North Korea has fired several rockets into the sea, in a continuation of its rapid nuclear and missile expansion, prompting South Korea to press ahead with military drills involving US troops that have angered Pyongyang.
The US Pacific Command revised its initial assessment that the first and third short-range missiles failed on Saturday during flight, to say they flew about 155 miles.
It said that the second missile appears to have blown up immediately and that none posed a threat to the US territory of Guam, towards which the North had previously warned it would fire missiles.
South Korea’s presidential office and military said North Korea fired “several” projectiles in what was presumed to be a test of its 300-millimetre rocket artillery system.
Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said that South Korean assessment does not necessarily contradict the US evaluation that the launches involved ballistic missiles.
North Korea’s large artillery rockets blur the boundaries between artillery systems and ballistic missiles because they create their own thrust and are guided during delivery, Mr Kim said.
The presidential office in Seoul said the US and South Korean militaries will proceed with their war games “even more thoroughly” in response to the launch.
They are the first known missile firings since July, when the North successfully flight tested a pair of intercontinental ballistic missiles that analysts say could reach deep into the US mainland when perfected.
The White House said that President Donald Trump, who has warned that he would unleash “fire and fury” if the North continued its threats, was briefed on the latest North Korean activity and “we are monitoring the situation”.
The rival Koreas recently saw their always testy relationship get worse after Mr Trump traded warlike threats.
Saturday’s launch comes during an annual joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea that the North condemns as an invasion rehearsal, and weeks after Pyongyang threatened to lob missiles toward Guam.
North Korea had moved back from the threat to lob missiles towards Guam, but there had been concerns that hostility will flare up again during the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian drills between the allies that run until August 31.
North Korea’s state media on Saturday said that leader Kim Jong Un inspected a special operation forces training of the country’s army that simulated attacks on South Korean islands along the countries’ western sea border in what appeared to be in response to the ongoing US-South Korea war games.
Kim reportedly told his troops that they “should think of mercilessly wiping out the enemy with arms only and occupying Seoul at one go and the southern half of Korea”.