Passersby watch a news report on North Korea`s launch of a short-range ballistic missile on March 19 at Seoul Station in Seoul. (File Photo - Yonhap)
North Korea fired cruise missiles toward the East Sea on Wednesday in the morning hours. The latest salvo of North Korea’s saber-rattling notably came hours before a US amphibious assault ship, USS Makin Island, arrived in South Korea for the first time to participate in large-scale combined amphibious drills between the allies.
The South Korean military detected North Korea firing “several cruise missiles” at around 10:15 a.m. local time from the area of the eastern coastal city of Hamhung in South Hamgyong Province, the Joint Chiefs of Staff belatedly confirmed Monday afternoon without further details.
Wednesday marked the sixth set of missile launches by North Korea in less than two weeks.
North Korea fired a total of 12 ballistic and cruise missiles, including one intercontinental ballistic missile, across five discrete launches within 11 days from March 9 through Sunday to protest the largest military exercises that South Korea and the US have staged in years, in light of escalating North Korean threats.
“Our military will successfully complete the planned Freedom Shield combined military exercise based on the firm combined defense posture while intensively conducting field training exercises, dubbed Warrior Shield FTX,” the JCS said in a statement.
The 11-day computer simulation-based Freedom Shield exercise is set to finish Thursday, but the allies are staging around 20 field training exercises in March and April in connection with Freedom Shield.
The latest cruise missile launches notably came before the US Navy’s amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island arrived at a naval base in Busan on Wednesday afternoon.
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship can house more than 1,000 sailors and 1,600 marines and is a multimission platform capable of launching aircraft and amphibious land vehicles. Given that Makin Island can operate with F-35B stealth fighters capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, it can act as a small aircraft carrier.
The SsangYong training exercise designed to enhance the allies’ combat readiness and interoperability began Monday and continues through April 3 in and around the eastern coastal city of Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.
The allies have revived the large-scale SsangYong amphibious landing drills for the first time since 2018 based on the commitment by South Korean and US defense leaders to expanding the scale and scope of combined training exercises in light of escalating missile and nuclear threats from North Korea and the changing security environment.