North Korea says 18-missile salvo was warning to South

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a tower at North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, as seen from Paju

By Hyunsu Yim

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea said on Friday it had fired 18 short-range ballistic missiles during a drill as a demonstration of its willingness to launch a pre-emptive strike against South Korea's "gangsters' regime" if necessary to counter an attack.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided the firing drill of the 600mm "super-large" multiple rocket launchers on Thursday, state news agency KCNA reported.

South Korea said it had detected at least 10 short-range ballistic missiles fired by North Korea off its east coast, calling it a possible display for would-be weapons buyers, including Russia.

Russia and North Korea have denied arms deals, which would violate U.N. embargoes on Pyongyang, but have vowed to deepen cooperation in all sectors.

The launch, following the firing of tactical ballistic missiles and a failed satellite launch this month, was a clear act of provocation that threatens peace on the Korean peninsula, deputy spokesperson for Seoul's unification ministry Kim In-ae told a briefing.

KCNA said artillery troops successfully hit the target of an island about 365 km (230 miles) away as Kim Jong Un oversaw the demonstration at the launch site. It did not identify the island.

Photos published by state media showed 18 missiles, identified by experts as KN-25s, rising into the air from mobile launchers.

First tested in 2019, the "super-large" rocket blurs the distinction between multiple-launch rocket systems and short-range ballistic missiles, according to the Center for International and Strategic Studies.


North Korea has said a tactical nuclear weapon could be fitted to such missiles. Leader Kim urged the country's nuclear forces to be ready to carry out the mission of war deterrence and take the initiative in case of war, KCNA said.

The drill, demonstrating "showers of fire for annihilation", showed North Korea's will to defend its sovereignty and react against the enemy, KCNA said in another report.

The drill included the use of a recently unveiled fire-control system that is part of the government's combined nuclear weapons management system, KCNA said.

The U.S. State Department condemned Thursday's launch using ballistic missile technology as reckless and violating multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said analysis of debris imagery said Russia has fielded North Korean missiles in its war in Ukraine, according to a report summary released on Thursday.

Russia's embassy in Washington and North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The South Korean government condemned "a series of provocations" by the North including the missile launch and sending balloons carrying trash and warned Seoul would take strong counter-measures unless the actions stop.

"If North Korea does not stop, the government will take all measures that are difficult for North Korea to endure, and we sternly warn that North Korea will be solely responsible for all consequences," it said in a statement.

It did not elaborate.

On Wednesday, North Korea sent hundreds of balloons carrying trash and manure across the heavily fortified border to South Korea, calling them "gifts of sincerity" and prompting an angry response from Seoul, which said the act was base and dangerous.

North Korea has been jamming GPS signals since Wednesday near the border with more than 900 aircraft and vessels reporting they experienced signals being scrambled but there has been no actual damage, the government said.

A column carried by KCNA criticised Wednesday's deployment of U.S. RC-135U reconnaissance aircraft from Japan to the Korean peninsula, saying the aircraft and other reconnaissance assets by the South and the U.S. infringed on North Korea's sovereignty.

South Korean media reported that a U.S. military spy plane had flown above the Seoul metropolitan area and waters off the west coast this week, citing flight trackers.

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim and Josh Smith; Editing by Chris Reese, Jamie Freed, Lincoln Feast, William Mallard, Philippa Fletcher)