Seoul, South Korea — South Korea’s military said Sunday that North Korea fired several cruise missiles that flew over waters near a major military shipyard on the country’s east coast, continuing a series of weapons tests which aggravate tensions with the United States, South Korea and Japan.
The launches follow a separate series of North Korean cruise missile tests last week and a Jan. 14 test firing of the country’s first intermediate-range solid-fuel ballistic missile. The tests reflect North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to expand his arsenal of weapons designed to neutralize missile defenses in South Korea and Japan as well as distant U.S. targets in the Pacific, including Guam.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said they detected the missiles over waters near the North Korean port of Sinpo, where the North has a major shipyard building key military vessels including submarines missile launchers.
South Korea’s military did not immediately provide specific details about the launch, including how many missiles were fired, how far they traveled and whether they were launched from land or naval assets.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen in recent months as Kim continues to accelerate his weapons development and issue provocative threats of nuclear conflict with the United States and its Asian allies.
In response, the United States, South Korea and Japan have expanded their combined military exercises, which Kim describes as invasion rehearsals, and refined their deterrence strategies built around U.S. nuclear assets.
North Korea said its launches last week involved a new cruise missile called Pulhwasal-3-31 and described the test as part of regular efforts to build up its military. The North has called the missile “strategic,” implying a possible intention to arm it with nuclear weapons.
North Korea’s cruise missiles complement the country’s extensive range of ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the U.S. mainland.
Although North Korean cruise missile activities are not directly prohibited by U.N. sanctions, experts say the weapons potentially pose a serious threat to South Korea and Japan. They are designed to fly like small planes and hover over landscapes where they might be more difficult to detect by radar.
Since 2021, North Korea has conducted at least 10 rounds of tests of what it has described as long-range cruise missiles fired from land and sea. The country says its weapons are nuclear capable and that their range can reach 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles), a distance that would include U.S. military bases in Japan.