North Korea has fired a salvo of suspected cruise missiles towards the Sea of Japan, according to South Korea’s military, in a major show of force on the eve of a key state anniversary in the North and parliamentary elections in the South.
The back-to-back launches from the ground and air on Tuesday were the most high-profile among a series of weapons tests that North Korea has conducted recently amid stalled nuclear talks and outside worries about a possible coronavirus outbreak in the country.
North Korean troops based in the eastern coastal city of Munchon first launched several projectiles – presumed to be cruise missiles – on Tuesday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
The weapons flew more than 150 kilometers off the North’s east coast, the JCS said. If confirmed, it would be the North’s first cruise missile launch since June 2017, said a South Korean defence official, who spoke to The Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.
Later on Tuesday, North Korea launched several Sukhoi-class fighter jets that fired an unspecified number of air-to-surface missiles toward the North’s eastern waters, the defence official said.
The launches came a day before North Korea marks the 108th birthday of its late founder, Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. They also came a day ahead of South Korean parliamentary elections.
In recent weeks, North Korea has test-launched a variety of missiles and other weapons amid deadlocked nuclear negotiations with the United States.
Last month, it fired nine ballistic missiles in four rounds of tests, according to analysts.
It’s unusual for Pyongyang to launch cruise missiles. Most of the weapons it had tested recently were ballistic missiles or long-range artillery shells.
In June 2017, North Korea hailed the successful test of a what it called a new type of surface-to-ship cruise missile designed to hit “any enemy group of battleships” that threatened the country.
That launch hit targets in the Sea of Japan, it said, and took place the week after two US aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan, took part in naval manoeuvres in the area.
Those missiles flew some 200 kilometres (120 miles), which analysts said was an improvement on a 2015 test that flew only 100 kilometres.
On Sunday, North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong Un had visited an airbase and observed drills by the country’s fighter jets and attack aircraft.
The North is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programmes.
Al Jazeera and news agencies