military said.
Both militaries fired two ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles into the water “to precisely strike a virtual target,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The drills “showed the ability and readiness to neutralise the origin of the provocation while maintaining a constant monitoring posture,” it said in a statement.
The military also confirmed that a South Korean missile failed soon after it was launched and crashed, without causing any casualties.
On Tuesday, South Korean and US fighter jets had carried out a bombing drill at a target in the Yellow Sea.
The drills aim to “make sure that we have the military capabilities at the ready to respond to provocations by the North if it comes to that,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN.
“It shouldn’t come to that. We have made it clear to Kim Jong Un we’re willing to sit down with no pre-conditions. We want to see the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” he said.
“He hasn’t shown an inclination to move in that direction — and quite frankly he’s moving in the opposite direction by continuing to conduct these missile tests, which are violations of Security Council resolutions.”
Pyongyang’s latest launch is part of a record year of sanctions-busting weapons tests by the isolated regime, which recently revised its laws to declare itself an “irreversible” nuclear power.
US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida decried North Korea’s latest launch “in the strongest terms”.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called the launch a “provocation”, and vowed a “stern response”.
The Tuesday test was Pyongyang’s fifth missile launch in 10 days.
North Korea does not routinely comment on its weapons tests in state media.
The spate of launches comes as Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have been ramping up joint military drills to counter Pyongyang’s growing threats, staging the first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years on Friday.
That came just days after the US and South Korean navies conducted large-scale exercises.
Such drills infuriate North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.
US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Seoul last week and toured the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula, on a trip to underscore her country’s commitment to South Korea’s defence.
About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to help protect it from the North.
South Korean and US officials have been warning for months that Kim is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, saying last week that this could happen soon after Pyongyang’s key ally China holds a Communist Party congress from October 16.
Pyongyang has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006, most recently in 2017.