SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea’s military said Monday that its recent barrage of missile tests was a practice attack on its rivals’ air bases and warplanes and paralyzing their operational command systems, showing Pyongyang’s determination to counter provocative U.S.-South Korean military exercises “more thoroughly and ruthlessly.”
North Korea fired dozens of missiles and flew warplanes last week, prompting evacuation warnings in some South Korean and Japanese areas, in response to massive US-South Korean air force exercises that the North sees as a rehearsal for an invasion.
US and South Korean officials have strongly condemned North Korea’s missile launches, saying their exercises are defensive in nature.
“The recent corresponding military operations of the Korean People’s Army are (North Korea’s) clear response that the more persistently the enemy’s provocative military moves continue, the more thoroughly and ruthlessly the KPA will counter them,” the Korean General Staff said. The People’s Army states in a statement carried by the state media.
Tests of its weapons were said to include ballistic missiles loaded with dispersion warheads and subsurface infiltration warheads intended to launch attacks on enemy air bases; surface-to-air missiles designed to “destroy” enemy aircraft at various altitudes and distances; and strategic cruise missiles.
The North’s military said it carried out an important test of a ballistic missile with a special functional warhead that was tasked with “paralyzing the operational command system of the enemy”. It is also said to have launched super-large multiple launch missiles and tactical ballistic missiles.
It did not specifically mention Thursday’s reported launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile aimed at hitting the US mainland. Almost all of the North’s other missiles launched last week were likely short-range, many of them nuclear weapons. They place key military targets in South Korea, including US military bases there within striking range.
“The General Staff of the KPA once again clarifies that it will continue to respond to all hostile war exercises against (North Korea) with continuous, decisive and overwhelming practical military measures,” the statement said.
This year’s “Vigilant Storm” air exercise between the United States and South Korea was the largest ever for the annual autumn maneuvers. 240 warplanes, including advanced F-35 fighter jets from both countries, took part in the exercises. The allies were originally supposed to hold the exercises for five days until Friday, but extended the exercise by another day in response to the North’s missile tests.
On Saturday, the last day of air force exercises, the United States flew two supersonic B-1B bombers over South Korea in a show of force against North Korea, the first such flyover since December 2017.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the B-1B’s participation in the joint exercises showed the allies’ willingness to “respond somewhat” to North Korea’s provocations and the US commitment to defend its ally with the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear.
Even before the “Precautionary Storm” drills, North Korea test-launched a series of missiles in what it called simulated nuclear strikes on US and South Korean targets in protest against other military exercises by its rivals that first involved a US aircraft for five year.
Some experts say North Korea likely aims to use the US-South Korean military exercises as a chance to modernize its nuclear arsenal and increase its leverage to extract greater concessions from the United States in future deals.
The US and South Korean militaries have been expanding their regular military exercises since the May inauguration of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher stance on North Korean provocations. Some of the allied exercises have previously been scaled back or canceled to support the now-stalled diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear program and to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.